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Health and Peace

By Meguire Caldwell, MS


The holidays have somehow crept up on us once again. Just as quickly as the season has come, it will be gone. Too often we are left feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and irritable. Once again, we are pressured by another New Year’s "resolution." Such emotions often lead to overeating. It’s no wonder so many of us pack on the pounds during the holidays.

SO THE TRUTH IS, in the beginning of the holiday season, food can be somewhat of the enemy. We attempt to be "good" and courageously refuse a slice of pumpkin bread that our coworker has so devilishly brought in for the third day in a row. Our food relationship seems to become one of comfort and relief. Before we know it, a vicious food and emotional cycle has evolved. What was once comfort and relief is once again the stress and fatigue that caused the overindulgence in the first place. It’s a good thing the New Year’s resolution is coming, right? Wrong!

The good news is that it does not have to be this way. We are all capable of maintaining health and peace during the busy "seasons" of the holidays, and we are capable of avoiding a weight-related resolution as well. It just takes a little "tenderloving care". Remembering to take care of ourselves is probably the most important thing we can do during this time. I believe that keeping the spirits up can actually result in better eating habits. Doing so allows us to not merely make it through the holiday, but to enjoy and appreciate it even with all of its nuances. But what does it mean to do this? And how? With everything else that’s going on, you might be thinking, how am I supposed to make time for myself? True, it can be a hard thing to imagine, but in reality, you don’t have to do much because even a little goes a long way.

If you are one who likes to cook during the holidays, try mixing it up a bit in the kitchen. Use fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits, and complex carbohydrates that offer those gorgeous fall colors. For example, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and winter squashes, pumpkin, carrots, yams, and sweet potatoes all pack in nutrients such as the antioxidants vitamin A, C, and E, B vitamins, flavenoids, and fiber. Plus they’re low in calories. The antioxidants can help boost immunity and mood, and improve liver function, which when overloaded with fat laden, high calorie holiday meals and snacks, will start to "shut down," leaving you fatigued, stressed, and sluggish, and caught in the vicious cycle. The extra fiber will help maintain regular excretion, also important for a healthy working body. When using these loving ingredients, remember that most traditional holiday recipes call for cream, sugar, and/or butter. Therefore, try using half cream and half chicken stock when the recipe calls for cream. Also, sauté onions, garlic, celery, etc. in heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils rather than butter. According to Lester Packer, PhD, director of the Packer Lab and the University of California at Berkeley, solid fats such as margarine and butter should be avoided because they promote the formation of disease-promoting fats. My personal favorites are flaxseed, grape seed, and olive oils. Flaxseed oil is high in lignans (powerful antioxidants) and essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for a healthy heart, clean arteries, and low cholesterol levels. Grape seed oil and olive oils contain high amounts of vitamin E, which is the single most important antioxidant for heart health (Balch, 1998).

The color thing goes for herbs and spices too. Use cayenne, tumeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander bay leaves to flavor dishes, adding immune and metabolism boosting benefits. Prepare organic, cage free chickens, and grass fed meats raised without antibiotics or hormones. They’re much healthier for you than their counterparts. If cooking results in picking at food for hours, try enjoying a cup of hot tea to minimize that habit. Or, try munching on a variety of veggies served with low fat cottage cheese and green onions, hummus, or guacamole. Try just one of these healthful tips or try them all. Allowing ourselves to receive such care can be very empowering because it offers us a chance for increased awareness of the body, mind, and soul.

Be mindful when you’re in the kitchen and around the table. When we’re not the ones cooking, we don’t have much control over the ingredients used, but we do have the ability to practice portion control. Remember balance and moderation. So, enjoy the foods that you’ve waited all year for, just be conscious when you’re loading up your plate. Yes, this is a form of taking care of ourselves. A 3-ounce serving size of protein is about the size of the palm of our hand, while a carbohydrate, vegetable, and fruit serving is about the size of a tennis ball. So if there are two protein dishes, start by taking enough from both to equal a palm full. The same goes for the carbs, and sometimes fruit and vegetable dishes, depending on how much butter and sugar have been added. For example, if steamed veggies are an option, then pile them on! Go light on gravies, butters, and dressings (use olive oil and balsamic when possible). Find peace in knowing that the holidays were meant for celebrating life, tradition and religion with family and friends. Food was intended to be savored as nourishment for the body, so fill up on nourishment, not gluttony.

Again, I think being mindful around the table can keep us in the moment. Remember that chewing is the first mechanical step in the digestive process. Not chewing food thoroughly and slowly can result in food reactions and sensitivities, bloating, malabsorption, and weight gain. Be aware of the importance in chewing well. Don’t forget the importance of breathing too. Stay "present" by pausing between bites for slow methodical breaths. Look around the table, and ask yourself, "Whom haven’t I talked to yet?" We must take care of ourselves in this way. Opening up our hearts and minds to give and receive has powerful biochemical effects that can offer us that sense of joy, peace, and well being that we are always so desperate for throughout the holidays.

Possibly one of the most challenging things for us to do is find the time for exercise during all the holiday hustle and bustle. If we can embrace exercise as movement for cardiovascular, lymph, immune, and mental health rather than a chore or a rescue from calories, we might just be able to truly enjoy the experience. Allow yourself to benefit from mood enhancing endorphins that boost us throughout the day. Just 20 minutes a day is beneficial, and getting outside is even better. It’s invigorating!

So give yourself what you deserve. Take just a few minutes of your day to go for a walk in the cool crisp air of fall. Take in the colors and smells of the season. Get the family involved and go before or after dinner, or both! Go early in the morning or go at sunset, when the Arizona sun is soft, low, and orange.

Whatever way you choose to move, realize that you are doing amazing things for your body. Whatever ideas you choose to try in the kitchen, around the dinner table, and at holiday parties, remember that even a little goes a long way. Your "tender-loving care" and increased self-awareness will be recognized through a greater sense of well being, even in the the most stressful, busiest times of the holiday’s seasons. By January 1st, you may find you have a new freshness and outlook about life and the New Year. Rather than another empty spirit and yet another promising miracle diet, you may just find you still have your peace and health. Wouldn’t that be a great thing? 



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