Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too
They’ll be here in no time, and over before we know it. The holidays always seem to come and go in a flurry of planning, parties, and overindulgence. But there is something that tends to stick around long after the frenzy is over: the Holiday Half Dozen. Spare tire. Winter weight.
Whatever you call it, the extra fat that creeps up between Halloween and the New Year seems inevitable with the cold weather approaching. We pack on calories with comfort foods and holiday treats, work out less as the days get shorter, and stress over all the holiday madness—the perfect storm for winter weight gain.
The good news is that by creating a dynamic plan and sticking to it, you can keep these seasonal pounds off and enjoy the holiday festivities even more. The goals are to increase metabolic efficiency and support digestion with the right foods, lifestyle habits, and supplements. Instead of feeling tired and bloated this winter you can give yourself the gifts of greater energy and optimal metabolism; better digestion and stronger immunity; and all while supporting overall health.
Set the groundwork
With temptations surrounding us on all sides, the holidays are like a dietary minefield. The best way to protect against these blasts to your metabolism is by strengthening your defenses with a solid foundation of nutrient-dense superfoods. The fall is a great time of year to do just that, improving immunity, digestion, and metabolism in preparation for winter. An abundance of produce from harvest season offers a cornucopia of nutrition to support all areas of health.
For optimal metabolism and healthy weight, focus on unprocessed foods that are low on the glycemic index (low in sugar), and high in fiber and nutrients. Emphasize greens such as kale, chard, and collards; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts; and other fiber-rich foods such as raspberries, artichokes, black beans, lentils, and whole grains. An extra fiber supplement such as ground chia seeds can help optimize metabolism and support healthy digestion. Adding a bit of healthy oils such as olive, avocado, or coconut to your grains, greens, and salads contributes to feelings of satiety, helping to curb cravings. This can also be accomplished by eating more foods containing healthy oils, such as avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and others are rich in probiotic bacteria that actually digest sugars for their own fuel, helping to balance blood glucose and control weight gain. Probiotics also boost mood, an extra plus during the winter.
Hydration is also critical to control cravings and support a healthy weight, and cold weather can actually be more dehydrating than heat. Be sure to drink at least 64 ounces of filtered water each day (some of this can be from herbal teas).
Many traditional healing systems recommend a gentle fall cleanse and detox program to help boost metabolism, digestion, and immunity in preparation for the cold weather. Even just emphasizing the previously mentioned foods and minimizing processed ingredients can help build a solid foundation for optimal winter health.
In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, nutrient-dense whole foods help curb cravings for sugar and junk foods. By providing the body with an abundance of nutrients and fiber, we can balance blood sugar and feel more fulfilled, reducing unhealthy cravings. Furthermore, with a diet that primarily emphasizes healthy, unprocessed foods, we have more room to indulge in holiday treats without suffering the aftermath of blood sugar crashes, bloating, fatigue, and weight gain.
Get the stress out
Chronic stress and exhaustion are some of the biggest culprits in weight gain. They both cause cortisol and other stress hormones to flood the body, fueling inflammation and triggering a cascade of detrimental reactions that spell bad news for your metabolism. Stress and lack of sleep increase the risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and numerous other chronic illnesses.
Studies show that healthy mind-body relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and t’ai chi help control stress and reduce cortisol, control inflammation, and support metabolic and overall health. Likewise, adequate sleep—generally eight to nine hours—can reduce numerous risks related to metabolism and chronic illnesses.
Stress and exhaustion can also worsen during the winter due to lack of sunshine. Vitamin D is a critical nutrient involved in many areas of health, and it’s produced primarily when we’re exposed to the sun. It’s no wonder that so many people experience vitamin D deficiency this time of year. It’s a contributor to what experts call “seasonal affective disorder” or SAD, which manifests with symptoms of depression. Adequate vitamin D also protects against seasonal colds, flus, and other infections. By supplementing with extra vitamin D3, we can support metabolic efficiency and promote a healthy mood while also boosting immunity, energy, and overall health.
Since the holidays can be a little crazy, it’s important to take time for yourself and nourish your nervous system with healthy relaxation and sleep habits.
Winterize your workout
We all know the importance of exercise, but when the weather is unwelcoming, it can be hard to keep a regular routine. Winter, however, may be the time of year we need movement the most to support immunity, cardiovascular health, metabolism, and mood. Again, yoga and t’ai chi are excellent workouts that can be done indoors, and offer numerous important benefits for physical, mental, and emotional health. Pilates and other mat-based workouts are also great ways to maintain and build muscle, an important key to keeping your metabolism in top form during the winter.
Supplements to support healthy metabolism
A number of targeted supplements can support long-term metabolic health and counterbalance the dietary excesses and indulgences characteristic of the season. In my clinic I recommend Integrative Metabolic Formula. It features American ginseng, seaweed-derived alginates, holy basil, gymnema leaf, cinnamon, chromium polynicotate, alpha-lipoic acid, medicinal mushrooms, and other ingredients drawn from traditional herbalism and nutraceutical research. This formula can help balance blood glucose, reduce sugar cravings, improve sugar and fat metabolism, and help maintain a healthy weight.
And don’t forget digestion. By supplementing with botanicals and nutrients that help improve nutrient absorption and improve digestive efficiency, we can promote greater energy, improve metabolism, and reduce bloating and indigestion. I recommend digestive-supporting ingredients such as cinnamon, cardamom, pomegranate, and ginger; enzymes to help break down carbohydrates and fats; and minerals such as zinc and chromium to optimize overall digestive function. Probiotics offer excellent digestive and metabolic support as well.
Winter is a magical time of year, and the holidays can bring to life our celebrations of joy, gratitude, and love. It’s also a time of year to cherish your own health, to find peace and quiet in the stillness of the season, and to contemplate your personal goals for the upcoming year. With a healthy foundation of nourishing habits and practices, we can cultivate energy and vitality for greater enjoyment of all this season has to offer, including an extra piece of pecan pie. We also get a running start on our health goals for the New Year.
Now that’s something to celebrate!
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist, physician, and homeopath, has a MS in traditional Chinese medicine, and has done graduate studies in herbology. Visit him online at dreliaz.org.