How did that whole Thanksgiving thing go for you, eating-wise, I mean?
If you found you needed to unbutton your pants or loosen your belt buckle after your family feast, you're certainly not alone.
The average American eats between 3,000 to 4,500 calories and 150 grams of fat during a typical Thanksgiving meal. I'd hazard a guess that I personally was on the high end of that range, judging by the size of my pie plate. That's approximately twice what you need calorie-wise each day. And with more holiday parties and feasts likely lined up for December, followed by New Year's Eve, it's no wonder that the holiday season is associated with weight gain.
Now, before you start thinking you need to stay home from parties or stick to ice water and the veggie tray at the holiday cocktail event, you should know that I am actually very much in favor of fully enjoying this time of year. I definitely do my own fair share of eating and drinking from November through January. However, there are certain practices that I follow to minimize not only indigestion, flatulence, and even weight gain, but to prevent a host of negative health consequences that can follow even just one evening of indulgence.
When you overeat—and again, even just for a single meal—your body reacts in the following ways:
- Blood insulin levels increase, which decreases fat mobilization and the ability to burn fatty acids as fuel
- Sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity increases from a release of norepinephrine and epinephrine, which can significantly increase blood pressure
- Significant reduction in endothelial (blood vessel) function for up to 4 hours (even in healthy, low cholesterol subjects) due to an accumulation of circulating triglycerides
- Clusters of solid food material that can get stuck in the narrow duct that connects your gallbladder to your intestine, causing potential for gallstones
- Your risk for a heart attack may increase by 4x
- And the list goes on…
Let me reiterate: I still don't advocate for skipping out or even skimping at your next gathering. However, given the health consequences, I want to share with you my top tips for navigating this holiday season without jeopardizing your health and quite frankly, feeling like crap. Because what I want you to feel by the time its mid-January is healthy, happy, and grateful.
So in this week's article, I'm going to present you with the first five of my top 10 tips for optimizing your health and happiness. Enjoy!
5 Foolproof, Zero-Deprivation Tips For Healthy Holiday Eating
Healthy Holiday Eating Tip #1: Practice Intermittent Fasting
Fasting—abstaining from food and drink for a set period of time—has been a physical and spiritual practice for thousands of years, even mentioned in religious texts including the Bible and the Qur'an.
Many modern-day religions continue to fast during certain times, such as during Ramadan for Muslims, and fasting is often used in conjunction with prayer and meditation.
The science of fasting is constantly evolving, but what has remained consistent is that there are definitive health benefits to eating within a limited period of time, including reducing oxidative damage and inflammation, optimizing energy metabolism, and bolstering cellular protection. In addition, fasting may protect against diabetes, cancers, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, and more.
Here are the most popular resources on fasting from my site, if you want to learn more:
- The Powerful Health Benefits Of Fasting (Plus The Top 5 Questions I Get Asked About Fasting).
- The Latest Research On Fasting: What 9 New Studies Say About Fasting’s Effects On Fat Loss, Satiety, Insulin Resistance, & More.
- The Official Fasting Q&A With Ben Greenfield: Does Coffee Break Your Fast, Poor Sleep During Fasting, Amino Acids During Fasting & Much More!
Over the holidays, when your schedule may be more hectic than usual, stress may be higher, and Christmas cookies are suddenly everywhere you go, it stands to reason that you may be eating more throughout the day and night. Consciously delaying the start of eating and stopping earlier in the day can go a long way in fortifying yourself healthily during the holiday season and throughout the year. My own “trick”? I glance at my watch after dinner, or after dessert, and I then don't eat for at least twelve hours. Incidentally, most women (hormonally speaking) do better with a ten to twelve-hour intermittent fast, and men with a twelve to sixteen hour.
Healthy Holiday Eating Tip #2: Avoid Or Limit Alcohol
I've covered the health benefits and risks of alcohol in-depth, including on this podcast and in this article, and because I am not opposed to drinking, I have also detailed how to mitigate a hangover in Boundless and in this recent article.
I do, though, practice drinking temperately, avoiding getting drunk, and I believe that God in fact delights in me enjoying a glass of organic, biodynamic wine with a healthful, satisfying meal surrounded by my family.
An important note: I want to stress that not everyone is capable of temperate drinking. If you have a dependence on alcohol, or find yourself regretting your actions after a night of cocktails, you should refrain from alcohol altogether. And even if you don't think alcohol is a problem for you, you may find you can take it or leave it, in which case you may want to save your calories for another helping of stuffing. For example, sometimes when I choose not to drink alcohol, I like Kin Euphorics, a non-alcoholic spritzer made with mind-boosting, calming ingredients like GABA and 5-HTP. Kin comes in cool cans that will definitely rival your fellow party-goers alcoholic spritzers (and you can get 15% off Kin with code BEN). A few other alcohol-like alternatives that give you a cocktail-like feel with actually consuming said substance include Feel Free (use code BEN40 for 40% off) and also the biohacking technologies Hapbee and Apollo, both of which have “cocktail hour-esque” modes that make you feel as though you've been partaking in the social lubrication of alcohol, without actually doing so.
But even if you're not a heavy drinker this time of year can be a license to up your normal cocktail intake, and whether it's because of a special occasion (think: New Year's Eve), an awkward situation (think: office holiday party), or general overwhelm (think: a pile of presents to wrap), if you're not careful you may find yourself past the point of a pleasant buzz.
If you choose to drink, low-sugar wines such as those from Dry Farm Wines are the healthiest choice. I also highly recommend having no more than one alcoholic drink per hour, with a glass of water in between every drink to reduce your calories and keep you from inebriation, which can lead to poor food choices—and a bad hangover (incidentally, here are my top hangover prevention tips).
Healthy Holiday Eating Tip #3: Reduce Holiday Stress
If you look in the index of my book Boundless for the word “stress,” you'll find that it is covered in seven different chapters, thanks to the fact that stress has potent, wide-reaching effects on everything from sleep to longevity to sex, and certainly to overeating and poor food choices.
If you've ever found yourself standing in front of the cupboard, mindlessly shoveling in chips or downing a sugar-laden coffee beverage while trying to finish last-minute shopping, you know what I mean.
You may find that even if you have a good handle on stress management most of the year, you can still feel overloaded this time of year. And the effects of stress are not just one-way; that is, your stress may lead to poor sleep, but then poor sleep leads to more stress, and on and on. When it comes to food, you may eat poorly because of stress and then feel stressed about eating poorly—since it's likely that, like me, you value the importance of real, wholesome food.
That's why it is particularly important to keep your stress levels to a minimum over the holidays. Because of the pervasive effects of stress on health, I have written extensively about stress management. The following three articles are a good place to start for learning about practices for staying calm and centered:
- The Ultimate Breathwork Ninja Guide: How To Banish Stress & Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye.
- The 7 Best Stress-Fighting Weapons That Will Make Your Mind-Body Connection 100% Bulletproof.
- Fight, Flight, Freeze, Or…Forward Motion? A Mindset Shift For Stressful Times.
I also highly recommend looking into some new and quite cool stress-management technology that can naturally calm you down without chemicals. My three favorite stress-reduction technology tools right now are:
- Apollo Neuro: Developed by physicians and neuroscientists, Apollo is a wearable wellness device that uses gentle vibrations to help your body combat stress. You can learn more about Apollo by listening to this podcast.
- Hapbee: Hapbee simulates chemicals such as caffeine, nicotine, and melatonin via electrical frequencies to elicit a physiological response without the actual intake of supplements, pharmaceuticals, or any other compounds or medicines. You can learn more about the Hapbee by listening to this podcast.
- Infopathy: The Infopathy device “imprints” water or your body with frequencies of everything from St. John's Wort to coffee to Viagra to anything else you want from their literal hundreds of “infoceutical” options. You can learn more about Infopathy by listening to this podcast.
Does this mean you should strive for zero stress over the holidays? Probably not, because it's just not realistic. But going into this time of year with mindfulness around what you take on and your self-care will pave the way to healthy holiday eating.
Healthy Holiday Eating Tip #4: Pre-Eat
A popular holiday eating strategy seems to be to not eat before a big meal to “save” those calories for the upcoming feast. And while you already know I do advise fasting as effective practice, I do not recommend that you walk into that cocktail party or family dinner famished.
Well, you'll be much more likely to overeat if you are in a state of peak hunger. And if you pick up a glass of champagne right away, it's going to hit you harder on an empty stomach, which, as I said above, may lead to poor food choices.
Most importantly, though, as I also already talked about here, your body does not have a healthy response to overeating, and a single feast can kick off a host of negative health consequences. An effective way to prevent that response is to “pre-eat” a few hours before your big meal to get what's known as a second meal effect, which means that your response to the big meal can be improved by whatever you ate before. More specifically, if you eat a meal that is low in fat and with a high percentage of low-glycemic index carbohydrates, “resistant starch” (like beans, mostly unripe bananas or sourdough bread), and dietary fiber, you have decreased glucose and insulin responses as well as reduced blood triglycerides after your next meal.
In practical terms, this could mean having a big salad full of kale, spinach, and arugula, with some resistant starch like kidney or black beans on top. In addition to setting you for the second meal effect, a good-sized plate of food can also help you feel more satisfaction than a smaller, more calorie-laden snack. I call this strategy “volume” eating, and it essentially means that the actual amount of space the food takes up on your plate outweighs (hah) the number of actual *calories* in that food. Foods that I incorporate into my meals that work particularly well for volume eating include Akasha Superfoods Sea Moss Gel (use code BEN for 10% off), pumpkin puree, and Miracle Noodles (use code BEN for 15% off). You can learn more about volume eating and the other pantry staples I keep on hand for ensuring a full plate that doesn't carry a full-calorie load in this recent article.
Another convenient, effective option for pre-eating is a healthy protein-packed smoothie. I've been making smoothies daily with the new Kion Clean Protein, and you can learn exactly how to make my current favorite smoothie in the video below. So, next time you're heading out for a celebration, resist the urge to not eat before the event—those calories “saved” are highly unlikely to remain saved for long.
Healthy Holiday Eating Tip #5: Bring Your Own Healthy Dish
However, it's often the case that even seemingly healthy holiday favorites are in fact not great choices.
For example, you probably want to avoid the bean dip that's half cream cheese, the yams doused with brown sugar, or the green bean casserole with those weird French fried onions on top. Most big meals, thankfully, do have a meat option, and that's a good choice if you're a carnivore like me. But what if you don't eat meat? Or even if you do, it's pretty darn boring to have three slices of ham for dinner. There may be raw veggies on an appetizer tray, but again, a handful of celery sticks and raw cauliflower is not all that festive (and not great insurance that you won't overeat at dinner or when you get home thanks to legit hunger). And desserts can be a virtual minefield of unhealthy ingredients.
I strongly advise showing up at any gathering involving food with your own dish to share. There are plenty of delicious, crowd-pleasing options for healthy holiday eating. Here, I'll share two nutritious choices from my Boundless Cookbook. The Carrot Fries make a tasty, interesting side dish, and the Pumpkin Custard is always a hit at my house and when I serve it to friends. Best of all, neither recipe takes long at all.
- 1 pound carrots (about 10 medium carrots)
- 2 tablespoons any gluten-free flour, such as coconut, breadfruit, or arrowroot*
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon good salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon thyme
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne, optional
*Notes: The flour is optional, but it can lend some nice added texture and flavor. For an added kick, add the cayenne.
1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Wash and peel the carrots, then cut them into even-sized sticks that are roughly 4 inches long and about 1⁄2-inch thick.
2. Put the cut carrots into a large bowl, and sprinkle the flour and all the spices over them until they’re thoroughly coated.
3. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over the carrots, and stir to evenly coat with oil.
4. Place the carrots on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure they are evenly spread and not stacked on top of each other.
5. Place the carrots in the oven, and bake for 20-30 minutes. Check halfway through to move the carrots around or flip them to make sure they cook evenly.
6. The carrots are done when there is a slight browning or crisping on the edges and you can pierce them easily with a fork.
7. Remove them from the oven, and let them cool for a couple of minutes before serving.
- 1 can pumpkin purée
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup organic heavy cream or full-fat, organic coconut milk or coconut cream
- 1⁄4 cup honey
- 4 packs stevia
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (Primal Palate and Ava Jane’s Kitchen both have good options for this)
- 1⁄2 teaspoon of a good salt like Celtic sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. On a stovetop, combine the pumpkin puree and cream or coconut milk into a saucepan. Heat until just the cream boils.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, honey, stevia, pumpkin spice, and salt.
3. Mix well, then pour the pumpkin/cream mixture into the egg mixture slowly while stirring the egg mixture quickly.
4. Pour into individual ramekins (tiny baking dishes perfectly sized for a dish like custard), and then place the ramekins into a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Pour boiling water around the ramekins to about an inch.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the custard jiggles like jello when you lightly shake the ramekin. Refrigerate for 2 hours for the perfect consistency.
*This Pumpkin Custard recipe is courtesy of my kitchen extraordinaire sons River and Terran at GoGreenfields.com.
Now, I don't know if it's necessary to walk into a party broadcasting that your dish is super healthy. There's not a great deal of humility in that and you also may make your cousin who brought the cookie tray feel uncomfortable. However, it's probably safe to bet that many of your family and friends know that you value good food and will be happy to have a side or dessert option that is nourishing as well as appetizing. And you can feel good knowing that you contributed to the general health of the party while filling your own plate with the dish you so thoughtfully prepared.
Whenever I'm covering a topic, I want to do it as thoroughly as I can.
I strongly believe in giving you comprehensive information that enables you to draw your own conclusions, think about how research findings can be applied to your own life, and implement tactics and practices that work for you.
However, I am wary of information overload. I never want you to feel like the material presented is overwhelming and as a result, prevents you from taking manageable steps. This may be particularly relevant around the holidays when everything can feel overwhelming. So, this next week, I encourage you to think about the first five tips presented in this article and perhaps set a goal of implementing two to three to start. What may even be helpful is to get an index card, jot down the tips, and place it in a prominent location such as on the fridge as a reminder. You can even tuck it into your purse or pocket when you hit that next holiday gathering. Next week, I'll cover tips five through ten—so just leave a little room on that index card!
Here, again, are the first half of my top 10 tips for healthy holiday eating:
- Practice intermittent fasting
- Limit alcohol or avoid it entirely (and pair it with a glass of water)
- Work on reducing holiday-induced stress as well as general stress
- Pre-eat to avoid overeating at the actual holiday event
- Bring your own healthy, pre-made dish
That's it for this week. I hope you were able to take away both effective tactics for preventing poor holiday food habits, but also take away an understanding that healthy holiday eating can be celebratory and even indulgent. So, with my full blessing, go ahead and eat, drink, and be (mindfully) merry. I'd also love to hear what has worked for you in the past, or other strategies for healthy holiday eating that you intend to try this year. Leave your thoughts and questions below. I read them all!