Healthy Holiday Cheat Sheet

‘Tis The Season

The holiday season officially kicks off with Thanksgiving this week, which means office parties, endless cocktails, elaborate meals, and tasty treats in abundance.

The holidays are a time of year to gather with friends and family to celebrate and commune, but it’s also a time of anxiety for many who wish to maintain their health and avoid feeling sluggish or less than ideal starting the new year.

Here are a few simple tips to help you feel fantastic when January rolls around. Choose a few that you know will move the needle for you and stick with those or employ them all (just don’t overwhelm yourself!). Either way, you’re bound to be feeling great and ready to take on the new year once the holiday madness dies down.

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The Tips

  • Eat a meal with 20-30g of protein within an hour of waking.

This sets up your hormones and metabolism to keep you from overeating later in the day.

  • Eat a small meal before going to parties.

Not showing up to the party ravished will keep you from diving in to the first food your eyes see, and make it less likely for you to over indulge.

  • Decide ahead of time that you’re only going to have 1 or 2 drinks.

Having a plan is always good. Not only do those drinks contain extra sugar and calories, but they lower your inhibitions, causing you to snack and drink more.

  • Make time for exercise. 

Exercise is not only great for stress reduction during this hectic time of year, but it likely gets you outdoors, which benefits your mind, body, and spirit. It may seem like you don’t have time, but maintaining your movement routine is crucial to staying healthy through the holidays.

  • Make sure you’re staying hydrated.

This might seem like common sense, but with cooler temps and long to-do lists on our minds, it’s easy to forget this basic tip, which keeps our bodies performing at their highest levels by removing toxins, carrying nutrients to cells, and so much more.

  • Fill your plate with the healthy items first. 

Having protein, fiber, and healthy fat at each meal will keep you satiated and less likely to over do the not so healthy items.

  • Avoid the “screw it” mindset.

If you over indulge at one meal, don’t let them snowball into an entire week or month of excess. Forgive yourself and move on. Each moment is an opportunity to make a new decision.

  • Get enough sleep.

This is the most important one on the list. Sleep is crucial for everything from reducing stress levels, to keeping cortisol levels in check, to reducing sugar cravings, to maintaining immune health, and more. If you know you’re going to be out late, clear your calendar the next day so you can sleep in.

Getting plenty of sleep is the biggest thing you can do for your health to greet the new year feeling vibrant and ready to pursue your dreams.

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To your health and happiness

Enjoy the holiday season and soak up the spiritual nourishment of being with loved ones and communing over food. It’s a special time of year which can bring great joy and health if you set yourself up for success.

Top 5 Reasons To Eat Real Food as an Outdoor Endurance Athlete

If I’m performing well, why should I reconsider what I eat?

Let me start by saying that I’m not going to tell you that you should eat a certain way. Eat whatever works for you.

While I do believe there are some basic nutrition principles that can benefit everyone, there is no one perfect diet.  Further, the perfect diet for you may change throughout your life.  But that’s a topic for anther day.

Change Starts At Home

The objective of this post is to explore why we make the food choices that we do. As someone who gains her sustenance through time spent outdoors, I try to make environmentally conscious choices.

When it came time to pursue a career path, I wavered between my deep interest in human performance, my passion for outdoor conservation, and my desire to make an impact through working to change the food system. When it came down to it, I felt like working as a nutritionist and addressing peoples’ personal food choices, would check all three boxes.

With a rapidly increasing population to feed and a current food system which is destructive to humans and the environment, I believe the biggest impact each of us can make is to think about what we do day in and day out.  Choosing to use green cleaning products, choosing to spend our dollars with socially conscious companies, and choosing how we nourish ourselves most likely has more of an impact on our future world than signing a petition or donating a coupe dollars to a non-profit. While those are important actions as well, it’s what we do consistently over time that changes our lives and the world. 

Why I Choose to Eat Real Food

As an outdoor endurance athlete, here are the top reasons I continue to fuel myself with real food as opposed to the sugary, processed, easily accessible fare I see filling the backpacks and bellies of fellow hikers, runners, bikers and other athletes.

Health

The most obvious reason to eat real food is enhanced personal health. Processed cakes, cookies, chips, and bars are often laden with preservatives, artificial colors and sweeteners, and a ton of sugar. These are linked to adverse health effects, including rhinitis, weight gain, brain tumors, and even cancer.  Diets high in processed foods promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.

As someone who wants to perform at my best and live a long life, full of adventure, eating well just makes sense.

Price

Many people argue that it costs more to eat healthy. The price of real food, especially organic, may be more expensive than conventional produce or packaged products. However, when you consider the hidden costs of a junk food diet, it’s more cost effective to just eat real food.

What hidden costs?

Junk food often causes us to eat more, causing us to buy more, and causes long term health implications (discussed above) that lead to more medications and healthcare expenses.  Plus you’ll save money (and your stomach lining) by laying off that Vitamin I.This article from the Huffington Post expands on these hidden costs.

Beyond the monetary cost, what’s the cost of not being healthy enough to complete your outdoor adventure, whether that’s a thru-hike of the PCT or a bike trip across the country or your first marathon? What’s the cost of not achieving your dreams? What’s the cost of missing important life events, like weddings and births of grand kids, because of poor health?

Environment

As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors and cares about the preservation of those spaces, I feel a certain responsibility not to support companies that are blatantly destroying our natural resources in the name of profit. These companies act with total disregard for planetary and personal health.

As outdoor enthusiasts, we’ve experienced first hand the power of time spent in nature, and we have a responsibility to protect those spaces not just with our voices, but with our purchasing power as well.

Freedom

I don’t like to feel like I’m owned by the big corporations. I like to believe I’m still independent-thinking, to some extent. I want to be able and wiling to go against the grain of what is ‘normal’. 

As with thru-hiking, it’s an act of rebellion to choose to eat outside the junk food paradigm. We live in a time when we’re constantly brainwashed from every direction with adverts for one new product or another. Don’t be a pawn in their game. Don’t be complicit. Step outside the box.

Self-respect

Eating is one of the most fundamental acts of being human. It may be strange to say, but eating is one of the most intimate acts of being human. We take food into our mouths and literally become composed of that food. Do you want to be made up of sodium nitrate, MSG, and Red #40? Or do you want to be made of something that was once alive? Something that was made in a lab or something that grew or grazed on real grass and drank in the sun and the air which you so love?

Eat like you give a damn about yourself and the planet.

Real food is interesting and beautiful and complex. It has the ability to connect you to a place, a culture, traditions. This is obvious when comparing a Happy Meal with a traditional Mediterranean meal cooked by a Turkish grandmother. Of course, processed foods are often chosen for convenience, and you can’t always take home-cooked meals on a 2000 mile backpacking trip, but you can apply a similar mindset when choosing food for your next adventure. For example, when I consider a bag of M&Ms versus a bag of dried fruit, such as figs, apricots, and goji berries, the fruit has so many more flavors, textures, and aliveness. It supports the health of the body and the planet.

It’s never made sense to me that we celebrate our ability to crush miles while eating the most nutrient poor food imaginable. Why not celebrate eating food that nourishes our bodies and the planet we so love?

I try to be thoughtful and intentional about my choices in all other areas of life, from how I spend my time, to what I do for work, to the companies I buy my gear from. Why wouldn’t it be the same for food?

My Top 3 Food Strategies to Optimize Performance

How I Use Food to Optimize Performance

If you were to ask me what has moved the needle the most in terms of reclaiming my health from an autoimmune condition, well, I’m afraid the answer is pretty boring.

It’s not an exciting new human optimization hack ,nor is it an exotic supplement, or an obscure superfood.

The biggest factors in getting my thyroid and adrenals back online has been a strategic diet and intentional rest. People often want the latest, greatest thing, especially in the health space. The next wonder pill that will take away all that ails us without any additional effort on our part.

The new, the exotic, and the obscure are more sexy, that’s true, but time and time again in my life and in my health, I find that it always comes back to the basics. It’s the simple things I do consistently that create lasting change.

In this post, I’ll focus on the dietary strategies I’ve employed to use food as fuel to get back to performing at my fullest potential.

Eat a Whole Foods Diet That Turns On Intracellular Antioxidants

We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat an antioxidant rich diet, but there’s more to the story than the common adage to ‘eat your fruits and veggies’. That’s great advice, but for those of us who like to be efficient and strategic, we need to go a bit deeper.

Food is information for the body. I’m not being metaphorical here. There are actually specific foods that contain phytonutrients which have the power to upregulate or downregulate the genetic pathways which control inflammation in the body.

We’re living in a time where more than 80% of inflammation-induced chronic conditions are caused by lifestyle factors*. Eighty percent!

All of us are being exposed to more stressors than ever before. We’re constantly producing damaging free radicals, both internally from normal physiologic processes such as respiration, and externally from lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, stress, fried foods, strenuous exercise), pesticides, environmental pollution, food preservatives, and more.

Traditionally, dietary education has focused on antioxidants from the diet to prevent free radical damage. Examples include beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium.

However, a far more effective way to approach oxidative stress is to stimulate our genes to produce proteins that are more efficient at sequestering free radicals than are dietary antioxidants. These intracellular proteins, which include superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase, quench free radicals at a rate of millions per second while dietary antioxidants quench free radicals at a rate of 1 to 1. Think of putting a house fire out with a fire truck hose versus a garden hose.

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The exciting part is that we can upregulate these intracellular proteins by eating certain phytonutrients from specific foods. The most well researched of those phytonutrients are in cruciferous vegetables, alliums, berries, herbs and spices, legumes, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.

Instead of eating by numbers, counting calories or calculating RDAs, the better approach is to ask ourselves: what instructions is my food giving my genes? Eating foods which activate our intracellular antioxidant enzymes is far more efficient at addressing free radical damage than relying solely on dietary antioxidants.

Balance Blood Sugar

Have you ever been hangry (hungry angry)?

I used to get hangry a lot. Besides causing my mental, physical and emotional well-being to suffer, and causing my friends and coworkers to avoid me, having chronically low blood sugar was having serious consequences on my health.

Allowing blood sugar to drop too low causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol. We all know that feeling of being sweaty, weak, dizzy, and shaky.

Cortisol has been correlated with increased obesity and BMI, and is a catabolic hormone, which means it breaks tissue down. This is disadvantageous for those of us trying to build or maintain muscle.

Cortisol must be managed, and while there are several ways to do this, diet is one of the most effective. Avoiding excessive release of cortisol is accomplished through avoiding extreme spikes and crashes in blood sugar.

metabolic fire

When considering our metabolic fire, the campfire analogy is one of the best. Carbohydrates are the kindling. Fats and protein are the logs. When we put kindling on the fire, it lights quickly and burns out quickly. When we put logs on the fire, it burns slow and steady. Carbohydrates cause a quick spike and crash in blood sugar, causing stress on the body and excessive cortisol to be released. Fats and proteins are broken down and assimilated by the body more gradually and allow for more sustained energy.

Favoring fats, proteins, and fiber over carbohydrates helps the body maintain balanced blood sugar and avoid the excessive release of cortisol.

Improve Gut Health

People like to say “You are what you eat”, but I believe the saying “You are what you absorb” is more accurate. You can eat the best diet in the world, but if you’re not absorbing and assimilating your nutrients, it’s a wasted effort.

Our intestines are about 25 feet long and contain an estimated 100 trillion bacteria which help us digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease.

There are many lifestyle factors that drive gut flora imbalance, but one of the primary ones is diet. When the microbiome is out of balance, we can experience disease, fatigue, anxiety, depression, immune suppression, food sensitivities, weight gain and overall diminished quality of life.

The health of your microbiome plays a role in which vitamins and minerals make their way to fuel your muscles, and this is why gut health is the foundation of using food as fuel.

Consuming a range of insoluble and soluble fibers may be the best way of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota population. Specifically, foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes act as prebiotic food which feed your good gut bacteria. Probiotic foods, which help support healthy bacterial populations, are also important and examples include cultured and fermented foods. Also consider a high quality probiotic supplement like this or this.

It’s Our Choice
Diet is one of the biggest factors in determining our health and one which we have complete control over. Focusing on these dietary strategies has been crucial in recovering my health from Hashimoto’s. Our bodies have an incredible capacity to heal if we allow them. How amazing is that?!