There are times during the year when it’s almost expected that people will overdo it on rich, indulgent or sugary foods. If you subscribe to the “80/20” or “90/10” rules (eat well 80% or 90% of the time, then gorge on what the heck you feel like the other 20% or 10% of the time), you’ve probably overeaten your fair share of birthday cake, pumpkin pie, Christmas trifle, or any other foods that you wouldn’t consume on a regular basis.
I myself come from a long line of “overindulgers” even when it wasn’t the holidays. I vividly remember spending one New Year’s Eve sprawled on my parent’s bed (the only place to watch TV in our house), semi-comatose after gorging on eggnog, shortbreads, mixed nuts, fudge, and a few other sundry holiday treats that I can’t quite pinpoint at the moment (oh, that’s right–pinwheel cookies, too).
My friend and I had spent the evening watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and stuffing our faces. Once we were done, we could barely move. Like turtles on their backs, we lay in place waving our arms and frantically trying to right ourselves, but it was too late; the food had already made its way down our gullets and into our stomachs (and the idea of purging simply didn’t occur to us in the days before such things were spoken aloud).
Well, after spending almost 15 years on an anti-candida diet, I can honestly say that I never worry about eating something with sugar or refined flour any more; it just isn’t part of my reality. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still overindulge in my own way. While it’s no longer ever a situation of “on-the-bed-semi-comatose,” holidays do still mean additional treats (albeit sugar-free ones), more grain-based foods such as baked goods, and more high-fat foods than usual (can you say, “coconut whipped cream–on everything”?) for me.
Whatever the menu, if we overeat foods that mess with our blood sugar levels, the outcome can mean more than just additional overeating (and weight gain). Most of us are aware of the symptoms of too-high blood sugar in kids: the blood sugar spike translates to hyperactivity, feeling overly energetic or hyper, followed by a crash once the effects wear off. If blood sugar stays elevated too long, it can lead to an array of health problems, most commonly diabetes. Blood sugar levels that are elevated over time can cause blood vessel and nerve damage, even organ damage, in those with diabetes.
But eating foods that keep blood sugar stable will gift us with even, balanced energy that lasts and doesn’t cause us to slump at the end.
So, what can we do to ensure our blood sugar levels remain stable?
Here are three key ways to keep blood sugar levels–and your mood and energy–balanced through the holidays.
1. Avoid foods that cause blood sugar spikes.
Yes, I know this isn’t what you were hoping to read. But the best strategy is always to avoid the problem in the first place, and eat foods that won’t spike your blood sugar.
For me, parties and social events no longer represent culinary landmines. I know before I go that I won’t be partaking of the cakes, cookies, alcohol, chocolate, pasta or any of the other foods that aren’t part of my normal food repertoire. It’s just not worth it to me. (Of course, things weren’t always that way. See New Year’s Eve anecdote, above).
Still, it’s worth taking a few minutes to contemplate why you chose to follow a healthy diet in the first place. Spend some time remembering your worst symptoms, and how they diminished or disappeared with the help of the proper diet. Then, ask yourself if it’s worth the negative consequences to enjoy a cookie or a glass of wine.
2. Change what you eat as soon as you’re aware you’ve overindulged.
[Get all 3 key components–fat, fiber and protein–in these fabulous Chickpea Oven Fries with Garlic-Avocado Aioli.]
Overeating is sort of like getting a sunburn: once the damage is done, you can’t go back in time an undo it. You can, however, treat it immediately so that you mitigate the long-term damage and speed up the healing process.
When it comes to overeating, I’m always reminded of Stacey Halprin, one of the most memorable guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show and someone who battled obesity most of her life. After she lost virtually hundreds of pounds, Stacey talked about what happened when she slipped up: “If you wake up in the morning and you’ve been to a buffet breakfast or in my case, have a row of Oreos in the afternoon, I don’t starve because I know by noon, I’m going to tilt back the fridge,” she says. “What the winners do is they go to the exact next meal, and they start like it never happened.”
So, if you do happen to consume foods or beverages that don’t agree with your healthiest self, get right back to healthy eating–eating that won’t upset your blood sugar balance.
Your best bets are foods that lower the overall glycemic index of what you eat (and, ideally, is also really easy on the digestive system, such as soups, low-fat or fat-free vegetable dishes, or green juice).
If you already ate, or know you will be eating, a dish that’s a bit high in overall sugars (such as sweet fruit) or foods that convert easily to sugars in the body (say, refined flour-based foods, such as bread or white rice or pasta), it’s always a good idea to balance those by ensuring your dish contains the “three amigos” of healthy blood sugar balance: fiber, good fat (such as avocado, nuts/seeds, coconut) or healthful proteins. All three will work to keep blood sugar levels stable, and if you ensure your recipes contain all three at once, you’ll be in great shape.
Finally, you can incorporate herbs and spices that themselves help the body to regulate blood sugar more effectively. Cinnamon is known to help insulin move glucose into cells so that blood sugar levels are moderated more effectively. Fenugreek (used in many Indian dishes) helps to improve glucose tolerance and lower blood glucose levels as well. Here’s a list of some of the top herbs and spices to control blood sugar.
3. Indulge in homemade sweet treats that won’t spike your blood sugar levels.
[Cookie Chocolate Bark]
I truly never miss any of the holiday staples because I’ve created my own versions that won’t add stress to my body (or mind) after I eat them. Having a repertoire of delicious, healthful treats on hand will allow you to enjoy the holidays without being tempted by health-derailing versions.
For instance, how about these Chocolate-Mint Truffles, or Cookie Chocolate Bark, or homemade Halvah , or no-bake Chocolate Caramel Bars–or spectacular Cherry Tiramisu? All of these treats are filled with healthful fats, low-glycemic sweeteners and more fiber than the average Standard American dinner provides.
So don’t despair over the holidays! It really can be done–you can enjoy delicious foods, consume special treats, and still remain true to your healthful diet. Just aim for a wee bit more planning and some thought around the buffet table. And if it turns out that you consume a bit more than expected, just revert to your healthy eating as quickly as you can. Because really, isn’t your health worth it?
“Happy Holidays from us, too! And when you’re eating all that food, don’t forget that we love leftovers!”
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