Have you ever noticed how the flu season starts in early January? It’s a consequence of our celebrations during the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Years. We eat more. We drink more. We party more. As a result, our immune system becomes compromised. By early January, its level of effectiveness is at its lowest level for the entire year. Thus, right after the holidays, here comes the start of the flu system and our first sickness of the year.
So, what are my recommendations for protected your health and weight through the holidays? No, I am not going to recommend that you deprive yourself of special occasions and the food delights that go with these traditions. I am not going to recommend that you forgo New Years and the other late night parties. I am not even going to recommend that you restrict your alcohol at those events. Life, after all, is meant to be enjoyed. However, unless you want to gain weight, slow down, and become a prime candidate for the January flu, you need to protect yourself.
Remember my prior warnings. On an annual basis, Americans eat 133 pounds of flour, 140 pounds of sugar, 150 pounds of meat, and 193 pounds of GMO foods. As a comparison, think 1900. At the turn of that century, the average American ate around 15 pounds of sugar, 20 pounds of meat, and no GMOs. Remember too my prior warning about the high levels of animal-based protein. The average American eats a diet today that consists of around 26% of animal-based protein. Ideally, you want your animal-based protein to be less than 10% of your diet.
Just as importantly, remember the harm that comes with a high intake of carbs. The wheat we eat today is not the wheat from our childhood. It contains 40 times the amount of gluten. That gluten disrupts your intestines, causes a leaky gut, and lets toxins slip into your blood stream. Those toxins disrupt the natural insulin response and lead to unbalanced deposits of fats. If you start the holidays with a lean abdomen, you may find yourself with a belly by January; and the changed body shape is not a reflection of the total calories. Instead, it is reflection of a shift in the type of calories and a shift of the ecosystem within your body.
During the holiday season, you do not want to increase your sugar, your flour, your carbs, and your meat. Why? In addition to adding weight and slowing you down, they can “turn on” those genes that cause cancer. Some people seek refuge in exercise. With a little vacation time, they tell themselves that they will just burn off the calories. Remember that 80% of your health (and weight) comes from what you eat; only 20% of your health (and weight) is impacted by your degree of daily exercise. So, for the holidays, the solution is to focus on what you eat in those meals between your family reunions and parties.
My basic recommendation is to eat more color. Try eating 3 cups of vegetables and one cup of fruit each day through the holidays. If that sounds difficult, it is not. An apple a day (or any fruit a day) will take of the fruit quota. A salad for lunch and a couple of side vegetables for dinner will meet the vegetable quota. If you can add some fish as opposed to meat at one of your meals, and if you can add some nuts and seeds to your salad, then you will be well protected when you splurge on some fancy dinner or some party snacks or desserts.
Let me explain. We have 100 trillion cells in our body, but only 10 trillion of those cells are human. Around 90 trillion cells within our body are found in our microbes – the organisms that live in our intestines and throughout our body. Remember the concept of epigenetics. That new science, with its revolutionary discoveries over the past decade, have taught us that our food does more than nourish our cells; it also impacts our ecosystem and which genes turn “on” and which genes turn “off.” Some of those genes actually can save your life. Some of those genes can kill you.
That is why it is so important to eat well in between your celebrations. You want the healthy, protective genes turned “on” from Thanksgiving through New Years. You do not want those healthy, protective genes turned “off.” So, why not combine both approaches? At the start of this holiday season, create two priorities for the rest of the year. First, eat more color with more vegetables and more fruit. Second, try to incorporate more exercise. Instead of one walk per day, how about slipping in a second walk (or some other form of exercise). Together, with balanced eating and increased exercise, they can work together on your health and your weight.
As I have shared before, I am not as obsessed with your weight as many physicians. I worry about those people who find themselves at the extremes. You cannot afford to be morbidly obese. You will die decades prematurely. However, slightly overweight people live longer than underweight people. So, take a break over the holiday season from stepping on the scales. Instead, focus on health eating (between the special meals) and focus on increased exercise. As for the later, in the spirit of the holiday season, how about more walks (or other physical activities) with your spouse or your child?
Since the typical parents spend only about 4-20 minutes per day talking 1:1 with their spouse or the child, aren’t the holidays a great time to greatly increase your time together? Why not make it a healthy time? Sitting down (again, outside those holiday feasts) for some nutritious, colorful meals with good conversation and no rush? Or a nice long walk, talking about shared memories. For this season, don’t just focus on feeding the stomach, focus on feeding the soul – your family’s soul. That’s the other secret of the holiday season. Longevity studies support all of the eating recommendations. But longevity studies also show the health value that comes with improved relationships with your loved ones.
Make this holiday season a time to remember for you, your family, and friends. Have a great time with delicious meals and fun parties. Have a memorable time with improved relationships. At the same time, protect yourself with improved eating at home in-between those fun occasions. Eat the healthy nutrients. Feed the right cells. Feed the right microbes. Turn on the right genes. Keep your immune system at its peak level. You will not only have a wonderful holiday season, you will emerge into 2015 with enhanced health.
Don’t do it just for yourself,. Do it for the entire family. This is the season of giving. What better gift can you give to your loved ones than a better immune system, improved health, and a greater chance for longevity. Here is a reality marker. The children born today actually have a lower life expectancy than we do. That is because of our poor diet, our poor air, our poor water, our poor food system, and all of those 77,000 new toxins created over the past 40 years. Our children need our help. Make that help — a better eating style — one of the gifts under the Christmas tree.
Then watch for the initial consequences: with healthy eating in-between celebrations, you will not get the flu at the start of the year …