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How To Stay Healthy Over The Holidays, From A Functional MD

Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
By Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

While the holidays are defined by joy and cheer, they're also often a stressful time filled with buying presents, holiday parties, traveling, and more. Although this year things may be a little different as we are distancing from others and staying home, we are still facing many stressors that can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

That said, it doesn't have to be that way. As a functional medicine doctor, here are some of my top tips for approaching the holidays with ease, all while staying healthy:

1. Get plenty of fiber at every meal to balance blood sugar. 

During the holidays, you may diverge from your usual eating routine. In order to keep feeling your best, however, I highly recommend tuning in to your fiber intake.

Fiber keeps you full, helps control your blood sugar, and supports digestion—all welcome benefits at any time of year but especially during the holidays. What's more, fiber is prebiotic, which helps feed the good bacteria in your gut.

Make sure you are getting fiber at every meal. Adults should get 21 to 38 grams each day, depending on your age and gender. If you're not (and many of us are not), consider adding additional fiber supplements like inulin, psyllium husk, chia seeds, flax, or brewer's yeast.

If you gravitate toward sweet treats during this season, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor if apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, berberine, or oregano oil could be helpful for you to control blood sugar, too. 

2. Find micro-movements throughout the day.

Taking time for movement is always important. However, if you're slammed with deadlines before the end of the year, the kids are now out of school, or you have a lot of holiday tasks on your plate—you may not have the extra time to get in a workout.

My recommendation is to simply move as much as you can throughout the day, even for just a minute or two. Small micro-movements like lunges, crunches, or a few biceps curls when you have a spare minute can really add up.

Cleaning and decorating absolutely count as movement, too, especially as you get your heart rate up. You don't always have to do a complete core workout to get your daily movement in!

3. Prioritize quality sleep.

During the pandemic, with wavering scheduling and working from home, many people's sleep routines have been thrown off. But good-quality sleep is so important for your overall health.

One of the keys is going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, to keep circadian rhythms stable. I'm also a huge fan of blue-light-blocking glasses, both during the day and at night. Another inexpensive trick is dimming all the lights in your house around sunset so your melatonin production can start getting in gear.

There are also some supplements you can consider like magnesium, GABA, and more. They can really help relax the body and help you fall asleep and stay asleep.*

4. Practice stress management techniques.

Learning how to manage stress during this holiday is crucial. After all, chronic stress over time can have major ramifications on your health.

Finding joy in things you do every day and having a gratitude practice can help manage your cortisol levels over time. For example, take note of how wonderful it feels to drink a cup of tea in silence in the morning. Learning how to meditate and incorporate breathing techniques daily is also helpful.

I also encourage taking adaptogens to help with stress: ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, and more may help improve how you manage overall stress.* Of course, as with all supplements, please talk to your doctor to see if they are appropriate for you.

5. Consider supplements to support immunity.

I encourage everyone to ensure their immune system is in tiptop shape, especially this holiday season. You'll want your natural defenses (innate and adaptive immune systems) to be primed and ready.

Be sure to talk to your doctor first, but taking supplements like vitamin D3, vitamin C, zinc, and probiotics can be very helpful.*

Bone broth is also one of my favorite starters when I make soups, which is so nourishing at this time of year. It provides essential proteins, like lysine and glycine, all while supporting your overall immune system.

These simple strategies are a few of my favorite ways to support a healthy body and mind during the holiday season, and I encourage you to implement one or all of them as you close out 2020.

Bindiya Gandhi, M.D. author page.
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.

Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.