Oh, the holidays. This special time of year with So. Much. Excess. Parties, family, food, drinks, desserts, travel. While the holidays can mean lots of fun, it can also mean over extending ourselves, getting sick, feeling run down, and losing sight of our own health goals. If this sounds familiar, I encourage you to make this holiday season different! Last year I wrote a Holiday survival guide that covered a few important things to focus on during the holidays to support your health. This year I wanted to give you something more comprehensive - for mind, body and soul - and full of realistic tips and daily doable actions.
Inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas, I’ve put together the 12 Days of Health for you this holiday season. These 12 actions will help you avoid illness, feel more energized, and have a happier, healthier holiday.
SHORTCUT: If reading this whole post seems like just one more thing you have to do and you ain’t got time for that, I get it! I’ll be posting one tip a day on social media, so play along and incorporate one action at a time, until you’ve got a whole array of healthy habits to ensure you’re feeling great this holiday season.
12 Days of Health
1. Stay Hydrated
This is the simplest and cheapest step you can take toward supporting your health. When we are even mildly dehydrated, we can feel sluggish, achy, and moody, as our body struggles to flush out toxins and stay in balance. Sometimes we think we’re hungry, when really our body just needs water.
I recommend drinking half your weight in ounces of filtered water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, drink 75 oz. of water. Does that seem like a lot? Start each morning with a full glass of water to rehydrate after sleeping. Try to drink a glass each hour. If you forget, try setting an alert on your computer or phone to remind you, and get a cute reusable water bottle to carry with you. You can add lemon, cucumber, or even drink herbal tea. But, if you drink caffeine, alcohol, or exercise, you’re gonna need to drink an extra glass to compensate.
Try it: Figure out half your weight and aim to drink that many oz. in filtered water today. Use the tips above to help, and if it seems like too much, start with what you can, and each day add an extra glass, until you’ve reached your goal.
The effect of sleep on our physical and mental health is really underrated, and is often the first thing we sacrifice when our schedules get full. All those late nights out while still trying to maintain our regular work and daily schedules can really take a toll on our health. Without adequate sleep, our hormones quickly become unbalanced, leading to increased appetite, poor mood, lowered immunity and a decreased ability to respond to stress. Then we often compensate with too much caffeine and sugar, we skip workouts because we’re tired, we get grumpy with family and start to resent the extra obligations that come during the holidays.
Try it: Tonight, block off at least 6 hours to sleep, 8 is even better. Make sure not to have caffeine at least six hours before you go to sleep, even longer if you’re more sensitive. Help yourself wind down at night with a cup of herbal tea, a bubble bath, and make sure to turn off all screens (even your phone!) an hour before you go to sleep.
3. Manage Stress
This one gets personal. The holidays can stir up all kinds of emotions, and not all of them are always pleasant. Anxiety over seeing family, grief over a lost loved one, financial pressure to buy gifts, or simply just the added busyness can stress us out. While those things might be unavoidable, we are in control of how we react to them.
Meditation is a proven method of stress reduction, improving our ability to calm ourselves and live in the present moment. You can try any number of the available meditation apps, free videos online, or check the schedule at your local yoga studio or wellness center for a meditation or restorative yoga class.
If meditation isn’t your thing, there are lots of other options. Make a commitment to take 3 deep breaths when you wake up, before you eat, when you find yourself getting upset, and before you go to bed. Keep a journal, and get out your frustrations on paper, as well as reminding yourself what you’re grateful for. Go for a walk at lunch or after work to clear your head. At some point in your day, take a pause and reset, doing whatever it is that allows you to stay grounded and centered.
Try it: Before bed tonight, set a timer and give yourself 5 minutes to sit quietly and breathe. If you have a favorite meditation method then use that, or if you’re newer to it, simply sit comfortable, and focus on the breath flowing in and out of your body. As thoughts come in, just notice and try to let them go, coming back to breath. Tomorrow, do the same thing as soon as you wake up. Even if it seems difficult, try to stick with it for at least two weeks. Just like anything, it takes practice.
4. Increase Your Nutrient Intake
Make it your mission this month to eat as many nutrient dense foods as you can, as a way to stock up on immune fighting, metabolism boosting, digestion supporting, detoxifying nutrients that help keep you healthy. This means more vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, beans and lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds and fermented foods. Check out the farmers’ market and see what produce is in season to help get inspired. For example, there’s tons of citrus in season now, which is perfect for increasing vitamin C, an essential nutrient for our immune system and important antioxidant. When your body has nutrient reserves, it can withstand a few late nights, an extra cocktail, or a little extra sugar much better than if it was already depleted.
I know when the days are shorter and the temperature dips, many of us just want carb-laden comfort food. That’s ok! If you’re making pasta, add veggies like broccoli and zucchini, or get extra fiber and protein by adding white beans. Enjoy warm soups and stews with lots of veggies and spices, snack on nuts and fruit instead of leftover pie, and really take advantage of the quiet meals you have at home to nourish yourself.
Try it: Make this simple soup tonight for dinner. Check out my pinterest boards, browse through past blogs, grab a cookbook, or search online to plan at least 3 home cooked, veggie-filled dinners this week. Bonus if you make extras for lunch! Try to enjoy each meal slowly, sitting down, and without distractions from your phone or other screens. Your brain, and digestion, will thank you!
Kale and White Bean Soup
Vegan and gluten free'
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch kale (about 6 leaves), any kind you like, de-stemmed and chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 carrots, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 tsp. each dried rosemary, oregano and thyme
1 bay leaf
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth
sea salt and black pepper
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onion and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes.
Add carrots, garlic, shallot and herbs, cooking for about 5 minutes, lowering the heat or adding a bit more oil if garlic starts to burn.
Stir in the tomatoes and beans, letting the tomatoes cook down for about 5 minutes.
Add the vegetable broth and bay leaf and simmer, stirring occasionally for at least half an hour, until the carrots are tender.
Stir in the kale and turn off the heat, covering for few more minutes, just until the kale softens. Taste and season with salt and pepper as you like.
Top with parsley, green onion or any other fresh herbs, and enjoy!
5. Move Your Body
Ok, we all know exercise is essential to our health, from supporting our heart, to improving mood, to managing a healthy weight. Sure, running, yoga, interval training and other heart pumping exercise is all great and definitely encouraged, but sometimes to help balance out all the energy we put out at this time of year, some calmer movement really does the trick. A walk, yard work, stretching in your living room while watching the Great British Baking Show (yep, guilty!), it all helps. Try to get at least 30 minutes a day of movement, to counteract all the sitting most of us do all day long.
Try it: Decide how you will get your movement in today. Is it a class, a run, a yoga video at home? If you need motivation, call a friend to join you. Look ahead at your week and schedule in at least 30 minutes of movement for 5 days in the next week.
6. Reduce Sugar and Processed Food
We all know sugar is no good for us. It increases inflammation, weakens the immune system, and of course, sabotages our attempts at weight loss. If you are going to eat sweet treats, try to pick one or two you REALLY want. For me, that’s usually something homemade (not necessarily by me), because the packaged stuff is never really that good anyway. Avoid the mindless grazing and be intentional with your choices. Serve yourself a small piece, or slowly savor just a few bites and then put the plate aside. Once you start eating less sugar, you’ll be more sensitive to the taste and the effects, and you’ll crave less of it. Swapping dessert for a flavorful tea or fruit is also a great habit to get into if you’re a chronic sugar eater.
Get in the habit of reading labels. Many of us eat sugar without even realizing it if we’re eating something store-bought. Pre-made food, bars, baked goods, even dressings and sauces often have hidden sugar. If it’s in the first three ingredients listed, pass. Save your sugar intake for when its really worth it, rather than it sneaking into your food unnecessarily. And of course, avoid drinking your sugar in sodas or syrup flavored lattes.
Try it: Think about all the foods you ate yesterday with sugar, either intentionally or hidden in something. Today, try to half that amount. If you turn toward sugar as a pick-me up later in the day, instead try green tea, or a snack with some fat and protein, like an apple with nut butter.
7. Limit Alcohol
This seems to be one of the toughest ones for many of my clients. “It’s a party, we all want to enjoy a few drinks, what’s the harm?” Aside from the negative health effects of alcohol consumption (which I won’t go into, this is a holiday post and I don’t want to bum you out), drinking also gets in the way of many of the other 11 items here. Think about it: How likely are you to exercise if you’re tired and hungover? Are you really going to have a salad for lunch if you’re craving grease and salt to soak up all the drinks from the night before? And alcohol definitely interrupts your sleep, making the next day just that much more of a struggle to get through.
Aim to give your liver a break by only picking two days a week to drink. But, that doesn’t mean go crazy on those two days. On occasions where you do decide to drink, limit yourself to just a few, drinking slowly and really savoring it, and alternate with water so you stay hydrated and still have something in your hand to sip. I know its not easy, but you’ll be doing yourself a HUGE favor if you commit to this one, I promise.
Try it: Take a look at the calendar and mark off days this month where you won’t drink at all. If you know you’re going to a party tomorrow, skip the red wine at home on the couch tonight. At your next event, decide beforehand - while sober - how many you will have, and stick to it!
8. Be Prepared
I mean this in two ways: The first being specific to holiday gatherings, where you might not have much control over what is being served. Ask your host if you can bring something to share, that way you’ll have at least one healthy dish at the party to eat. If bringing food isn’t an option, eat a small salad or bowl of soup before you go, so you’re not starving and end up having a cheese platter for your dinner.
Being prepared is also a good idea to implement in your kitchen as well, all year long. We all know that when you’re starving, or running out the door, it’s hard to eat well. The solution is Meal Prep. Spend a few hours shopping, prepping and cooking food one afternoon, and save yourself a TON of time later in the week. My go-to items are a soup or chili, roasted veggies, washed and cut fresh veggies, a grain like brown rice or quinoa, and a dressing or sauce. When you have all the components ready to go, all it takes is a few minutes to put together a healthy, balanced meal.
Try it: Decide which meal you tend to have the most trouble with, do you rush out the door in the morning without a good breakfast? Do you usually eat out for lunch, or is it dinner that seems like too much trouble every night? This week, meal prep at least 3 days, for one of those. Check out my previous post on meal prep for some ideas. Commit to making your own food so you can fill your meals with nourishing, tasty ingredients!
9. Prioritize Yourself
If you were to make a list of the most important things to you, would you be in the top 3? Are you even on it? Many of us take our health for granted, only paying attention to ourselves when something is REALLY wrong. But taking care of yourself, every day, is preventive health, and it can make a big impact. It takes a bit of practice, and sometimes, a mindset shift, but you deserve this.
The holidays are a time where many of us (myself included here) over extend ourselves. But how can you take care of and support those around you, if you are tired, sick and run-down? Nobody can exercise for you, nobody can feed you healthy food, nobody can relax for you. Only you have the ability to know what you need, and take care of yourself. Commit to carving out time every day for yourself. Some days it could be 10 minutes to meditate, or just sit and breathe. Other days it could be time at the gym, a massage, or a bubble bath and a good book. If you really can’t find the time, then it might be time to figure out what else in your day can you say now to? Bump yourself up that list of priorities. Put it in your calendar just like anything else you don’t want to forget, and commit.
Try it: What have you been putting off that you really want to do, just for yourself? Make it happen, today. If you need to schedule it, make that appointment today, write it down, and do not cancel.
10. Get Some Sunlight
As the days get shorter, many of us miss out on the sun. Especially if you work inside, you may miss daylight all together during the winter. Turns out not getting enough sunlight can really effect our health.
Vitamin D, which our body produces from UV rays of the sun, is essential in regulating our immune system.
Some evidence shows that our brains produce more serotonin on sunnier days, affecting our mood. Personally, I know I experienced some seasonal depression my first year of college in Seattle during the winter, when it felt like months of gray skies would never let up.
Getting natural light exposure during the day will also help you sleep better at night.
Try it: Today (or the next day its sunny where you live), make a point to spend some time outside soaking up some rays. If you’re fair skinned, even just 10 minutes can do the trick. If you don’t burn easily, try 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen. You can take a walk, tend to the garden, or just sip some tea while feeling the sun on the your skin, knowing its for your health!
11. Get Cozy
Despite the fact that December is often a whirlwind of various holiday events, this time of year is really the time to turn inward, slow down and get cozy. Without the seriousness of meditation, or the effort of exercise, I’m referring to taking care of yourself in a more seasonal way. That might mean curling up under a blanket in your favorite fuzzy socks and reading book. Or inviting a few friends over for a movie night and making popcorn. Really, its up to you to personalize how you like to get warm and snuggly and create a sense of contentment.
I recommend including a cup of tea, tonic or latte to bump up the coziness. Tea contains a high number of antioxidants, some of the highest are in green or white tea, but herbal tea like rooibos, oolong or chamomile each have wonderful benefits as well. You can also use spices and adaptogens, (plants that have special affects on the nervous and endocrine system to help the body adapt to stress), to amp up the health factor.
Try it: Snuggle up and try this anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant rich Turmeric Cocoa tonight.
half a cup of hot water
half a cup of almond milk (or preferred nut milk)
¼ tsp. dried turmeric
¼ tsp. raw cacao powder (not cocoa)
1/8 tsp. dried ginger
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
A pinch of black pepper (helps the turmeric absorption)
1/2 tsp. coconut butter or 1/4 tsp. coconut oil
½ tsp. honey (a little more if you need it sweeter, or swap for maple syrup if you’re vegan)
In a small saucepan, warm the water and milk. Add each of the ingredients, saving the honey for last and whisk for a few minutes on low. Once the mixture is warm and dissolved, whisk in the honey and pour into your favorite mug.
Have fun this holiday season! Being healthy doesn’t mean depriving yourself of things you enjoy. When it comes to your health, try to stick to the 80 /20 rule. Stay on track, making healthy choices 80% of the time, and 20% of the time allow yourself to do something just because you want to, whether it’s a brownie, staying out late because you’re having SO much fun, or having fries instead of salad. The trick is not letting those indulgences throw you off entirely. Rather than thinking, “Well I blew my diet, might as well go crazy and try again tomorrow”, think “ooh, that treat was great and totally worth it, I’ll be able to balance it out by having a veggie filled dinner.” If you’re worried about knowing what 20% looks like, keep a diet journal. Writing your food down will help you keep track of your choices and keep you honest.
This is a time of joy and celebration! When you allow yourself some treats and indulgences, you’re more likely to stick to your healthy habits long term than if you deprived yourself entirely. And most importantly, don’t waste time feeling guilty or ashamed if you’re not “perfect”. If you’re gonna eat the brownie, ENJOY the brownie and move on with your life!
Follow me on instagram and Facebook for daily reminders of all 12 tips and details about how to incorporate each action into your daily life. If you want extra help meal planning, plant-based recipes, specific nutrient recommendations just for you, or need some motivation and accountability, I’m here to help. And I love to hearing from you! Let me know how these actions go, and if you’ve got any of your own secrets for keeping the holidays healthy!