The holiday season makes it so easy to stray from healthy eating habits. With more sweet temptations and family food traditions to partake in than usual, it is common to overindulge. Whether it’s at home, at the office, or at a festive party, delectable temptations are all around. And some of these temptations go deeper than that, being an important part of family history or culture. Saying “no” may make you feel as though you are insulting the host or the chef. While it is okay to enjoy some of these sugary foods in moderation, too much sugar is detrimental to your health and can cause serious issues in the long run. That’s why it is important to find a balance between enjoying seasonal treats and staying on top of your health.
Many people think of eating as something we do simply to satisfy our hunger, but, instead, I encourage you to think of food as fuel for your body. Whatever you put in your mouth should sustain your energy throughout the day and provide important nutrients to keep you healthy and vital. Essential nutrients in our foods can help us fight infections and counteract the impact of toxins. Sugar, on the other hand, has many detrimental effects on the body.
How sugar impacts your body
Do you know what happens to your body when you consume sugar? When you eat sugar, your body recognizes a need for insulin to help cells absorb glucose (sugar) for use as energy. This makes you experience a boost in energy. Unfortunately, this is followed by a drop in blood sugar and your energy crashing. This cycle creates an increase in hunger and increased cravings for even more sugar. The deeper you get caught up in this cycle, the harder it is to get out. In addition, sugar is one of the worst words for the skin. Elevated blood sugar can trigger a number of skin problems such as acne, eczema and premature aging.
Although insulin helps keep our blood sugar in a healthy range, over time and due to the influence of other genetic and lifestyle factors, our cells can become resistant to insulin signals. This increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. This cycle is also why you may find it difficult to get back on track after partaking in unhealthy habits during the holidays.
Already, Americans eat an average of 22.2 teaspoons per day, which is a shockingly large amount. Imagine how much this might increase during the holiday months. And consider this: Consuming one hundred grams (about ½ cup) of sugar suppresses white blood cells’ ability to kill germs by 40%. These effects start about 30 minutes after the sugar is consumed and can last up to 5 hours (Sanchez, et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 26, 1180-1184, “Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis”). This is just one example of how sugar negatively impacts your body.
Furthermore, sugar consumption is related to the skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases in our country. It is obvious that from a practical perspective, improving one’s nutrition starts with saying “no” to excessive amounts of sugar, even during the times it is the most difficult!
5 healthy habits to help limit sugar intake
Finding balance helps you have the mental clarity to make the best decisions for your health. The choices you make every day affect the way your body responds, but external forces are also a factor. During the holiday season, most people experience more stress, and some of that stress is probably out of your control. That is just one more reason to keep making smart decisions about your diet and avoid indulging in too much sugar. Luckily, there are several ways you can maintain healthy habits while enjoying the occasional indulgence.
Eat nutritionally-rich and balanced meals: Consume healthy fats, lean protein, and abundant amounts of veggies. At least half of your plate should be from vegetables. Head to the veggie tray first when you’re in a holiday party setting! Choose high-fiber, whole foods to help lower the glycemic index of the overall diet and increase nutrient and fiber intake. If you eat before you attend a holiday party, you will be satiated and more likely to skip the junk food.
Focus on fresh: Make the decision to eat fresh, organic foods whenever possible. If you’re bringing a dish to pass at a party, you are in control! Choose a healthy option that you know supports your lifestyle.
Increase fiber and omega-3 fatty acids intake: Sugary foods are full of empty calories and lack the essential nutrients you need to thrive. A lack of these nutrients leads to imbalance. Increasing your fiber intake helps keep your digestion system running optimally. Healthy fats nourish your skin and hydrate the body. Plus, when your body is running on healthy foods, you will be less likely to experience sugar cravings and temptations.
Find a way to unwind every day: You might already find yourself overcommitted this month. Between work deadlines and obligations from family and friends, it can be difficult to slow down. This is especially true if you need to do a lot of traveling during the holidays. Plus, stress makes you more prone to overeating or eating emotionally. But taking time to unwind helps you make better choices in the days to come. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, breathwork, and meditation help calm your body and your mind.
Exercise daily: Exercise helps improve your mood, boosts energy, improves sleep, and helps you lose fat and gain muscle. You can use exercise as a replacement for snacking or overindulging. Even just fifteen minutes per day will help!
If this seems like a lot, remember that it is okay to indulge a little once in a while – dark chocolate is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Most importantly, do not be too hard on yourself if you slip up. You’re human! Every day is a new chance to practice healthy habits, so if you eat too much sugar one night, make an effort to go sugar-free the next day. You can learn more about developing healthy habits in my book, Clean Skin from Within. It’s all about balance, and finding it during the holiday season simply takes a bigger commitment to be mindful to treat your body and mind with respect.