Your holiday wellness guide for supporting gut health without feeling deprived.
Here come the holidays, tempting you with rich comfort foods, sugary treats and free-flowing libations. Mix in the stress of holiday prep and family gatherings while balancing all of your other responsibilities, and suddenly self-discipline is out the window. Is there a way to protect your health and overall sense of well-being without feeling deprived this holiday season? The answer is YES, and I’m going to show you how!
Self-care is a critical piece of the puzzle. Self-care is important to emotional and physical well-being all year long, but it’s especially important when your energy reserves are being stretched thin during the busy holiday season.
When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re more vulnerable to the season’s colds and viruses, inflammation, digestive distress, depression and anxiety.
Self-care isn’t just about taking warm baths and exercising. It’s also about feeding our bodies right, connecting with friends and surrounding ourselves with the sights, smells, and sounds that delight our senses in all of the best ways. Here’s how:
Soothing connection. Physical touch and social connection help calm your nervous system and boost your immune system by naturally decreasing the stress hormone cortisol and releasing the feel-good hormone oxytocin (also called the love or cuddle hormone). Here are a few ways to integrate more connection into your day:
- Hug. When you hug a loved one for a minimum of 20 seconds, you not only reduce stress you strengthen your bond. Holding hands is also mutually beneficial.
- Pet a dog, cat or even a bunny. If you don’t have a furry pal, ask a friend if you can pet their dog or cat. You could also volunteer at a local shelter or hang out at a cat cafe. Whiskers Cat Cafe & Coffee House in Kansas City partners with the KC Pet Project and invites patrons to come in and pet the cats and kittens while enjoying a latte.
- Get a massage. Multiple studies emphasize the benefits of massage for reducing tension and enhancing a state of relaxation. A massage can effectively lower your blood pressure, reduce pain and improve your immune function.
- See your friends. During the pandemic, we saw how damaging the lack of social interaction was on the psyche, leading to an increase in the rates of anxiety and depression. We’re biologically designed to seek community. Make time on your calendar to meet a friend for lunch or go for a walk together. Social connection isn’t only good for your physical health, it will lift your spirits too!
- Give yourself some love. Self-touch like placing your hand over your heart, your belly or on your face can also reduce stress. Sometimes used to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is another helpful way to cope. By lightly tapping specific meridian points on the body, you break up energy blocks. (It’s similar to acupuncture except without needles.)
Stress-reducing aromas. Slo-o-o-w down and smell the roses, literally. Aromatherapy impacts the limbic system which is the part of the brain that controls emotions. Research suggests that lavender aromatherapy is particularly effective at managing anxiety and depression. Seasonal scents like cedar wood and other pine or evergreen scents can also promote a relaxation response in the body.
Essential oils are distilled from plants. They can be used topically, diffused into the air or inhaled. Keep in mind that some essential oils should be blended with a carrier oil like olive oil or coconut oil before being applied to the skin.
The quality of essential oils can vary. One of my favorite and trusted brands is Restore Hope Oils, a local company owned by certified aromatherapist and formulator Gavin Poulton. Restore Hope’s blends provide a natural solution to support the mind and body. I use many of these blends, but two of my favorites are I Am Still and I Am Enough. For digestive distress I also love Pure Digest. I have these in the office if you want to check them out, or you can order them online. Make sure to use code EVOLVE at check-out for a 10% discount!
Choose nutritional foods. Your gut has millions of nerve endings, and it’s where 70% of the immune system is located. When you eat nutritious foods that support your digestive system, you not only promote the well-being of your nervous system, you also give your immune system a healthy boost. Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done, especially during stressful times.
We often turn to sweet and savory meals and snacks when we’re stressed because these foods boost feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. But sugar-laden, high-fat, processed foods don’t only set you up for digestive distress and weight gain. Because your body is having to work harder to control the roller coaster of sugar levels and manage the unhealthy substances flooding the body, these foods actually increase the stress hormone cortisol in the body. And that leads to heightened anxiety and a weaker immune system.
Nourishing stew. After a busy day of holiday shopping on a cold day, one meal I like to make to satisfy my craving for comfort food is a Fall Veggie Stew. Not only is this stew warm and savory, it’s also visually appealing, easy to prepare with seasonal vegetables and gut-friendly. As a time-strapped mom who needs to get a healthy dinner on the table pronto, this meal checks all of the right boxes!
FALL VEGGIE STEW
2 TBSP ghee
4 Italian sausages (casings removed)
1 cup pearl onions (peeled)
½ cup crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth
2 tsp dried thyme
1 small butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch chunks)
3 carrots (sliced into 2-inch pieces)
Parsnips (sliced into 2-inch pieces)
Small fennel bulb (trimmed and thinly sliced)
½ lb Brussel sprouts (trimmed & halved)
Pinch sea salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat butter in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add sausage, and cook, stirring until it breaks into small pieces and is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove sausage with slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
2. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Add the onions, stirring until golden and beginning to soften, about 6 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, and thyme and simmer over medium heat until liquid starts to thicken, 20 to 25 minutes. Add sausage, squash, carrots, parsnips, and fennel; cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, uncovered, another 10 to 15 minutes, or until veggies are easily pierced with a fork. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
**I am not a chef, and am all about short-cuts, so I often just take all the ingredients and throw them into a crockpot and wa-lah! At the end of the day your stew is ready 😃
Gut-friendly appetizers. If you’re headed to a party, bring Bubbies fermented pickles to add to your appetizer spread. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are good bacteria that help keep your gut happy.
Cocktail control.Alcohol can be hard on the gut because it inhibits the production of digestive enzymes that break down and digest foods. Those partially digested foods ferment in the gut, leading to gas, bloating and loose stools.
If you’ve been trying to cut back on your alcohol intake, holiday parties can test your resolve. Plan ahead to help you approach cocktail hour without feeling pressured to drink when you don’t want to.
When you attend a party, wait a bit before saying yes to a drink rather than getting one as soon as you walk in the door. This gives you a chance to decide if you really want a drink. If you decide after a while that you would like one, then have one. By waiting, you’re also less likely to over-imbibe.
Feeling weird about abstaining? Take comfort in the fact that more people are choosing not to drink. According to a Gallup poll, Americans are consuming less alcohol, with rates decreasing from 65% in 2019 to 60% in 2021. [This might make a good pull-out quote graphic]
But don’t feel like you have to stick to water or club soda. Many bars offer non-alcoholic alternatives like virgin wine spritzers and non-alcoholic Moscow Mules and Mojitos.
Kombucha is a great alternative to sweetened or alcoholic beverages, plus it’s a fermented beverage which means it contains probiotics that your gut loves. One of my favorite brands is Live Raw and Organic Kombucha which is lower in sugar. Their cream soda is delicious!
Seeking a festive winter mocktail? Here’s one of my favorite recipes:
- Kombucha. Ginger, cranberry or original flavors are great (or get creative).
- Cranberry juice. Choose 100% unsweetened cranberry juice which is low in sugar and immune-supportive. The sweetness of the kombucha will balance the tartness of the cranberry juice. If the drink is still too tart for our taste, add some drops of stevia.
- Fresh ginger. Fresh ginger adds a spicy zing, which is similar to the sensation you get with alcohol. It supports digestion and the immune system.
- Fresh rosemary. Rosemary gives the drink a savory, refreshing and festive twist.
- Fresh cranberries. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and potent antioxidants. Even if you don’t care to eat raw cranberries, they make a beautiful holiday garnish for your drink.
Sweet swaps. Sugar can easily creep into our diet this time of the year. Manage your sugar cravings by choosing alternatives that are easier on the gut, but just as tasty. Here are some of my go-to’s:
- Vital Proteins Chocolate Collagen Peptides. Blend with warm almond, coconut or oat milk for a delicious hot chocolate that’s gut supportive.
- 85% dark chocolate or Lily’s chocolate. One of my favorite chocolate bars is 90% Alter Eco Mint Blackout.
- NuTrail Keto Granola. Available at Costco, this granola is a great grab-and-go snack to have around if you’re ready to dig into sweets and need an alternative.
- Creamsicle gummies. This sweet, but healthy treat only takes about 30 minutes, including time to set. Check out the recipe below.
Total time to make: 30 minutes, including time to set | makes: about 20 gummies
For the orange layer:
1/3 cup cold water
3 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon vanilla powder or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the coconut cream layer:
1/3 cup cold water
3 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup full fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons honey
1/8 teaspoon vanilla powder or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
START WITH THE ORANGE LAYER:
• In a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Set aside. Heat the orange juice in a small sauce pan until steaming. Pour the orange juice over the gelatin, stirring to dissolve. Stir in the honey and vanilla.
• Pour the mixture into a candy mold, filling them halfway. Refrigerate while you make the coconut layer.
TO MAKE THE COCONUT LAYER:
• In a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Set aside. Heat the coconut milk in a small sauce pan until steaming. Pour the coconut milk over the gelatin, stirring to dissolve. Stir in the honey and vanilla.
• Check the orange layer; if it’s firm to the touch, you’re ready to add the second layer. Remove from the fridge and carefully fill the second half of the molds with the coconut mixture. Return to the fridge until solid.
By taking a mindful approach to the excesses of the holidays and trying some simple tweaks, you’ll be able to fully embrace the beauty and magic of the season while caring for your most precious resource and best gift of all—your health.
Want some support?
Making lifestyle changes can be hard, especially if you aren’t sure what’s at the root of your digestive distress, anxiety or depression. If you need a hand, I can help. Contact me today for a complimentary 20-minute discovery call and I’d be happy to answer any questions.