Surviving the Holidays

Ways to avoid the holiday bulge by Dr. Christina Bjorndal, ND

It is that time of year again – where we throw caution to the wind with our eating and tend to overindulge in sugar-laden food and maybe a little too much wine. Do you notice that you are more susceptible to catching a cold or flu during the holidays, you have lost your “get up and go” or your overall health isn’t as vibrant as it was a few short months ago? Many people take for-granted the effect that nutrition has on our health. Is it any wonder that people have increased or aggravated health concerns from October to April? Look at what we, as a society do to ourselves:

– October: Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en – we overindulge in sugary, chemical laden & food colouring rich foods that are devoid of vital life energy
– November: Start celebrating Christmas early with parties (i.e. increased alcohol and sugar consumption)
– December: Christmas or Hanukkah – more alcohol and sugary, chemical laden & food colouring rich foods that are devoid of vital life energy
– January: Recovering and busy eating up all those left-overs from December. Some start with a “New Year’s resolution” to eat better
– February: Valentine’s day – more chocolates….or so the media tells us that we need to celebrate this way
– March/April: Spring break or Easter – another “chocolate” holiday.
Egad! No wonder it is challenging for many to stick to a healthy eating plan.


Let us get back to basics or nature and remember the true meaning of all these holidays before they became “commercialized” by our North American culture of consumption. The first step to surviving the holidays is to always remember that nutrition is the foundation of health! You are what you eat, what you absorb and what you don’t excrete. Profitability drives our society and it, not your health, is the key motivating force behind the food industry. Many of the high-sugar, high-salt, and high-fat foods are intensely marketed and often, the advertising influence of companies impacts our food choices and health more than information from health professionals. As food technology has continued to advance, shelf life has replaced health life. Technological developments have provided benefits, but most often I find the mass processing of food is not in the best interest of nutrition.

The key to managing your weight during the holiday season is to address five key areas:

–         what you are eating
–         how you are eating
–         what is eating you mentally, emotionally and spiritually
–         your stress levels
–         your physiology
–         exercise

In terms of what you are eating it is important to recognize that many diets consist of too much red meat, saturated fat, sodium and alcohol; such a diet provides less nutrition per calorie consumed than does a wholesome diet of natural foods.  The decreased consumption of vegetables and complex carbohydrates means a lower intake of vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Research has linked many well known diseases (i.e. obesity, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cancer, behavioural problems) with poor diet.  Perhaps you don’t consider yourself as being at risk for developing a serious disease, yet you experience the following symptoms:

–        fatigue
–        headaches
–        mood swings
–        indigestion
–        constipation
–        skin problems
–        menstrual discomfort
–        weight problems.

These symptoms not only interfere with your ability to fully enjoy life, they are early warning signs for future problems.  Eating a healthy diet can improve these complaints, as well as, protect you against serious disease.

How you eat your food is as important as what you are eating – are you someone who finishes their dinner in two bites. Or when you do take a bite is it “chomp, chomp, swallow”? If so, this is one area you can easily improve. It is very important to chew your food thoroughly. I find that in our “fast food nation” many people forget that the digestive process actually starts in the kitchen with the sense of smell when we are cooking our food. This sense of smell triggers our brain and sends the message to our stomach that food is coming. The stomach, in turn, prepares for the arrival of food.  When we take the time to chew our food thoroughly, put our fork down between bites and not rush, we are able to adequately process our food so that it can be broken down into micronutrients or “fuel” that our body needs to survive.

Now, given the basic mathematics that 3500 calories = 1 pound – it stands to reason that either increasing your output (ie exercise) or decreasing your intake by 500 calories/day will result in weight loss of 1lb per week. This doesn’t always happen because one might have an underlying physiological condition (thyroid or adrenal) or they may not be addressing the real reason why they are eating in the first place. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I feel that an individuals relationship with food is an important factor in managing one’s weight and overall sense of well-being. To me, it boils down to:

1)      your self esteem or sense of self love
2)      your ability to cope and handle stress
3)      your negative self talk/thought processes and not being in the moment
4)      your ability to listen to the messages from your body.

For example, the full signal relayed from the nerves in your stomach to your brain typically takes 20 minutes. It is also interesting to note that we have approximately as many nerve endings in our entire digestive tract as we do in our spinal column. This is why it is important to learn to trust our “gut reactions” or intuition. Also, an important neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, Serotonin, affects our weight given the amount of nerve endings we have in our digestive system. This is an important point to keep in mind as many anti-depressants, known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), have the unpleasant side effect of weight gain.

I have to warn you when you start to eat better you will experience the following effects: more energy, decreased cravings, better digestion, improved concentration, increased ability to handle stress, glowing hair, skin and nails and painless menstrual periods. Prevention is the best medicine and as Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. If you are looking for a specific meal plan to follow, please check out “The Essential Diet; Eating for Mental Health” – this is your guide to healthy and simple recipes that will change how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. The recipes are meant to support mental health by ensuring the correct amount of essential nutrients required for mental well-being are being met. When one addresses mental health with the proper nutritional foundation, the likelihood of feeling depressed or anxious decreases. Learn to love healthy eating, find the joy in cooking and feel better in your life!


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