It may seem impossible to eat healthy this time of year — but you can do it!
Some holiday stressors, like fighting shopping mall crowds, are out of your control. But there is one thing you can change, and that’s how you take care of your body, which can help it deal better with high-pressure situations.
During party season, it might be easy to subsist on canapés and shortbread cookies, but refined and sugary foods can incite a vicious cycle of stress. These high-glycemic foods cause spikes in your blood sugar that are followed soon after by drops that can send your anxiety level and mood for a ride. When you experience blood sugar drops, your body thinks that you’re in dire need of food, which puts you in survival mode. Some people experience this as a highly anxious state, while others become cloudy-headed, have diminished cognition or act moody. Of course, the stress and low blood sugar make you crave more sweets, so you’re doomed to start the whole roller coaster ride all over again.
Is meal planning all that necessary to eat healthy over the holidays?
Though it’s hard to keep up with regular meal prep in December, eating a balanced diet is important. Consuming whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, helps ensure that you get plenty of fibre, which slows digestion, releasing natural sugars more slowly. Healthy fats and protein, from foods like nuts, seeds, avocado and tempeh, will also help keep your blood sugar stable. Sticking to your usual meal schedule (in other words, not skipping dinner while doing a marathon evening of Christmas shopping) can keep you from getting hangry. If you know that you’re going to be eating later, consider filling up on a small dinner before you go so you won’t overindulge when you arrive.
At work, aim to pre-emptively satisfy any sugar cravings by snacking on sweet fruits (such as apple slices smeared with nut butter and a dash of cinnamon) so that you’ll have the willpower to avoid the chocolates and cookies that will be inevitably passed around. Caffeine and alcohol both affect the adrenal glands, which produce the stress hormone cortisol, so it’s important to be mindful of consuming them, especially if you’re already stressed.
Though the gym is often the first thing to be cut from your to-do list, find a way to fit in exercise. Exercise helps manage stress, reduce cortisol levels and improve sleep. Here are 37 ways to make managing stress much easier.
Amy Longard is a holistic nutritionist and plant-based chef in Ottawa.