A Norman Rockwell painting of Christmas is the expectation that many of us set for a season that should be more about celebrating the greatest gift ever sent, mighty God, who came as a little child. The Bible is full of feasts and celebrations, but how can we as believers in Christ celebrate the holidays in a way that brings glory to God in body, soul and spirit?
It is not uncommon for the average American to gain 10 pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year. A few of those pounds may disappear with the resolutions of the New Year, but it is easy to see why the holidays contribute to the obesity problem that plagues our nation. Unfortunately many people with mental health or physical issues often find their condition gets far worse during the holidays. The combination of increased stress, even good stress, and far too much sugar contribute to an increase in doctors’ visits and even hospitalization. Celebratory eating can sabotage the best set healthy eating plan.
So how we can we do things differently this year? Some practical things to do are to fill up on fruit, veggies, and nuts, and then pop gum in your mouth 15 minutes before attending a buffet party. This combination will make you feel full and unlikely to overeat.
Remember that it is socially acceptable to say “no” if you wish to stick with your healthy eating plan and avoid sugar.
Be careful of telling yourself “I deserve this treat.” God gave us food to enjoy, but too much sugar is destructive to good health. Remember that sugar is known to be as addictive as cocaine. If you struggle in this area, use a food diary and seek accountability to limit its use.
At social events select sweets in moderation and fill up on protein, fiber and healthy fats, slowly savoring each bite and only taking small tastes of high-calorie foods.
Do not linger beside the buffet table, only eat while sitting, chew well and wait 10 minutes before going back to the table. Sucking on a mint between servings can help you to realize that you are full.
If you do eat more than usual, mix 1 tsp of baking soda in a cup of water to help neutralize the acidic effects of foods you would not normally eat.
Remember that digestion begins in your mouth. My grandfather chewed every piece of food 40 times and lived well into his eighties. Saliva contains digestive enzymes, and the longer you chew, the more effective these enzymes will be at breaking down food. For example, lingual lipase is an enzyme that helps to break down fats. Chewing breaks down food into small particles thus reducing stress on the esophagus and making digestion easier for your stomach and small intestine. Foods such as soft fruits and vegetables need only be chewed 5-10 times, but experts recommend up to 30 times for meats and tougher foods. Chewing well signals the body to begin digestion, alerting the stomach to produce acid and signaling the pancreas to secrete its contents into the small intestine.
It is important to focus on creating memories during the holidays and enjoying being with those we love rather than focusing on food.
Keeping your usual routine of exercise, or even adding extra gym time or walks to counteract additional calories will boost the immune system and reduce stress. Remember your body cannot determine the difference between good stress and bad stress, so releasing endorphins through exercise and laughter is important.
Those who receive less than seven hours of sleep at night are three times more likely to catch a cold than those who get over eight hours of sleep. It is also easy to mistake tiredness for hunger.
For many, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be very challenging. Memories may be painful; their expectations set too high, or they may be alone. Keeping a heavenly perspective, planning ahead to serve at a homeless shelter, inviting friends who are also alone, meeting at a restaurant or planning another activity is vital.
Remember we are in South Florida and the healing benefits of sitting with friends by the ocean are free and priceless. Beware of melancholy tendencies to isolate, which will only cause a downward spiral.
As believers we want our celebration of Christmas to honor God. Reaching out to the lonely, serving and giving as the Lord leads are important.
Stay in God’s word
However, it is also easy to get too busy over the holidays, spend too much money, create debt and not enjoy what should be a great celebration. The secret to a balanced life is to have a nourished soul that comes from spending time in the Word. As C.S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul, and it needs feeding!” There is something powerful about beginning our day with time in the Word. We see in Lamentations 3:22-23 that “his mercies are new every morning” and the verse that has been my favorite since childhood expands on this, especially when life is tough. Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Honoring God through celebration may take some planning, but it is possible to enjoy great food and good friends without affecting our health or looking back and realizing that we failed to focus on what really matters. Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that God celebrates over us with shouts of joy. As we celebrate the amazing gift of His Son, Jesus, this season let’s honor him in body, soul and spirit.
Andrea Goff hosts Choosing Joy, a support group for people dealing with ongoing medical conditions, pain, anxiety or depression. For information, contact [email protected].