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How do I transition from the recent holiday season full of sugar, carbs, alcohol, meat to a lighter, yet nourishing diet for the winter. I don’t want to just hibernate and eat comfort food. I could use some new and innovative strategies.
Love your blog and thanks for any ideas on this one,
Dear Eileen/Holiday-ed Out,
I asked myself this very same question last Monday, when I woke up and realized I was back in my apartment, had to go to work, and somehow had to nourish myself during the course of the day. Gone were the candies, cookies, and other munchies that had been at arm’s length throughout the holiday season, and while I felt I ate rather moderately this year (in part because of a lack of vegan options–sigh), I still felt . . . sluggish and puffy. Any change in one’s eating habits can result in that feeling, and if, as you say, you had what I hope was a fun and relaxing holiday “full of sugar, carbs, alcohol, [and] meat” you probably felt way different than usual. It makes a girl want to swear off all food and spend a week at the gym, as many do come January 1–that is, until it’s about 11:30 AM on January 2 and your stomach and burning quads are telling you something different.
Indeed, the most successful way I’ve found to clear out the post-holiday sludge requires something quite simple: the immediate resumption of your normal eating habits. That means not starving yourself and/or subsisting on carrot sticks and celery. Doing so will leave you standing over the counter when you get home at night emptying the remains of your Christmas cookie tin–and feeling as poorly the next morning as you did before. (This is also why most extreme diets and detoxes ultimately fail–they result in stronger cravings and binge sessions, which completely invalidate all you did to “be good.”)
Stock your refrigerator with fresh produce and root vegetables, and regard them as “comfort food” in their own right: naturally sweet and satisfying but without the guilt. Beets, celery root, and parsnips are great roasted in the oven with balsamic vinegar and spices; likewise, the mighty kale will make for a filling salad, saute, or add-in to your favorite green juice or smoothie. Perhaps lean more heavily on proteins and healthy fats at first over carbs (though don’t rule them out entirely–whole grains are needed for optimal cognitive function), as the former will help you stay fuller longer and burn more energy throughout the day. Drink plenty of water with lemon, too, which will give you a bit of a metabolism boost.
Another simple meal idea: Cook a batch of whole grains like quinoa, millet, polenta, wild rice, brown rice, etc, maybe about 2 cups at a time–enough for at least 3-4 meals. Have a “base” grain like this handy for busy days and you’ll reach for a balanced meal rather than snacks and empty calories. Build your meal over your grains using said roasted or steamed veggies. Add a protein like cooked beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and avocado, nuts, seeds, or tahini for healthy fats. Sprinkle on some gomashio, herbs, dash of your favorite spice like garam masala, nutritional yeast, and sea salt for flavor.
Adding detoxifying ingredients to your diet, rather than stripping it of indulgences, will help you stay positive and have fun with your meals! If you don’t eat these already, try adding seaweed to your diet, like nori, wakame, hijiki, etc. Sea vegetables are amazing at detoxifying your body and flushing out excess bloat–and they have tons of fiber to keep you feeling full. Another detox superstar is chia seeds, which will give you tons of energy and keep you feeling full (they expand in your stomach!). Try a making a simple chia pudding with some almond milk for a snack.
If you’re looking for something more thoroughly cleansing or regimented to get you back on track, try a simple 3- or 5-day detox diet that includes real (cooked) food (i.e., not just juice/smoothies). I did this whole plant-based detox plan post-holiday and found that my excess bloat had shed completely by the end of the week, and I was never hungry or unsatisfied. You might think of such diets as your normal eating in the summer–light and water-based, but still full of flavor and options.
Remember, too, how key it is to exercise. I know how hard it can be to move when the temperature is in the single-digits (as it has been the past few weeks here in NYC), when all you want to do is wear sweatpants and grandpa sweaters and cover yourself with a blanket. But try. Getting back into your workout routine slowly will make you feel more refreshed and also help keep you warm–even temporarily. Again, don’t aim for anything crazy or overly ambitious, as especially in the cold weather the body is under extra stress to just keep itself warm, so trying to run off 5 pounds in an hour is nearly impossible. Be kind and responsive to your body with some light cardio, yoga, stretching, etc. Really, anything counts this time of year.
I hope these suggestions make your winter meal-planning less stressful and more healthful!
Photo: Jennifer Kurdyla