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The holidays can pack on the calories, and sometimes the resulting pounds stay with us the rest of the year. This season, give yourself and your loved ones the gifts of actually improving your health and enjoying new habits.

The value of these gifts is immeasurable.

Moderate exercise on a weekly basis can potentially add four years or more to your life. Changing from a sugar-burning metabolism to more of a fat-burning metabolism does what we want most when it comes to body composition: less fat.

Reducing the carbohydrate load decreases the amount of the hormone insulin that you produce. Keeping insulin levels low also allows the metabolism to kick into a fat-burning state.

You’ll experience fewer food cravings as you reduce the amount of high glycemic carbohydrates and grains from your nutrition plan—and your moods and energy level will become more predictable, constant, and stable. (Friends and family will appreciate that, too!)

Your energy will increase as you clean up the fuel you put in your own tank.

Our recommendations will also help you sleep better. Eating sugarplums is not recommended, but dreaming about them is okay. Recent studies show that sleep plays an important role in our immune response and metabolic balance, as well as such critical mental functions as attentiveness, learning, memory, and emotional equilibrium.

All these benefits and more are available to you with just a few simple changes.

To begin, let’s talk about the most important healthcare decision we make every day—what’s at the end of our fork.

Is food your comfort and joy?

The best way to make healthy changes in what we eat is not to count calories or obsession the scale—it’s to examine our relationship with food.

Does food make you feel good? Does it give you joy? If someone were to eliminate “guilty pleasure” foods, would you get angry?

If any of these answers are yes, you have an improper relationship with food. It’s called emotional eating, and this driver of disease is rampant during the holidays.

Making healthy changes requires honesty about what we eat and why we eat it. If we don’t address the root causes of over-indulging, a continual cycle of failure, declining health, and increasing weight will result. But there’s good news, the results of better choices will help you and your family enjoy the holidays even more, and jump-start the new year with a new approach to eating.

8 Ways to Enjoy Healthier Holidays

#1: Eliminate SAD foods.

“SAD” stands for the Standard American Diet. Get rid of the boxed, packaged, processed foods that cause weight gain and blood sugar instabilities. Here is a list of foods you should eliminate from your fridge, pantry, and table.

  • Sweet beverages (designer coffees, energy drinks, flavored milks, sweetened teas, bottled juices, soft drinks, and sweetened cocktails)
  • Processed meat (breakfast sausage patties, frozen meals, bologna, ham, hot dogs, jerky, pepperoni, salami)
  • Processed foods (energy bars, granola bars, packaged protein bars, grain/sugar-laden snack products)
  • Sweets (candy, cake, chocolate syrup, cookies, donuts, ice cream, milk, chocolate chips, pie, evaporated cane juice, and you know the rest) There is no nutritional benefit to eating sweets. They are nutrient void and cause an immense release of insulin. Insulin and Vitamin C compete for the receptor sites on the immune cells. High insulin levels dampen the immune system.

#2: Prepare your own meals.

Not only can you make delicious meals that support your health and immune system, preparing them with friends and family makes holiday memories. (A free recipe guide is available at sherwood.tv/holiday)

#3: Take your brain for a walk.

Exercise is good for the body and soul. We recommend a variety of exercises to our patients, but for the holidays we have one simple prescription: Take a walk, twice daily, preferably after eating.

Exercise helps move glucose out of the blood and into the cells and reduces the “food coma” often experienced after a big meal. Vigorous movement also stimulates chemicals that help the brain function better.

You might not feel like getting outside, but once you get in the fresh air the reward will be obvious. Pajamas are acceptable attire on holiday walks.

#4: Water yourself.

Drink pure water or drinks that are mostly water (tea, very diluted fruit juice, sparkling water with lemon) throughout the day.

Your body is 60-65% water and being even a quart low will increase your fatigue. Rehydrate and resuscitate all the cells in your body. Water also fills your tummy and reduces the temptation to swipe a cookie.

Avoid, or greatly reduce, all foods and beverages that contain caffeine, because caffeine pulls nutrients out of your body and can worsen anxiety.

Also reduce or avoid alcohol, because metabolizing alcohol requires essential nutrients your body would prefer to use elsewhere. As the liver decreases its supply of vitamins and nutrients, the bloodstream is called upon to replenish the supply. As a result, body cells are deprived of critical nutrients and normal body functions suffer.

Some people do not even produce the enzyme to break alcohol down. It remains a toxic substance in the system.

#5: Move in the morning.

Exercise first thing in the morning, before breakfast. This forces your body to burn stored fat for energy, rather than carbohydrates, which are readily available after eating.

On feast days, and feat weeks, we can all use a little extra fat-burning.

#6: Snack on protein.

Eat a small, protein-rich snack a couple of hours before the big meal. This will help take the edge off hunger and improve your odds of making healthy dinner choices. Raw almonds are a great choice.

#7: Stuff yourself.

Swap out carbohydrate-laden potatoes and traditional bread-stuffing with quinoa. Quinoa is a seed rich in protein, fiber, magnesium, and potassium, quinoa has a relatively low glycemic index, making it an excellent alternative to starchy foods that drive up blood sugar.

It’s also gluten-free and as easy to prepare as rice.

Have family and friends cut plenty of fresh veggies and fruits and feature those as snacks.

#8: Okay, have some pie.

Let’s be realistic. You’re gonna have some dessert and other favorite recipes during the holidays. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach to these foods, simply be mindful of portions.

A third of a piece of pie instead of a full slice, and hold the whipped cream. Decreasing portion sizes or having a bite or two of your favorite indulgences will satisfy the cravings without expanding your waistline.

Introduce some new foods into your body, and take them for at least two walks every day and you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.

Bonus: Healthy Holiday Recipe Book

Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes”, Almond Flour Pie Crust, Apple Pie Filling, Quinoa Stuffing, and more!

Download recipe book FREE (click here)