Ayurvedic Strategies for Healthy Holiday Eating
‘Tis the season to be snacking! From Thanksgiving (or even Halloween) through Valentine’s Day, the holidays present an extended string of festive gatherings that center around food and drinks. While living it up with friends, family, and colleagues can be fun, it can also be a bit stressful — especially with travel, gift buying, hectic schedules, and easy access to rich and sugary foods.
“When there’s stress involved, our choices can become more reactive, rather than coming from a grounded place and connected to the self,” says Sankari Wegman, an Ayurvedic consultant at The Raj who also teaches Ayurvedic cooking classes. Moreover, Wegman tells us, it’s particularly easy to feel stressed during Vata season, which falls in autumn. “Vata by nature is light and airy, and it gets thrown out of balance when there’s any kind of irregularity.”
Below, Wegman offers ten easy Ayurvedic lifestyle and diet tips to help combat holiday stress — whether you’re the host, the chef, or dining solo this season.
1. Routine, Routine, Routine
“The main thing is to have regularity,” says Wegman, who suggests prepping for the holiday season ahead of time by establishing healthy eating patterns, an exercise routine, and a regular bedtime a month before Halloween hits. “That way, by the time you’re coming into Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’re already in a regular routine and you won’t go off track so much.” It’s never too late to start aligning your routine with the rhythms of nature!
2. Travel Smart
Whether you’re piling the kids into the car or jetting across the country solo, “Traveling can do a number on your body,” says Wegman. To counter the feeling of upheaval, she suggests putting Vata Aroma Oil in your car diffuser. She also recommends wearing comfortable shoes and clothing, carrying a travel pillow, and packing healthy snacks rather than relying on airport fare and gas station goods.
3. Stay Hydrated
On the road or in the air, it’s easy to get dehydrated — which can lead to poor food choices. “Sometimes we’re just thirsty, we’re not really hungry,” says Wegman. “Make sure that you’re drinking enough water. It’s really great to have warm water or warm-to-hot water, depending on how you like it, but better to avoid ice-cold beverages of any kind.” She also suggests sipping Be Trim Tea mid-afternoon or before a snack. “Be Trim Tea is not so much about losing weight; it’s about helping to curb any impulse to want more sugar. Ginger tea, or ginger water, can also be great to help digest heavy foods, if you’re not too Pitta.”
4. Spice Things Up
With the holidays come rich, heavy foods that can tax the digestion. Fortunately, dosha-balancing spice mixtures can help. “If you have traveled somewhere, it’s great to have those little bottles of Ayurvedic churna with you,” says Wegman. “Put one in your purse, and sprinkle some Organic Vata Churna on your vegetables to help with digestion.”
5. Eat a Good Breakfast
Without a healthy breakfast, you might find yourself more prone to sugar cravings or midday snack attacks, says Wegman. “Having a good, healthy breakfast that’s warm and well-cooked is going to help with your choices later in the day.” She also recommends making lunch your main meal and avoiding skipping meals.
6. Bring a Healthy Dish
If you’re visiting friends and family, you might end up noshing on heavy foods that throw your digestion for a loop. One way to ensure a bit of balance is to offer to bring a dish, or cook one at your host’s home. “Bring something with lots of vegetables and some spicing,” suggests Wegman. “I bring my rice cooker, or pressure cooker, and some grains and spices with me when I travel. My family looks forward to whatever I’m going to make. It’s become kind of a tradition.”
7. Make a Move
There are lots of ways to stay active during the holiday season, says Wegman. “There are travel workouts you can look up and modify according to your own physiology. It can be burpees, push-ups, sit-ups, marching in place, things like that. I always like to work out in the morning before a big holiday meal, because I start the day feeling more energetic and connected with myself, and the food choices I make will be coming from a good place.” Other suggestions: brisk walks outside with family, biking, swimming in the hotel pool, yoga, Frisbee. “Even a twenty-minute walk a day makes a huge difference,” says Wegman. “It elevates our heart, mood, and helps metabolism and circulation.”
8. Find Time to Unwind
If possible, try to create moments of self-care throughout the holidays, says Wegman. “In your holiday routine, do at least one thing a day to create space and time for yourself. That could be meditation, doing your yoga practice, journaling, or reading a book; just something where you have a moment of quiet and connection to yourself. If it’s available, having an Epsom salt bath or soaking in the tub helps to release stress and tension, and gives you a moment of serenity in a crazy kind of day.” A drop of Calming Vata or Sniffle Free Aroma Oil in the bath has a wonderful and soothing effect when you are on the road. Use the one that smells the best at that time — let your body choose.
9. Tend to Your Emotions
“The holidays can trigger so many things for different people, and the way we act upon that can be through eating things that we don’t normally eat,” says Sankari. “It can be a painful time for some if they’ve lost family members; it can feel isolating.” Reaching out to your community can be helpful if you’re on your own, whether that’s an established friend base or participating in group activities like yoga classes and social clubs. “Ask for help if you need it. And if you’re with lots of family, really make sure to take care of your emotions,” says Wegman. “Routine, meditation, aroma oils, and things that nourish the heart are so important.”
10. Remember What Matters
Amidst all the presents, parties, and whirlwind of activity, it’s important to keep sight of the true value of the holidays. “It’s the little moments, not the presents,” says Wegman. “It’s important to create special moments — going to see a holiday lighting, doing activities together as a family.” She recently asked her son what he loves most about the holidays and was moved by his reply: I just like sitting and knowing that everyone’s all together and Grandpa is cooking in the kitchen. When I can smell it, then it feels like Christmas.
Bonus Tip: Indulge a Little
“If you do indulge in foods that you’re not used to eating, really just enjoy it,” says Wegman. “You don’t have to eat ten cookies, but absolutely take that cookie and eat it slowly, really savoring it, enjoying it, because that’s where bliss is created. There’s a different level of love that circulates when you bite into something your mom has made traditionally every Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s so nourishing to the soul.”
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.