How to Stay Healthy and Lean During the Holidays

If we know we will be indulging in some less than perfect eating habits, it makes it even more important to take control of the other aspects of our health.

With the holidays fast approaching you may be thinking on how to maintain your healthy eating and lifestyle that you worked so hard at throughout the year. There are a number of roadblocks we encounter this time of year. But first, remember that health and disease are placed upon a spectrum. The more we do to encourage positive health, then the lower the risk of developing disease. This includes eating well, getting good sleep, having adequate vitamin D levels, and actively managing our stress. If we know we will be indulging in some less than perfect eating habits, it makes it even more important to take control of the other aspects of our health.

Developing a strategy to handle these times is tough, but here are a few tips:

Changes in Weather

In an attempt to stay active throughout my day, I walk everywhere. I log between four to six miles per day walking. I reside in Massachusetts and we can experience some pretty harsh weather in the winter, so this may decrease my total amount of physical activity. I need to be aware of this possibility and make a plan to ensure I am staying active in inclement weather. If you are reading this and live in an area that also experiences bad winters, take a step back and see if your physical activity is decreased during this time. If so we need to plan a strategy to stay active. This can include playing a winter sport, taking up yoga, or getting a gym membership.

Getting Your Sleep

One of the most important health habits we can create is to get eight to ten hours of sleep in a blacked out room. In a research review by Becutti and Pannain, they stated:

Sleep is an important modulator of neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism and sleep loss has been shown to result in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin, and increased hunger and appetite. Recent epidemiological and laboratory evidence confirm previous findings of an association between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity.1

Basically, this states that poor sleep leads to poor health and weight gain. If we begin to eat poorly during the holidays while getting inadequate sleep, we can increase our chances of putting on extra weight and feeling poorly.

Also, if you do drink alcohol try to not drink any before bed as alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns. Pantethine may also be a valuable supplement to take once you are done drinking. Pantethine contains enzymes that clear out acetaldehyde, the byproduct of alcohol that is responsible for some of the side effects of hangovers. This can be important for a couple of reasons. One, you will feel better and also acetaldehyde is a candida toxin and candida toxins may lead to intense sugar cravings. This may be why we crave sugary foods when we drink.

Staying Lean With Fasted States and Intermittent Fasting

exercise during holidays, holiday eating, holiday tips, health during holidaysEating patterns tend to change as well this time of year. Thanksgiving is approaching as well as the holiday parties, the actual holidays, and New Year’s Eve. These events can lead to overindulgence in alcohol, sweets, and food in general.

We may be able to alter how we exercise to avoid weight gain as well. The research is quite contradictory on this topic, but it may be something to attempt. Working out in a fasted state has shown increased benefits in terms of insulin sensitivity when compared to working out after a meal.2 Again, the research is contradictory here and if performance is your goal this may not be the route to take. However, it may be something to attempt.

Another contradictory topic that may be beneficial for the short term is intermittent fasting (IF). I strongly caution against IF if there is poor sleep, high stress, low vitamin D, or illness is present. IF can become another stressor to some and cause health to deteriorate further. For others it may be a tool to utilize in the short term. I caution against IF for long-term use except in some treatments of mood disorders and neurodegeneration.

IF has shown some promise in the literature in terms of weight loss. One study done on healthy men showed that IF increased insulin sensitivity.3 Keep in mind men and women utilize substrates differently for energy. Women tend to have higher use of lipids, especially when estradiol is highest, as a major substrate for energy. I could not find any IF studies done on women, but that does not mean it does not work. The easiest way to implement IF is to pick an eight-hour window in the day to intake all of your calories. For example, eat all of your meals between 10:00am and 6:00pm. This could even follow some fasted, morning physical activity.

Managing Stress Levels

exercise during holidays, holiday eating, holiday tips, health during holidaysWe also need to manage our stress over the holidays. This can become difficult given that there are a number of added stressors during the holidays, such as overcrowded shopping areas, money problems, and family issues. It becomes imperative that we actively manage our stress. Stress is linked to almost all diseases and also induces insulin resistance, making it easy to gain weight. Trying some yoga, meditation, or other means of managing stress is important for overall health and to managing a healthy weight.

Remembering that health and disease lie upon a spectrum is critical in managing health. If we are going to partake in unhealthy behaviors in one aspect of our life, then we need to ensure we are making it up in other areas. The holidays are a time where unhealthy eating is inevitable. We need to ensure we have adequate vitamin D levels, which can be checked by simple blood work and appropriate supplementation can be administered. We also need to sleep in a blacked out room for eight to ten hours, not drink alcohol before bed, and manage our stress. On top of those things, we may be able to use fasting as a tool to control weight. Working out in a fasted state may yield increased benefits for insulin sensitivity. Also, partaking in some form of IF may help as well.

Does anyone else have any tips for successful holiday eating? If so, please post to the comments below.


1. Becutti, Guglielmo and Silvana Pannain. Sleep and Obesity. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition (2011). Retrieved on November 22, 2013.

2. Van Proeyen, K, et Al., Training in the fasted state improves glucose tolerance during fat-rich diet. Journal of Physiology (2010). Retrieved on November 22, 2013.

3. Halberg N, et al., Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men. Journal of Applied Physiology (2005). Retrieved on November 22, 2013.

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