Podcast Episode #1: Holiday Stress & Staying on Plan



  1. How to indulge without derailing completely

  2. The difference between those who are prone to overeat and those who are not

  3. Tips for managing time and reducing stress at holiday gatherings

  4. Ways to decrease stress around food

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You're listening to the paleo N.P. Podcast Episode number 1. 

Welcome to the Paleo NP podcast. I'm Martha a family nurse practitioner and creator of MarthaFlorence.com. I live in Anchorage Alaska with my boyfriend and fur children. I'm here to share my take on integrative health nutrition and fitness. Answer your questions and talk with health and wellness experts. You can submit your questions at MarthaFlroence.com. Enjoy this week's episode.

Remember that the materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional medical advice diagnosis or treatment. 

Indulging Without Completely Derailing

Hey guys. So I'm super excited to be here for episode number one of the paleo NP podcast. I wanted to start this thing out with a bang and talk about staying on plan for the holidays and holiday stress. Since we are in the middle of the holiday season I thought that this would be a really good subject to dive into. You may or may not be feeling stressed about holidays. We just finished up Thanksgiving and we've got Hanukkah and Christmas and New Year's and whatever other winter holiday you celebrate coming up pretty quickly and all of that can get out of hand really fast.

So first I want to talk about staying on plan while also indulging during the holidays because I think that this is something that either causes a lot of people a lot of stress or something that can spiral out of control quickly. First of all it's OK to indulge. And it's OK to have a treat especially during this time of year when there are so many goodies floating around and so many families come together over food. But it's also important to be aware of the line between an indulgence and completely derailing your health by making consistently not so great choices. It's surprisingly easy to end up writing the sugar rollercoaster where you're eating tons of sugar and then having sugar crashes and then you need to eat more sugar and eventually you end up not sleeping well and having sugar or having other cravings that are out of control and stress. 

This leads to more cravings and more stress and you get stuck in this really ugly negative feedback loop that ultimately leads to a loss of control over your food choices and how you're feeling. And I know that sounds like an extreme and chaotic experience but you would be surprised at how easily and quickly it can happen especially when you're faced with a pleader to have holiday cookies every single day for weeks. But it's still OK to have a treat. Make paleo treats or some gluten free cookies or if you handle gluten Alright eat thing with gluten in it. Because even just knowing where you are on the spectrum of tolerance of certain foods and making those choices accordingly can be both freeing and empowering because you know that eating one cookie with gluten isn't going to make you feel terrible but eating three or four might make you feel awful for days.

So the point is that it's OK and even highly encouraged for you to and to choose to indulge. But be very aware of the loss of control aspect that can come along with this. I'm going to talk about this a little bit more later when I talk more about managing stress around food but being really intentional with your food choices and not letting them get out of control is really really important. Also I don't like assigning good or bad labels to foods and I'm really not here to bash on anyones eating habits but looking at the state of Americans and what their health is like these days chances are pretty good that you probably have some habits which I'll refer to as quote unquote bad habits not because they're morally bad but because they're not contributing to your best health. 

Things like mindless eating eating to stay awake or even eating in social situations. And you know what I mean not like sitting down to dinner put like picking at the chips and salsa for hours and hours because you're standing around talking to your friends. That happens. I know that happens. But it's what I would call a bad habit because it's not making you any healthier. So it's really important to know what you are indulging in is a conscious choice and that's not contributing to any of these habits or making these habits worse. I don't want you to feel guilty about it but I don't want you to let it become the thing that completely derails you and causes you to have a huge uphill struggle to get back to where you want to be.

That doesn't just apply to the holidays but I think it's really important to address that now because there aren't very many other times of year that we're faced with the sheer volume of these hyper palatable foods as we are during the holidays and even who mindlessly eats carrots or broccoli. Probably no one but things like cookies and pies and other treats that give us that huge dopamine hit in our brains and make us just keep eating even after we are full. People who are obese or who are prone to overeating actually have a blunted dopamine response to food which is why they eat more even when they're full. Because in order to get that satisfied feeling from the dopamine they have to eat more. And this is actually what's causing the overeating. So research actually shows that there's a change in brain chemistry which makes some people more prone to completely derailing when they indulge.

So even just being aware of that emotional response to food should help inform your choices that you make around indulging if you know you're one of those people who is prone to overindulgence. Then you may need to keep your indulgence indulgences smaller or even not food related. In order to keep from completely derailing yourself and if you're eating all of the sugary things between Thanksgiving and New Year's then the bad news is that it's even going to be even harder for you to get back on track. It's not just as simple as doing your sugar detox or quitting sugar a New Year's Day because there's actually a psychological component. And this blunted reward system that you're dealing with that goes along with all of this. So this is where making sure that you're eating a super nutrient dense diet such as paleo can really help make all of this easier. There's research that shows that the paleo diet actually decreases inflammation including inflammation in your brain which bad news sugar contributes to inflammation in your brain. It's just the way it is. So eating a nutrient dense diet such as paleo actually can help your mental health to a certain point. And when your body is properly fueled and has all of the nutrients it needs for all of the processes that it carries out. You'll have fewer cravings and more energy and quitting sugar will be easier. But keep an eye on those lifestyle factors and keep an eye on the aspects of your emotional health are absolutely critical because without those it's just going to be an uphill battle.

If you want to get all of these things under control before the new year I just released an e-book that's called the 30 day energy reset that talks about a lot of this and how it's all related. And it'll also walk you through five simple steps to help you get rid of your fatigue and get your energy back if that's something that you struggle with. If you want to check it out I will put a link up in the show notes for you or you can go to 30dayenergyreset.com. And that's the number three zero. So three zero day energy reset dot com and you can check that out.

Managing Holiday Stress

So talking about managing holiday stress. One thing that I feel super strongly about is the importance of making time for yourself especially during this busy busy time of year. It's really easy to put other people first. Especially we all have family commitments life work. We're trying to exercise we're trying to cook it just kind of gets out of hand. So I want to talk about some simple ways to maximize your time but also to make sure that you get some time to yourself as well as the things that you can do to just help fill but help yourself feel better about the holidays in general. And I think the planning ahead is really important in this and not waiting until you are like all kinds of stressed out and you have no time and no options.

So the first thing is to avoid travel if you can if you need or want to travel maybe pick some more off times like don't fly home the 30 or 40 days around Christmas and celebrate the holidays earlier later. So you could even do like a joint Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration. If that's something that your family feels like they can manage. Now I know that's not going to work for a lot of people but it's just something to consider. And this is actually something that I adopted from having a job at the hospital which functions seven days a week 365 days a year with no holidays. So we were actually required to work a certain number of holidays each season so there were the number of summer holidays and a number of winter holidays that we were required to work. So I got pretty used to putting in my time in the hospital during the holidays and celebrating the day after the day before or a couple of days later and it really didn't matter. It's kind of the same thing is like when your birthday is on a Wednesday and you go out to dinner and celebrate on a Friday. It's just another day. Eventually you'll get used to not celebrating the holiday on the holiday and it's no big deal.

There's also something kind of freeing about celebrating a holiday whenever you want. I mean I know that holiday is on a day for a reason but sometimes doing your own thing can be pretty empowering and freeing. And since you can get Christmas decorations in October these days you can pretty much get into a holiday mood whenever you feel like it.

I also want to empower you to pick your own terms and to not engage where you don't want to. Now what the heck do I mean by that? I mean don't get caught up in things like should we say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas or whether or not we need to argue about the latest Starbucks holiday cup controversy. If it means that much to you by all means please have strong feelings and opinions about it but don't let any of those things contribute to more stress. People get caught up in all sorts of things like whether it's too early to listen to Christmas music or not. Just do your own thing and tune out all the noise that takes away from you celebrating whatever winter holiday you celebrate or any time of year really and celebrate on your own terms.

The same goes for subjects that come up around the holiday table that you just don't want to talk about. And I'm going to go ahead and go out on a limb and say that politics is one of those things. They seem to be particularly dividing these days. So rather than sit around and try and keep your mouth shut or feeling attacked just get up and leave the table at a certain point. It's important to protect yourself and your own well-being even if it is against you're protecting yourself against your family. You also can set the boundary when you get into a conversation with someone and just start out by saying Well obviously after you say hello how are you you know using manners that there's just this is this whatever subject that you don't want to talk about and it's that you feel strongly about avoiding it if the topic comes up naturally which it might if you haven't set that expectation ahead of time and that's ok. Just change the subject. 

It can feel really uncomfortable to speak out and say hey can we change the subject. But chances are that you're not the only one who is feeling that way and people will probably be really grateful that you said something. And if that doesn't work again just remove yourself from the situation. Get up from the table and walk away or excuse yourself. I think that it's important to address it up front to and not to ignore it. So most of us want the holidays to be a time that we enjoy with our family and friends and not stressful. So setting the expectation up front can be really freeing and allow for better connections with your family and friends and and more fun. If you're hosting your holiday party you can even send out an e-mail or put it on the invitation that you know we're not talking about politics. And if people have a problem with that then that's probably more a reflection of how they are feeling rather than what they actually think about you standing up for that.

So if you are traveling to see your family or you go to your family's house and you're not in your own environment it's really important to try and schedule your time. I think it's easier to sell this if you have small kids but you could schedule nap time. I mean if you have a kid who's napping no one's going to argue with you about finding something else to do without you because it's not like you can leave your little kid at home to nap alone. I don't have kids and I have this excuse but I'm pretty adamant about naptime for myself when I feel like having a nap.

But you can do the same thing for yourself. Take a nap watch an hour of mindless TV. Go for a walk. Go for a run and protect that time your family will actually probably appreciate the fact that you are in a better mood when you've had some time to yourself to do stress and reset then they will be angry about you asking for an hour alone.

If you exchange gifts with your family you should try and be really specific about what you want or don't want. A lot of us are overwhelmed with things in our houses and we just don't need more stuff. So try and come up with experiences that can be gifted to you like a gift certificate or like contribute towards a fund for a vacation or a specific trip. I get that people want to be kind and give gifts. And I always appreciate a kind gesture. But I personally don't really need any more stuff in my house. So if it's not something that I really need or want to I'd rather you just didn't bother or do something like buy me a coffee gift certificate and we can go have coffee together. But I just don't need another knickknack. I definitely don't want an ugly Christmas sweater. So be really intentional about your gift and don't be afraid to ask for specifically what you want. 

Rather than feeling anxious about potential for dinner conversation this kind of goes back to topics that you don't want to talk about work on connecting more deeply with just one person at work or whatever kind of gathering you're going to dive deep into what they're doing and what they're interested in and trying not to let the conversation drift into topics that you don't want to talk about. You can take the opportunity to get to know a family member better or a friend or somebody else's friend if you're at a holiday party that's not with family. It can be a nice way to expand your network. Get to know somebody that you don't really know there. You'll probably leave the experience feeling happier if you have made a deeper connection with just one person than not having made any connections with anyone and you might even find some common ground with a family member or friend that you don't normally connect with or get along with very well. I know this has happened to me when I started a conversation with that one person who I don't usually talk to at family gatherings. And if any of my family is listening to this it's probably not you but if when I've started that conversation by asking something about them that I know that they're interested in or something that they've been dealing with it's usually a more positive experience for both of us.

And related to that last point, I highly recommend avoiding toxic people no matter whether they're your family or your friends. I know that that's tricky and it can sometimes seem really uncomfortable but it's really important. I mean you obviously have to do whatever is right. But if you get stuck talking to that one person you just can't stand. Excuse yourself or walk away if the conversation is going to be about something that you just don't want to talk about. You've got to choose not to engage or or try to avoid the situation. I'm not big on avoidance but sometimes just make yourself scarce in the other room. But don't make it negative or aggressive. If you do get stuck talking to that person. Find a way to excuse yourself from the situation. Go to the bathroom go get a drink go you know check on something if you have a kid with you you can say hey I'm going to check on my kid. There's ways to politely excuse yourself from the conversation or you can just say you know I'm not going to talk about this and walk away. It's okay to do that and I'm not super into sports but the sports analogy that the the best offense is a good defense definitely applies here.

And kind of talking more specifically about food. Again I want to make sure we've already covered this a little bit but this is just a little different perspective. Be conscious about your food choices but also don't beat yourself up over them. I specifically mean food in this but it does apply to other things as well. If you've been making really good food choices but you know that you have a holiday party coming up and you want to eat some pie just eat the pie. If you are at the macro counting type you can try and work that pie into your macros. But really it's more about taking some time to enjoy something that you wouldn't normally have. And moving on you definitely might feel like crap the next day. If you spent the night eating whatever you want but it can also be empowering to just kind of cut loose and not have to worry about whatever fits into the rules or not.

I'm not I'm to the point in my journey where crappy choices like Doritos or Pizza Hut pizza just doesn't sound good to me anymore so I'm not really worried about those type of choices. But if you're not there yet and that one really awful thing is just exactly what you want. Just eat it. There's also a lot of treats and indulgences that can be made paleo or grain-free or gluten-free which would really be the ideal situation. But don't nitpick and don't worry about it. Just do whatever you want to do and enjoy it.

If you're hosting the holidays you can consider assigning dishes to others and not cooking the whole meal yourself. You should take control of the dishes that you know you want to make in a certain way like making the mashed potatoes because you want to make sure that you use coconut oil or ghee instead of coconut sorry coconut milk and ghee instead of butter and cream. If you don't do dairy but if you have a family member who's like I'm not putting up with your gluten free whatever. Have them bring whatever they want for say bread or bake a pie however they want to do it then you don't have to worry about what they think or what they have to say about your food or diet choices. You just get to have control over the things that you want control over and give the rest to somebody else. If you aren't hosting I'd recommend bringing a dish whether you're asked to or not, that you know you can eat. Even better if the host asks you what you want to bring because then you can pick something that you wouldn't normally be able to eat if it were prepared traditionally. Sort of like the example of the mashed potatoes that I just gave traditional mashed potatoes are made with butter and cream. So if you don't do dairy but you love mashed potatoes offered to bring them so you can enjoy them too. And I encourage you not to even say anything about what you put in them because probably no one will notice that there's anything different or are you even get complimented on how good your mashed potatoes are. And ask for your recipe and boy will they be surprised to find out a lick of dairy in them.

Also make exceptions where you can so if you aren't actually allergic to something like dairy or gluten but you just don't normally eat it and having a few bites of something with gluten or dairy won't completely destroy you and make you feel terrible. Don't freak out about it and just enjoy the food but also don't spend the next three weeks eating like it's a holiday. So pick the days that you plan to indulge. Maybe it's Christmas Eve and New Year's Day or however you and your family celebrate. But don't let it carry over to every single holiday party cookie exchange meeting with your neighbors whatever that comes your way. I mean I don't really care what you eat but what I do care about is that you feel good and that you're comfortable with the choices that you make and you're not going to beat yourself up over them later. 

And also like we talked about before that it's not going to completely derail you and send you on an uphill battle. Come New Year's Day when you're like oh man I've spent the last month eating like crap. So just be really intentional about it. And if you do decide that you want to indulge at all 15 of the holiday parties that you have to attend between now and New Year's. By all means do it. But rather than going all out each time I'd encourage you to first make sure that you are really enjoying each indulgence like don't eat the sugar cookie if what you really love is pumpkin cheesecake and exert some portion control so that you don't end up in that sugar craving no sleep more stress cycle that we talked about earlier.

I think it's also important when this comes when it comes after the holidays too because it seems like I always end up with extra leftovers cookies cakes pies whatever. And I think the tendency is for people to just finish up this kind of stuff and think oh I'll start again in the new year. But we kind of already talked about how that can be a really tough battle when you've just gotten into this out of control cycle of sugar all the time. It makes your cravings worse it makes your sleep worse it makes your stress worse and then you just have so much more to deal with when it comes time to clean it up again.

So that's all I've got for you this week. I hope these tips were helpful for you. And I want to hear how you use them during your holiday gatherings. So head on over to the blog post for this podcast at www.marthaflorence.com and leave me a comment. And I also want to hear any tips that you have to share too. So anything that you found particularly helpful for holiday season keeping on plan or managing stress. Tell me tell me all about those.

If you have questions that you'd like me to answer you can submit them on my website. MarthaFlorence.com on the podcast page. Or you can e-mail me at hello at MarthaFlorence.com or head over to Instagram and ask her question in the comments of whatever my most recent post is my username over there is @Martha_Florence. I'll be sure to link to all of these things in the show notes so if you didn't catch any of that you can head on over there and find all those links and if you enjoyed today's show I would love it if you would hop on over iTunes and let me review for you next week.