Ahhh, the holidays.
That time of year when offices across the world throw cheerful, debaucherous parties. That time when you spend half your workday online shopping for your nieces and nephews, and the other half googling “gifts for preteens.” That time when your calendar fills up with holiday commitments. That time when your Pinterest starts to fill up with recipes—old favorites and new delights, sugary concoctions you would never otherwise dream of putting in your body. That time when everywhere you look there’s a big plate of buttery, decadent, drool-worthy cookies.
And you know what? It’s OK to eat them.
Cue the collective *GASP* from the Zero readership. “A health blog telling us to eat sugar??? Isn’t sugar the one thing every diet agrees is the devil?”
Paleo, vegan, keto, raw food, and low carb dieters can’t seem to agree on anything except the fact that sugar is bad for you. And, well…they’re right. But there’s no escaping the fact that society has built its holiday festivities around towers of sugar in one form of another—massive piles of cookies, multi-tiered cakes, overflowing fountains of hot chocolate and cider and eggnog. Sugar is part of the social fabric of celebration.
You can do everything in your power to control your own micro-food environment at home — making sure you don’t keep Oreos in the house, for example — but what happens when you’re not in Kansas anymore? (or…maybe you are in Kansas if that’s where you’re from). What happens when you aren’t in charge of your default food environment? How do you actually enjoy the holidays with your metabolic integrity intact? Without losing friends when you refuse to taste their chocolatey labors of love?
The truth is, you aren’t going to get through the holidays without eating a few cookies, a slice of pie or two, and a warm mug of hot chocolate. Nor should you. Mindful holiday eating doesn’t mean eliminating these foods entirely, it means being aware of when, how, and how much you put into your body.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you have Zero on your phone, or at least you’re curious about the benefits of intermittent fasting. One of the largest of those is the ability to indulge. Occasionally. The temporary damage to your metabolism by a couple of Christmas cookies is far outweighed by the good that real, genuine holiday togetherness can do for your wellbeing. A study at Harvard University over the course of 80 years, showed that our relationships and the joy we get from a sense of community, has a powerful impact on our health.
So, here at Zero, we say do indulge. Partake in the fun. Just do so mindfully. Which brings us to our four tips for mindful holiday eating.
4 Tips for Mindful Holiday Eating
#1. Kickstart Mindful Holiday Eating by Starting Your Timer
If you’re going to be eating cookies, and cake, and pie, and eggnog, restrict your feeding window to minimize metabolic damage. Consider doing a 16:8 fast (or longer) each day you’re home with your family, or at least each day you know there’s going to be delicious, anti-nutritious food on the table. If you know there’s a big festive dinner and an ooey-gooey yule log in your future, perhaps skip breakfast and start your feeding window in the early afternoon.
Studies of intermittent fasting have shown that regular fasting reduces overall caloric intake. So at the very least, restricting your eating window will help you keep those calories in check.
#2. Balance It Out with an Extended Fast
Many of you joined us for our Fast Before the Feast in advance of Thanksgiving. While we’re not doing another group fast for the December holidays, you might consider doing a longer one on your own before the family fun begins. Whether it’s one day or several, a prolonged fast before an indulgent few days can go a long way toward mitigating metabolic damage. Why is that? Well, the largest benefit is probably glycogen depletion. When you’re eating regularly, the glycogen stores in your liver and muscles fill up with the spare glucose your body doesn’t use for fuel.
If those glycogen stores are full, and you’re filling your body with sugar, everything you don’t burn off gets converted and stored in your adipose tissue—that’s how sugar becomes fat. But, if your glycogen stores are depleted—the tanks are empty so to speak—you have a bit of a firewall. If you don’t burn off all those mugs of mocha on the ski slopes, your body has a place to store all that excess sugar as glycogen in your liver and muscles before it starts turning excess calories into body fat.
#3. Go Ahead and Indulge, but Keep an Eye Out for Portion Sizes
Do say yes to your Aunt Sally’s famous Christmas trifle. Maybe don’t say yes to seconds. Obviously, there’s a difference between indulgence and overindulgence, and we want to err on the side of moderation. But there’s another element to consider, which is eating late into the evening. That second helping of sugary goodness is likely happening long after the first, and far closer to bedtime.
Studies have shown that stopping eating 30-60 minutes before bed significantly impacts your sleep quality, which can impact energy levels, productivity, and happiness. So saying no to seconds and starting your fasting window an hour before bed likely means a better night’s sleep, which means you’ll enjoy tomorrow all the more.
#4. Combine Mindful Holiday Eating with Movement
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Food can be social, but exercise can too! Schedule family hikes, walks around the block, or other winter activities that get your heart rate up. Cardio doesn’t have to be on a treadmill—running back up the hill with a sled in hand so you can race the kids back down works just as well, and you won’t need to store that excess sugar at all if you’re burning it off in a high-energy snowball fight.
If you’re using fasting as one of several tools to take charge of your health, you’re already way ahead of the curve. You’re being diligent and deliberate about your diet for so much of the year, you’ve earned a bit of time to relax the rules. That’s part of the beauty of mindful holiday eating and intermittent fasting — it allows you the flexibility to enjoy these unique moments of joy and togetherness without fear, without guilt.
So enjoy those cookies, Santa. Just do so thoughtfully.
Happy fasting (and holidays) from all of us at Zero!