Eggnog and cookies and pie, oh my! When you have a health concern, navigating through December can feel like avoiding the Wicked Witch in the Enchanted Forest.
Is it possible to maintain, or even improve your health with the additional stressors of the holiday season? I suggested a number of healthy eating practices for the holidays in last month’s Bella column. This month I will recommend a simple strategy for implementing them using three specific health challenges.
Identify Your Big Why
Maintaining healthy eating and living patterns is hard, especially during the holidays. You are going against everything that is programmed by our society. You need to have a strong motivating reason to fight this external pressure. This reason must be personal to you. Influences from other people rarely are enough for us to persevere during challenging times.
One of my nutrition clients was diagnosed with high blood pressure. She did not want to go on medication so was strongly motivated to adopt the diet and lifestyle changes needed to reduce her blood pressure.
Another client had high blood sugar which was approaching the diabetic range. She also was highly motivated to change in order to avoid the complications of diabetes.
I was recently diagnosed with a hole between the chambers of my heart. This is a congenital heart defect that was just recently found. I am having a surgical procedure this month to repair it. My motivation is to keep as healthy as possible both before and after surgery so that I will recover and regain full heart function.
All three of us are motivated to keep to our respective healthy diets during the holidays.
Diet changes are often focused on foods that should be eliminated. It is also equally important to add certain lifestyle or diet practices. Often the additions are easier to implement than things that must be eliminated. Elimination can come with a feeling of loss or deprivation. Conversely, adding can give a feeling of expansion. Because most people are already adding a lot of things to their schedules during December, I suggest focusing on adding one habit for the month, and not more. Change is often easier when done in an incremental manner. Once one habit is mastered, then additional ones can be worked on in future months.
My client with high blood pressure decided to add celery to her diet on a daily basis. One of the compounds in celery has been shown to be very effective for blood pressure reductions. In animal studies an amount equivalent to four stalks a day lowered blood pressure 12 to 14 percent. Celery is also a high-fiber and low-calorie food, which is very helpful for most people. An afternoon snack of a few stalks of celery with a small amount of almond butter topping is an easy diet addition for her.
The pre-diabetic client knew exercise helped lower her blood sugar, but she had not been exercising recently. She decided to walk a mile every day during her lunch break at work. This small amount of regular exercise was the foundation she could lay now. She plans to initiate a more formal exercise program in the new year.
Consuming probiotics (good bacteria) is an important component of preventing illness. I have begun eating one serving of probiotic-rich foods every day and taking a high quality probiotic supplement. Foods high in probiotics include yogurt and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir beverages. I had been consuming some of each of these, but not every day, nor was I taking probiotic supplements.
Almost all diseases are made worse by inflammation, which is the body’s response to an irritant. Unhealthy foods increase inflammation in our bodies, so by eliminating them we can reduce inflammation and improve our health.
With high blood pressure it is especially important to reduce sodium and increase potassium in the diet. My client is already increasing potassium by adding celery, so now she also wants to reduce sodium. She decided to eliminate processed meats from her diet for December. This means avoiding ham and bacon, and also the lunchmeats she was using daily on the sandwiches she ate for lunch. She began to eat salads for lunch instead of sandwiches, which further increased her potassium intake. Salad toppings of hard boiled eggs, fresh fish, chicken or turkey slices, chickpeas or beans are great protein sources and have much less salt than processed meats.
Blood sugar spikes can be controlled by reducing the amount of added sugar in the diet. The prediabetic client decided to eliminate all sweetened beverages and fruit juices for this month. She then chose to drink only water, sparkling water with lemon, and coffee or tea sweetened with stevia. Since she had been in the habit of drinking multiple glasses of sweetened iced tea during the day, this change will significantly reduce her sugar intake.
Even healthy foods can cause inflammation in the body if the person has an allergy or sensitivity to that food. I have a sensitivity to dairy and had been increasing my consumption of cheese and ice cream over the past few months. I have decided to eliminate these items entirely over the next few months, to reduce the potential for inflammation in my body and thus further assist healing after my heart procedure.
It will be possible for you to maintain or even improve your health during December if you follow our example. Determine your purpose or “big why” for making health changes. Then determine one doable practice to add and one negative practice that you can eliminate. Be like Dorothy. Throw the water of good nutrition and lifestyle and watch the Wicked Witch of ill health melt away!
Ginger Hudock is a holistic nutrition consultant in Aiken, SC. Her business, Nutrition with Ginger, helps clients discover the power of personalized, whole foods nutrition to prevent and heal from many chronic health concerns, especially food allergies and sensitivities. She is a graduate of the Nutrition Consultant Program at Hawthorn University and is also a Certified Gluten Practitioner. To sign up for nutrition consultation sessions or her newsletter and blog where she gives more nutrition news and recipes, visit Ginger’s website at www.NutritionwithGinger.net, or call 803-640-4381.