With the holidays here, maintaining a healthy gut may seem daunting. There are heavily scented fragrances, festive treats, and more alcohol around than usual. It’s no wonder many people struggle with maintaining the healthy habits they have established throughout the year. So here are some of my top tips to help you maintain your healthy gut and continue to grow and allow that microbiome to flourish.
1. Mind the processing
It’s easier said than done, but there are many clean and festive food options for you and your family to enjoy. For example, try sprinkling some cinnamon and coconut oil on roasted sweet potatoes for a cozy, seasonal treat. Or, make your homemade apple cider without all the extra sweeteners and chemicals that often come in store-bought packages. Get creative with this season’s produce by focusing on whole foods. Shop for squashes like acorn and butternut or leafy greens like swiss chard and brussels sprouts. Because there are many prebiotic foods out there, it is more than feasible to add some to your holiday feast to help out your digestive system and keep your gut microbiome nourished!
Make a plan!
Making a meal plan with a detailed grocery list can help you stick to your goals and avoid the temptation of picking something up that may disrupt the gut microbiome. During the holidays, it is common to see that there is a decrease in consumed fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. Too much rich, fatty and sweet food can impair your digestive system, so finding a good balance is essential. I usually sit down over the weekend, outlining what my family will eat for each meal the following week, and then itemize our grocery list before heading out. Then, to make it extra fun, I let my son help pick out the produce items he thinks look best. I take the time to note different nutrients and details about each item we select. It makes it both fun and educational!
2. Decrease your toxin load inside the home
It’s amazing how much various toxins can impact the health of your gut. Fall and winter means we spend much more time indoors and our indoor toxins load is at an all time high. Avoid using fragrances, traditional candles which all leave more toxins in the air. All of these contain toxins disruptive to your lungs, immune system and hormones. This is also a great time to invest in an indoor air filter for your home. See my recommendations here for my favorite air filter and here for my favorite water filter!
Instead of purchasing chemically produced candles, you can easily make your stovetop potpourri with orange slices, cinnamon sticks, apple slices, and a little water. Want to mix it up? Add in a bit of vanilla for extra spice. As a family, we work to incorporate healthy traditions into our holiday season. Instead of buying an artificial tree filled with all kinds of chemicals, we have an outdoor adventure of picking our own evergreen and decorating it with things like strings of popcorn and cranberries. This also makes for a fun craft for the kids!
When venturing out to parties and social events, some of my favorite things to dive into are the crudité board, sparkling water with a splash of juice (fruit only – natural cranberry, grapefruit, lemon, or lime are my favorites), and fruit boards. Invited to a friend’s house? Offer to bring something to share and prepare a dish you know will fill up your family. Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends about your dietary restrictions when planning a visit. Instead of traditional meat and dairy-heavy meals, prepare plant-based options. The varieties are endless. I often share plant-based recipes on my Instagram.
And yes, too much alcohol during the holidays may lead to an unhappy gut! Despite the fact that alcohol is a liquid, it actually dehydrates you faster than water and can irritate your digestive system and change your gut microbiome!
3. Stay Active
Spending time being active, especially outdoors, will help your gut motility and get things going at a proper pace! If you’re staying home for the holidays, try playing tourist in your town. Visit local parks or, if the weather is warm enough, plan to picnic with your family for a change of scenery, even if it’s just in your backyard. Going for a post-meal walk is a great way to help promote digestion and also keep yourself active. If you have a pet, now is a great time to take them outside for a long walk. It’s not too hot or cold yet, and they will likely be excited about some exercise.
Many towns have things like a Turkey Trot 5K or a kid’s mile run/walk that is a great and festive way to get your whole family’s blood flowing. Check them out on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Suppose you live where it’s too cold to go outside for extended periods, or you don’t enjoy bundling up and being outdoors for too long. In that case, there are many creative ways to be active indoors, whether by spending a few minutes stretching or hopping on a stationary bike or treadmill.
4. Mind stress levels & prioritize sleep
I know the holidays are super stressful and you want to do a million things but high stress levels impact your gut health in different ways and stress plus digestive issues will rob you of the joy of the holiday season. Research has shown that the mind and gut are connected, so when your mind gets out of balance, i.e., filled with stress and overloaded with tasks to do, your gut can feel those impacts. The gut then may make its discomfort known with an upset stomach, constipation or a variety of other symptoms. Take 10-15 mins each day to sit in silence, listening to nature sounds indoors on your phone or outdoors, or meditate. This will help balance your gut brain axis and help you down regulate the stress of the season.
A lack of sleep can also affect your gut microbiome! The gut-brain axis is the two-way road of communication between your gut and brain, and influences the body’s cognitive and emotional functions. This is why your gut can affect your mood, sleep, and internal clock and vice versa!
One way to take control of the stress is to begin preparing for the holidays. Are there foods you can buy on your regular grocery trip and freeze? Start stocking up on products like toilet paper and paper towels so you won’t have to take any last-minute trips to the store with everyone else running in for “just one thing.” (We’ve ALL been there!) Start making your list of what you’ll need to purchase, prepare, or projects you will need to tackle. If there are meals or items you can prepare in advance and freeze, go ahead and do that!
Prepare as much as you can
A running menu and grocery list for each holiday meal will prove to be immensely helpful when preparing food for a crowd or labor-intensive dishes just for your family. Another tactic I like is purchasing holiday gifts early and wrapping them as I buy them. I also do all my shipping well in advance. Not only does this take one big task off my list, but I also avoid some of the lengthier lines and price increases that typically happen as the holidays get closer. To save even more time, I package and label everything at home, so I know I’m using eco-friendly shipping materials and can drop everything off rather than wait in line for everything to be weighed, labeled, and mailed.
If you send out Christmas cards, take your photos early and have everything packaged and labeled, ready to go when you decide you are prepared to mail them out. Then, while doing your early post office run, pick up some extra stamps for holiday cards. Trust me. There’s nothing worse than being one stamp short. And a bonus tip – most grocery stores also carry standard Forever Stamps if you’re in a pinch!
5. Focus on a variety of foods
The season has so many delicious produce to enjoy, focus on getting a variety of seasonal foods every week. Fiber has many benefits to your gut health while also aiding in keeping your bowel movements regular, which can often get off kilter with stress, travel, and getting out of your routine. Our gut microbiome can increase serotonin (aka the feel-good hormone) production when we consume certain foods. So, eat more bananas, tomatoes, spinach, and plums. As you keep your gut microbiome well nourished, you can optimize your neurotransmitter functions!
I hope you and your family have happy, healthy, and relatively stress-free holidays if you celebrate this year! I would love to hear tips and ways you and your family incorporate your healthy lifestyle into your holiday traditions!