by Dr. Will Cole
Parties are a joyous time when friends and family come together in good cheer, but when it comes to maintaining healthy habits, these gatherings can also be a time of anxiety and guilt, with constant temptations clashing with the desire to eat well and feel good. As a functional medicine practitioner, I often hear from my patients that they are worried about these events, since so many gatherings are focused around food—and not the clean, wholesome kind.
Unfortunately, most traditional party dishes and desserts are loaded with inflammatory ingredients, and since inflammation has become one of the main contributors to almost every major health problem we face today, inflammation is nothing to take lightly, so I advise avoiding inflammatory triggers as much as possible.
While it may seem impossible to fight inflammation in the face of cookies, alcohol, chips, and other goodies, take heart. Instead of giving in, let’s reframe our expectations and attitudes, to reclaim these events for our health. When you think of these celebrations as a time to build relationships rather than waistlines, those desserts and snacks might not look quite so tempting. These simple strategies will help you emerge from these events better than ever, rather than in need of repair.
1. Know what’s coming.
Knowledge is power when it comes to making the healthiest choice. If you’re going out to eat, check the restaurant menus beforehand to ensure you know your options and what you can and cannot substitute. You could even call ahead to make arrangements for any special preparations. Good restaurants will accommodate. You could also eat ahead of time if you know wherever you are going isn’t going to have acceptable options for you. Remember, food is only part of any gathering—the real point of getting together is the people.
2. Leverage the buddy system.
It’s a lot easier to stick to your goals when you have a partner who vows to do it with you. Find someone who can accompany you, so you can encourage each other to stick with your goals. This can also make your health journey feel less lonely (and I guarantee you are not the only one who wants to come out on the other side feeling good about themselves!). If it’s a potluck style event, you could team up to make a healthy contribution to the meal. This makes less work for you, and more delicious options to choose from.
3. Practice moderation.
There’s no doubt that alcohol can be inflammatory, specifically due to the burden it puts on your liver and digestive system. To indulge more responsibly, look for cocktails made with gut-healing, anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger, kombucha, and water or coconut kefir. Also choose better alcohols in moderation—the least inflammatory are grain-free options such as hard cider, tequila, brandy, cognac, rum, and red wine. In fact, a glass of red wine every once in a while has been shown to decrease inflammatory CRP, so have a little if you so desire.
4. Keep it moving.
With our busy schedules, it can be tempting to put self-care activities like exercising on the back burner. However, exercising is essential for keeping inflammation at bay. Studies have shown workouts such as yoga and tai chi are powerful inflammation calmers, so make sure you’re adding some movement to your days. Besides, the stress-relieving qualities can help you keep your cool, even at the most challenging of get-togethers.
5. Take care.
Life stress and burnout can keep you from expressing your full, generous, loving nature, and it’s also been implicated in many different health issues, including increased inflammation. According to research, just 12 minutes of meditation every day can decrease inflammation, so consider making a few quiet minutes of sitting part of your daily routine.
If meditation isn’t your style (or even if it is), you could also practice the Danish concept of hygge, which is basically the art of cozy—a perfect practice for the cold winter months.
6. Just say no (to junk food).
Deep fried chips and crunchy snacks are staples at parties. While they may seem like a healthier choices than chocolate cake and other desserts, they can fuel inflammation if they are coated in inflammatory oils like canola or soybean.
Instead of these junky snacks, turn your attention to easy real foods for snacks and party platters: raw, soaked, or lightly toasted nuts and seeds; hummus and vegetables; nut cheese; almond flour crackers; cassava flour tortilla chips, salsa; guacamole; and holiday fat bombs are all good choices.
7. Pass it on.
Use gatherings with friends and family to share some healthy foods that you enjoy,but that your loved ones probably wouldn’t otherwise get to try. I’m planning on bringing some plant-based keto recipes to my next celebration, to show my family just how delicious clean eating can be.
8. Spice it up.
Turmeric is a spice well known in the wellness world for its next-level inflammation-fighting abilities. Curcumin is the compound found in turmeric that is responsible for its ability to down-regulate inflammation. Cooking with turmeric is a great way to incorporate this anti-inflammatory action into your wellness routine, but taking a supplement around the holidays can be even more effective for a higher potency dose of those anti-inflammatory capabilities. Look for a supplement that contains piperine, since it can increase the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000 percent, and aim for a dose of about 10 grams per day.
9. Recalibrate your gut.
Your gastrointestinal tract, including the microbes living inside your gut, are a foundation of your health. Inflammation can compromise your gut lining, which can lead to chronic inflammation. Probiotic supplements deliver beneficial bacteria to your microbiome for gut healing, so arming yourself with probiotics during the holiday season can ensure your gut has the best possible chance at thriving and fighting inflammation. Look for probiotics with at least 10 billion CFUs, that contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains. These are the good bacteria that have specifically been shown to decrease inflammation.
As you can see, you really can work on decreasing chronic inflammation during parties and gatherings—and still enjoy them fully. It’s all about balancing indulgence with healthy choices and trying to incorporate inflammation-fighting rituals into your day wherever you can. Your post-event self will thank you.
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