Yes, the festive nights of Christmas celebrations have arrived once again. While Christmas is something most people to look forward to, what about the toll on our minds and bodies (not to mention our wallets) from the excesses. For as long as we’ve celebrated Christmas and the New Year, many of us have overindulged in food and alcohol. It can take quite a lot of self-control to make sure you don’t overindulge, but even your best intentions or plans can go wrong.
We haven’t written about overcoming the challenges of Christmas excess since 2010, so we thought a well timed update might be in order, with Christmas fast approaching. As Alice Walton in “The 12 Health Risks Of Christmas” an article in Forbes writes:
If you’re not a big fan of the holidays, don’t worry – you’re not alone. This time of year can spark all kinds of unexpected reactions and behaviours in even the most well-adjusted among us. There’s the loneliness, the anxiety, the guilt, the overindulgence (which can also lead to more guilt), and, of course, the bitterness. And to top it all off there’s the looming New Year, which is always disturbing since it hits us with the pressure of developing good habits right after we’ve fully exercised our bad ones.
What can we do about the common holiday pitfalls, emotional, mental and physical, which many of us encounter in some shape or form over the festive season or at any other time of year? How can we at least manage the tolls more effectively when they come our way? How do we deal with all those indulgences, the sumptuous foods and drink, the increased weather demands and the emotional or mental stresses and strains?
Here are the 12 Tolls of Christmas and how to cope with them . . .
1. Eating The Wrong Foods
Forbes magazine says this is the queen mother of the bad holiday habits. Christmas is a time when people are more likely to eat unhealthy foods, foods that can lead to weight gain, and many never lose it once the new year arrives. Our western diet and lifestyle means that gout has become more common. Gout attacks tend to be more prevalent at this time of year as you’re exposed to many more rich foods and drinks including red meats, poultry, fish and shellfish, plus alcohol, particularly beer. Left untreated, gout may cause permanent joint damage so it’s important to treat it early.
SOLUTION: Most of us pack on a few pounds over the Christmas to New Year stretch, but it doesn’t have to be that way, even at food-centric holiday gatherings. Try to be moderate – it may be the season to be jolly, but too much of the wrong food and alcohol can be harmful, an at the very least cause inflammation. If you can’t (or don’t want to) step off the social merry-go-round, at least try to eat and drink in moderation. Inflammation is more than just the side-effect you experience after a bee sting or a bruise – it can occur both internally and externally, negatively impacting your lifestyle. It is often bought about through the foods and drinks you indulge in.
- While nothing can substitute for a minimally processed, whole food diet of high quality food, locally grown whenever possible, there are a couple of essential supplements that I can recommend without hesitation. They would be a broad range of trace elements from either colloidal minerals and (or) high quality green food powders. Both help alkalise the body. Green foods, especially broccoli and alfalfa increases uric acid clearance, reduces acidity and decreases inflammation in your body.
- Celery seed helps to reduce the concentration of uric acid in your blood, preventing crystal build-up in the joints and increases urinary excretion of uric acid, to alleviate symptoms of mild arthritis, rheumatism and gout. Other herbs such as Devil’s claw, garlic and parsley also have an anti-inflammatory effect and are used traditionally to reduce swelling and provide relief from fluid retention.
2. Excess Alcohol
Over indulging with food and alcohol are two of the most common negative effects of Christmas on health, and almost hard to separate. Drinking too much is pretty common around the holidays, whether it’s to celebrate the festivities or take the edge off schmoozing with colleagues or family members you’d rather not be spending your free time with. Constance Scharff, PhD, Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research for Cliffside Malibu, points out that at this time of year, “it’s not just those with drinking problems who overindulge. Those who do not often drink can find themselves having a little too much at parties, when they’re having fun or when they are under stress.”
SOLUTION: Before drinking, eat food containing complex carbohydrates, protein and plenty of fat, as this takes a longer time to digest, slowing the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. A good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to two drinks total, and no more than one an hour, at social functions. Remember drink driving is a real danger and is illegal.
- And double up on your nutritional supplementation to help your body detox whether you are working out or not. There isn’t a single nutritional supplement in this world that can do more for your health than a well-balanced, minimally processed diet can, but some high quality nutrients take the load off more than you realise.
- Try to drink water in between, or alongside, any alcoholic drinks – and make sure you drink at least two litres a day.
- Exchanging drinks for kilometres might be a good incentive not to drink or eat too much. Make a deal with yourself before you enjoy a party with friends or family: work out how you might balance out the negative effects of what you are doing. Let’s say, for every alcoholic drink you consume, you must walk or run one kilometre the following day.
3. Digestive Upsets
Food, glorious food, is central to your Christmas and New Year celebrations. Trying to maintain some form of control over how much and what you eat can be difficult; there’s so much variety to choose from. Unfortunately, many ‘once a year’ celebratory foods tend to be high in calories, fat and sugar, placing an extra load on your digestive system and on your general health. This can contribute to feelings of fatigue, bloating, digestive upsets, gall ladder pain and spark off things like gout.
SOLUTION: Know where your food has come from and how it is grown can make a difference. This festive season, head to your local farmers’ markets and stock up on fresh whole foods. One tip my mother gave me was to start eating last. Research shows eating out with seven or more people will see you eat 50% more than if you had eaten on your own. Solve this problem by being the slowest eater – be the last to start eating and the last to stop. Bacteria, both good and bad, live naturally throughout the human gut. Unfortunately everyday factors such as alcohol intake, too much processed and fatty food or the use of drugs can tip the balance of good versus bad bacteria the wrong way.
- Use a fiber supreme, it: expands in your intestine in the presence of water, so helps induce and prolong a feeling of fullness and assists calorie control.
- Probiotics, or good (probiotic!) bacteria can help to restore digestive balance and support good bacteria in the gut.
- Digestive enzymes help your body break down the food you eat (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibre and lactose) to unlock nutrients and helps reduce your risk of developing digestive discomfort. Protease, amylase, lactase, lipase, and cellulase are found naturally in the body, while other enzymes like bromelain are plant-derived enzymes that assist your body’s enzymatic process. When combined, these digestive enzymes help to aid in proper digestive function and absorption of nutrients, and reduce or eliminate many digestive upsets.
4. Too Much P-a-r-t-y-ing Impacts Your Liver
Drinking to excess also leads to detrimental effects of Christmas on your general health, can contribute to feelings of fatigue throughout the day, and may also take it’s toll on your liver. Whether you’re a regular partygoer, or you only drink a small amount of alcohol every now and then, you should anticipate a busy festive season and think about supporting your liver. This means taking supplements before and after social functions to help minimise any hangover effect as your liver is heavily involved in detoxifying alcohol. You may have a stack of party invitations but remember, you don’t need to attend them all. Too many of us wear busyness like a badge of honour, when really it just saps our energy.
SOLUTION: Choose the most important events to attend and only go to these. Next take some daily steps to look after your liver in advance. Drink lots of water and take nutritional supplements. Acidity causes inflammation, the mother of many health issues. So make sure you alkalise your body. Everything you consume or are exposed to can affect the functioning of the liver – give it a break wherever you can!
- A comprehensive multivitamin supplement (including, magnesium, B vitamins and other nutrients) will help to replenish your electrolytes and restore hydration, provide energy and assist with headache relief.
- Silymarin – from the plant commonly known as St Mary’s Thistle – acts as a liver tonic and assists in the detoxification process. Plus it supports healthy gallbladder and bile flow function. Dandelion and the nutrient curcumin from Turmeric are also traditional herbs used to support and protect your liver.
5. Letting One Big Bad Meal Ruin Your Week
Don’t let one big meal or an over-indulgent party or two derail your health for the rest of the week (or year!). Many people go off the rails once, and notice their weight-gain, then give up and keep on bingeing. If you are struggling with weight gain, reach out to your Savvy Team for support to stay on track. It is amazing what a difference that can make. One meal isn’t enough to make your clothes tighter, whereas a whole week of bad eating really can have an impact. Adding some fat-burning foods to your diet can increase thermogenesis and really help you lose weight, reduce your risk of obesity and increase your metabolism. Who wouldn’t want that! And because your body loves these foods so much, you’ll probably experience a boost of energy, too!
SOLUTION: Shop for, and prepare in advance lots of yummy salads to eat when you are at home, and use as many different colours as you can. The key to maintaining good health is to get back on track from the very next meal. If you’ve had too much to eat or drink, resist the fry-up for breakfast and get back on track with some wholegrain toast and fruit. If you’ve had a massive lunch, have a green salad or omelette for dinner. Eat something healthy before you go out, to reduce the amount you eat when out, and so you don’t binge on the wrong foods.
- Take a carb blocker that is designed to help you reduce your carb intake. Extracts of white kidney bean can help reduce the conversion of starchy foods into sugars in your system – delaying digestion and absorption of carbs. Of course not eating them in the first place is better, but at least have some carb blocker on hand for when you do break you regular diet.
- Thermogenesis is a metabolic process during which your body burns calories to produce heat. Several factors induce thermogenesis in your body including exercise, environmental temperature, some specific foods and uniques supplements. From bone broth to chia seeds, from green foods to coconut oil, from the natural caffeine in guarana to green tea, all boost your metabolism and give an extra energy boost.
- The active ingredients in healthy thermogenic supplements vary, but most contain guarana, green tea extract, and even the acai berry from the jungles of the Amazon rainforest to promote the feeling of alertness. They also help you function, move and think and without needing a sugary soft drink to wake yourself up!
- Coconut oil contains a unique combination of fatty acids with powerful effects on metabolism. It is the world’s most weight loss friendly fat. Several studies show that just by adding coconut oil to your diet you can lose fat, especially the “dangerous” fat in the abdominal cavity.
- One super simple change you can make is to add cayenne pepper to your food! This spicy little pepper can suppress hunger levels and normalize glucose levels. It also boosts your immune system, helping you kick that cold sooner so you can get back to feeling great.
- Good health leaves you feeling energetic – your muscles are loose, and digestion is regular. Mexican wild yam has been used for centuries to produce feelings of good health by reducing, muscular cramps and gall bladder pain, soothing intestinal colic, and easing the symptoms of mild gastritis.
6. Holiday Depression
Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals. Many find that with all the pressure to be happy this time of year, it’s not hard to be depressed. This is especially true if you don’t have exciting plans, or any plans. On the other end of the spectrum, having too much to do can also be mentally depleting.
SOLUTION: Plan some fun relaxing outings, doing things that you want to do. If you feel like company, invite people you like to be with along. Don’t be attached to them having to come though, because everybody is busy. Be willing to go it alone and have a good time, and it’s even more fun if others join you.
- Make sure you are getting all your nutritional requirements. This can make a big difference to how you feel, think, and react to the daily stressors of life.
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm. A 2012 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders of 2,800 middle-aged and elderly people and found those who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression symptoms than those who took in the least.
- Essential oils have amazing therapeutic effects. For instance the combination of Roman chamomile, ylang ylang, lavender and geranium work together to provide symptomatic relief from the discomfort associated with menopause and pre-menstrual syndrome and also assist with nervous tension, stress and mild anxiety.
7. Seasonal Stress
Stress, anxiety, and depression are common during the festive season. Christmas is typically one of the most stressful events of the year. The expense of buying gifts, the pressure of last minute shopping, and the heightened expectations of family togetherness can all combine to undermine our best intentions. Let’s face it, family arguments are a far more reliable bet than the chances of a white Christmas. Juggling the multiple demands of modern life can leave us more than a little frazzled however Christmas and New Year can be especially mentally, emotionally and physically draining, leaving you feeling stressed out and exhausted.
Whether you are hosting a party or attending one, don’t take it too seriously and try to plan ahead as much as possible. If you know that kind of thing really gets to you, then try to make sure that you’ve got everything you need before the week of Christmas. The most important thing to remember about Christmas is that it is only one day. Women especially find the holidays hard to manage. A study from the American Psychological Association found that 44% of women reported increased stress around the holidays compared to 31% of men.
SOLUTION: Managing your stress levels can be as easy as planning ahead so you don’t have to worry about last minute emergencies, or going for a walk or taking 5 minutes to do some deep breathing to relax. Keep moving – keeping up your regular exercise routine can give you the fitness and stamina to make it through the stress and demands of the festive season. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to enlist some help. Say you’re worried the family dinner won’t be prepared on time. Ask others to bring dishes or help you set the table. Recognising, dealing with or changing behaviours that contribute to your stress will help you get through the Christmas period both happier and healthier.
- The addition of herbal and nutritional stress support also helps you relax unwind and get a good night’s sleep. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Oregon State University medical students who took omega-3 supplements had a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to the group given placebo pills.
- There are a range of herbal nerve tonics, nutrients, and vitamins that help calm your body and mind.
- Lactium can assist in alleviating the effects of daily stress, nervous tension and mild anxiety.
- St John’s wort and valerian promote feelings of calmness whilst reducing anxiety and nervous tension.
- Withania is beneficial during times of stress and helps relieve nervous tension, stress and mild anxiety.
8. Holiday Heart Attacks
Christmas is celebrated almost all around the world, yet this worldwide festive season is apparently the perfect storm for heart attacks. That’s probably not a surprise, with many of the risk factors looming on the horizon. According to a Health, Mind, Body article it’s the worst time of year for heart trouble, with heart-related deaths peaking in late December and early January. (The deadliest day? December 25, according to one study.) Why? There are lots of reasons: holiday stress, family pressures, financial issues (heightened at Christmas), heavy meals (a known heart attack trigger), drinking too much, ignoring chest pain for fear of disrupting the festive mood or of possibly understaffed hospitals. Coronary heart disease (CHD), currently the leading cause of death in the United States for adult men, is a condition caused by the buildup of waxy plaque in the arteries that flow to and from the heart. There could be many reasons why this time of year ranks as the deadliest, when it is meant to be a celebration of joy, harmony, community.
SOLUTION: Many say that CHD is directly related to elevated inflammation levels, and that by reducing inflammation (said to be the root of most diseases) you place your body in a state that is conducive to healing. Many whole foods available in the grocery store can help reverse coronary heart disease and lower your risk for developing various forms of cardiovascular disorders. Remember, moderation is key.
- Pay attention to what is happening to you. Indigestion and heart pain can seem similar and it’s not worth taking the risk if you get a feeling a “heaviness” in your chest.
- Because inflammation and heart disease symptoms are tied to free radical damage (also called oxidative stress) increase your antioxidant levels in the body. When antioxidant levels are lower than free radicals (due to poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors), oxidation wreaks havoc in the body, damaging cells, breaking down tissue, mutating DNA and overloading the immune system.
- Environmental pollutants, alcohol, smoking, unhealthy fats and a lack of sleep can also generate a high level of free radicals.
There’s only one thing worse than being surrounded by your relatives at Christmas and that’s not being surrounded by them. At least for some. Many have spent a Christmas alone for some reason or another. Maybe you were living or travelling overseas. Whatever the reason, we all know how much spending the festive season by yourself sucks. The Christmas season is meant to be a time of joy, but for many people it can be a time of stress, anxiety, disappointment or loneliness. If nothing else, reassure yourself that these feelings are normal. But there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. There is no denying that loneliness has been associated with significant health problems, but beware of recommending solutions before understanding the nature of the issue.
SOLUTION: Somehow, the image of a family happily unwrapping Christmas gifts is greeted with joy, yet a solitary figure sitting by the fire, sipping a glass of wine, and reading or contemplating her past, present and future is less than palatable. Why? Thomas de Quincey, the famed intellectual who influenced Baudelaire and Borges, wrote:
Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is like light – the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential. All come into this world alone; all leave it alone
On the other hand, if you’d like to be with people, be proactive. Think of what you can organise, or who you could contribute to, over the festive season. Who else do you know who might be alone, that you can invite to join you for a shared meal? Start planning now so it’s not left till Christmas day to wonder what to do.
10. Not Getting Enough Sleep
With all the partying, don’t forget the importance of sleep. A good night’s rest is often the first thing we sacrifice in the midst of late-night parties, early-morning shopping, and year-end deadlines. For people traveling on vacations or to relatives’ houses, obstacles such as red-eye flights, jet lag, and unfamiliar bedrooms can disrupt z’s as well. But skimping on sleep can lower immunity, increase stress levels, and lead to weight gain; plus, it raises your risk for depression and automobile accidents. Sleep is time for your body to rest and repair, and inadequate sleep can interfere with your internal body clock. Growing research shows a link between a lack of sleep and weight-gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and an increased risk of accidents.
SOLUTION: As tempting as it is to ignore, it’s important to make sleep a priority to ensure a happy and healthy holiday. Get enough sleep – plan for as many early nights as you can. Aim for between 7–8 hours sleep each night. Create a healthy sleep environment. Avoid using cell phones, computers and watching television right before going to sleep. Take the hour before bed time to do something relaxing. Remember to stay healthy – eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep can help you cope, if you have sleepless nights over Christmas.
11. Lowered Immunity
Stress, alcohol, sugar, late nights and parties are a great recipe for lowering your immunity leaving you susceptible to summer colds and viruses. Besides ruining Christmas for anyone, flu can lead to life-threatening complications for people with underlying conditions. For instance, in the UK, someone will have an asthma attack every 10 seconds on Christmas Day and 200 of them will end up in hospital that day alone, according to Asthma UK. They warn that December is full of potential asthma triggers, including the wind, weather, stress, smoke from open fires and strong fragrances from perfume and scented candles. And it is just as relevant her in Australia. Even real Christmas trees are a danger as they can harbour mould spores that trigger reactions in some people.
SOLUTION: Prevention is better than cure and if you’re surrounded by sniffers, do something about it immediately. Try to keep the temperature throughout your home constant, especially if anyone elderly is staying with you – or people with heart or lung disease. Make sure you have herbal support on hand so you can take it as soon as you fee anything getting your immune system down. Sore throats, dry throat or mouth, achy joints or muscles or exhaustion are all signs your body is under attack.
12. Over Eating
People are more likely to eat unhealthy foods around the holidays, such as chips and dips before they even eat. The British Heart Foundation says Christmas lunch can provide more calories than are needed in an entire day. Keep eating everything you want over the holidays and you’ll end up looking like Santa when swimsuit season rolls around.
SOLUTION: Downsize the plate size. Be like Goldilocks and eat off the smallest plate you can find. Research shows the larger the plate, the more food dished up and the more food eaten. To reduce fat and calorie consumption remove skin from the turkey and eating slowly. If you’re at a buffet, be sure to keep an eye on the serving utensils, too – a larger serving spoon can see you dish up 15% more food that if you had used a smaller spoon. Alternatively, a study in The Journal of Physiology, showed that daily exercise lessens many of the harmful physiological effects of short-term overeating and inactivity.
So that’s it . . . 12 Tolls that you can either let ruin your Christmas, or that you can take simple steps to be proactive about. Start now, prepare for the physical onslaught your body is going to have to endure and you’ll come out the other side of the New Year looking and feeling grea. You might even discover a slimmer and healthier you, despite your Christmas cheer.
- The 12 Health Risks Of Christmas
- Christmas survival guide
- Beating Christmas stress and anxiety
- Christmas – tips to reduce the stress
- Biggest Health Issues Doctors See During the Holidays