Did you know the average American will eat about 7000 calories on Christmas Day? Learn how to avoid that – and other holiday blunders – this year with tips from Jackson Hole based, Mark Menolascino, MD.
“I hate the way I feel in January,” a friend told me last week, “but I don’t know what to do about it.” There’s a reason he feels this way after the holidays. On a cellular level, many of the things we do under the guise of holiday traditions cause us to not only feel lousy in January, but actually shorten our potential vital lifespan. The good news is that there is something we can do about it. Here’s the recipe to avoid many of the life-shortening pitfalls of the holiday season:
1. Eating too much
Estimates vary, but the average American consumes somewhere around 7000 calories on Christmas day, over three times the USDA’s recommended caloric intake. Burning excess calories causes oxidative stress and oxidative stress accelerates aging. On top of the sheer volume, high fat, high carbohydrate and low fiber are the name of the game with holiday meals – a perfect storm of for systemic inflammation. Inflammation not only makes you feel lousy, increases joint pain, ruins your skin and gives you acne, but has been tied to just about every chronic disease, ranging from Alzheimer’s to Heart disease.
Solution: Do the opposite of what your intuition would suggest: eat a high-fiber breakfast, such as high quality and ideally gluten free oatmeal with dried fruit cooked in water and for lunch eat a salad with some protein like grilled chicken or salmon. The fiber will help your metabolism to properly process the carbohydrates and sugars, and the nutrients in the salad will cause your gut to release peptide hormones that will help you to feel satiated, prevent the dreaded sugar crash, and reduce the tendency to overeat.
This one is a no-brainer, so to speak. There is even a syndrome, discovered in 1978, called Holiday Heart Syndrome (HHS), which is characterized by heart palpitations caused by drinking. Studies show that consuming more than 3 drinks greatly increases the risk of HHS. According to the latest recommendations, two drinks if you’re a man and one drink if you’re a woman can offer health benefits, but that’s only if you stop drinking at that point! For some, It may be hard to stop at one or two, but along with the toxic effects of alcohol, alcohol consumption is associated with increased food consumption, not what you need over the holidays.
Solution: No more than one drink if you’re a woman and two if you’re a man. That means you should stop drinking after one or two – not stop counting.
According to one study in the UK, Christmas is the 6th most stressful life event. The holidays are a contradiction in many ways. We get time off of work, so we’re supposed to work harder on either side to make up for it. We’re supposed to relax, so we go crazy trying to make room in our lives to relax. All this adds up to the season of the stress. Long term stress causes a very real chain of adverse physiological events, one consequence of which is a reduced capacity to convert fats and sugars into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule used to transfer energy between cells. Counterintuitively, stress causes your body to store fat and sugar rather than burn it – not what your body needs during the season of indulgence.
Solution: Have a conversation with your employer, employees, spouse, family, and friends to build a 12-month plan that will reduce holiday and year-round stress. If you create a circle of people around you who understand the damage caused by stress, and adjust holiday plans and expectations accordingly, you’ll all be healthier and happier for longer.
4. New Year’s Resolution Diets
If you can reduce calorie intake for the rest of your life, you will extend your lifespan, but if you diet and then return to your old habits, you will likely cause more damage than if you had never dieted at all. In a study on lifestyle factors related to weight gain, it was found that dieting is a reliable predictor of future weight gain, and multiple studies have shown that most people who diet would have been better off never dieting in the first place. In other words, don’t bother.
Solution: Work towards a lifestyle of proper nutrition with more much more vegetables, replace saturated fats with healthy oils, consume small portions of free range meat, and dramatically reduce carbohydrate and sugars; make this your normal lifestyle rather than a temporary “diet” for the sake of weight loss. Get in the the habit of moderate cardiovascular exercise 5 or more days each week and work with your employer to encourage proper nutrition in the workplace. You’ll be a better and longer lasting employee as a result.
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