It’s the most wonderful (and unhealthy) time of the year
Author: Emily Manoogian, PhD
It’s that time of year again and instead of working out, eating healthy, and getting to bed on time, we are sitting, traveling, and eating all the delicious foods we can get our hands on. As we all know combining jet lag, sedentary behavior, and round the clock high fat and high sugar foods is a quick way to gain weight and put a strain on your body. I’m not saying you should pass up on all the amazing food your family and friends have made, or that you should forgo traveling, but I thought I could provide a few quick tips to help ease the burden on your body.
- Try to eat within a 12-hour period or less (if your first cup of coffee, or any food/beverage, is at 8am, the last thing you consume should be at or before 8pm). This will aid your body’s digestion, especially for fatty and sugary foods.
- Eat your desserts as early as possible. Your digestive system is best at processing food in the morning, plus you will be moving around after to help burn it off. So don’t wait til late at night to have your dessert.
- Choose your battles. There will be a lot of special items that you can only get once a year, but there will also be a lot of ‘off the shelf’ desserts and drinks. Skip the everyday and stick to the special treats. And don’t forget to have some fruit and vegetables.
- Sleep is very important for health. Do whatever you can to make sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. You’ll not only feel more rested, but the rest of your body will be better off too!
- Family gatherings can be stressful. Find a way to wind down before going to bed.
- Keep the room cool, dark, and quite to help fall asleep and stay asleep.
- You may not be heading to the gym on your holiday vacation, but try to stay active. Play sports, go for a long walk, do some morning and/or evening stretches, or park a little farther at the mall when you’re buying your last min gifts. Anything to keep your body moving.
Dealing with Jet Lag
Most people have experienced jet-lag one way or another, but what does jet lag mean to your body? Almost every cell in your body has a biological clock and every organ has a daily rhythms of functionality. These clocks are kept in phase with each other with signals from your brain and from your environment (mainly light exposure and food). When you switch your time-zones, you are either advancing or delaying the time of your environment, which will shift the clocks in your body. The problem is that each organ will shift at a slightly different pace. The clocks in your brain, that are most responsive to light will shift the fastest, but it will take the rest of your clocks a while longer to catch up. This leads to internal desynchrony and is the current theory of how jet lag impairs physiology.
The best way to help your clocks shift quickly is to shift all of your behaviors to the new time zone. Because eating is a big cue to the clocks in your digestive system, shifting you’re eating patterns to the new schedule you’re on will help them catch up to your brain a bit faster. More specifically, eating a bigger breakfast, and avoiding late night eating (stop at least 3-4 hours before bed), can provide a clear signal of when your body should be awake and when it should rest. Likewise, being active and getting a lot of bright light in the first half of the day will make the transition easier.
Wishing you a very happy and healthy holiday season from the myCircadianClock team!