On the surface, holiday festivities are a reprieve from everything that demanded energy from us the previous year. We get time off work, kids get time off school, and everyone’s sole responsibility is to sit around and eat.
In reality, though, beautiful decorations, warm fireplaces, and breath-taking feasts are often replaced with screaming toddlers, family grudges, and over-cooked roasts.
For most people, the holiday season is stressful and can cause cortisol (the stress hormone) to skyrocket. This puts pressure on your adrenal glands, which contributes to significant weight gain. Dr. Alan Christianson, author of the New York Times bestselling book The Adrenal Reset Diet, has come up with a few strategies to protect your adrenals during the holiday season so that you can limit stress and prevent weight gain.
Tip #1: Sleep
Don’t let time off from work affect your bedtime or number of sleep hours too much. If you can get the quality sleep that your body needs, it’ll better regulate the hormones that manage hunger and satiety, preventing you from going ham on the actual honey-glazed ham that grandma brought.
Tip #2: Get in a Quick HIIT Workout
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a form of exercise made up of short, intense anaerobic activity; it’s been shown to boost your metabolism throughout the day. First, pick your favorite aerobic activity (running, biking, swimming, etc). Do a quick 3-minute warm-up, and then go 110% for 30 seconds. Take a 1-minute break, then repeat 6 times. After your intervals are done, do a 4-minute cool down exercise and watch your metabolism destroy pumpkin pie like Paul Bunyan running through Legoland.
Tip #3: Look for the Positives at All Times
Your mind and the thoughts that occupy it are the ultimate determiner of your stress level. So when your friend accidentally drops the pie you made, or your cousin says something condescending, or your favorite team loses, do your best to dial it back and laugh. Zen = six-pack abs. Stress = full-keg belly.
Tip #4: Start Your Meal with Fiber
Consuming fiber helps you manage your appetite and dissuade you from that third helping of stuffing. Have a large helping of salad and fruit for your first course, followed by a tall glass of water. This will increase feelings of satiety and keep you full of energy. And take your time. The slower you cheat, eat, and ultimate digest, the faster you’ll fill up.
Tip #5: Turkey, Yes. Stuffing, Not So Much.
Turkey is often blamed for our post-feast crash because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that’s supposed to make you sleepy. In reality, feelings of deep exhaustion come from the second helping of mashed potatoes, third helping of stuffing, and fourth slice of pie. These carb-rich foods spike your blood sugar and cause a stock market-like crash later in the evening. Go big on protein and small on carbs.
Tip #6: One Polite Bite
Another stressful aspect of the holiday season is the relentless insistence by our relatives to try every dish that they made. This is where the double digit helpings come from—familial peer pressure. Most of us are happy to oblige at first; those first spoonfuls of sugars light up our brain like the 4th of July. But by the time we’re a mere 1/3rd of the way through, we feel like we were hit with a polar bear tranquilizer dart. Appreciate your limits, take ONE bite, and move on. This will also help you slow the rate at which you absorb food and prevent nasty blood sugar spikes.
Tip #7: Astragalus Tea
For a little secret health sauce, pass out astragalus tea after a meal instead of coffee. It’s an adaptogen that boosts the adrenal system, improves immunity (important during the winter months), and has anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, there’s a fairly decent likelihood that many of your family members are unfamiliar with astragalus tea, so why not take the opportunity to introduce them to a healthy alternative to their coffee fixation?