As Shavuot approaches, you may be planning a celebration that involves a lot of heavy, dairy-rich foods — and you may also be wondering how you can enjoy your favorite treats and still stay on track, health-wise.
You’re not alone if you find that the holidays make it difficult make healthy choices. Whether you’re hosting a large celebration, or traveling to visit family, many people to tend drink more alcohol, eat more sweets, and skip out on exercise during times of celebration. Still, there are ways to relax and indulge this Shavuot season without going overboard and ultimately dealing with consequences like indigestion, fatigue, headaches or a few extra pounds.
Here are seven ways you can make healthy choices this Shavuot while still enjoying yourself:
Fill your plate with mostly veggies
Try to reserve about a third of your plate, or more, for non-starchy veggies, like salad, cooked greens, roasted broccoli or asparagus. Having a veggie-based soup to start the meal is another great way to take the edge off of your appetite without consuming lots of calories. If you find there’s usually not many veggies available at your gathering, consider bringing a dish yourself.
Veggies might seem boring, and you may be thinking that this leaves little room for your favorite holiday food, but remember that holidays are not just about eating and drinking. In addition to filling up on the green stuff, remember to eat slowly and mindfully so you get more satisfaction from less, and try to focus on having meaningful conversations and spending quality time with whoever you’re dining with.
Avoid low-quality dairy foods
Along with fried, processed, and high-fat foods, many people find it difficult to properly digest low-quality dairy products. That said, dairy-based foods are a huge part of Shavuot, so I would never ask you to give them up completely. Instead, try to purchase the best quality dairy you can, such as organic milk and raw, fermented cheeses. You may also want to occasionally swap in non-dairy ingredients in recipes, such as coconut/almond milk for regular milk or heavy cream, avocado in place of sour cream, and nutritional yeast in place of cheese.
Take a digestive enzyme
Digestive enzymes are beneficial if you have trouble digesting protein, gluten, dairy or any particularly heavy meal. Signs that you may benefit from digestive enzymes include a tendency to experience heartburn/acid reflux, bloating, gas and/or abdominal pain following meals.
Digestive enzymes act as catalysts in speeding up chemical reactions in the body, making it easier for the digestive system to break down larger molecules into more easily absorbed particles. This improves metabolism of the amino acids that are extracted from proteins, the fatty acids and cholesterol that are found in fats, and the simple sugars in carbohydrates.
There are many different types of digestive enzymes available, mostly derived from sources like pineapple or papaya, ox or hogs, and plants that contain probiotics, yeast and fungi. I recommend looking for a full-spectrum enzyme blend for general digestive improvement. You might also try taking a lactase supplement if you have trouble digesting dairy, or an herbal blend that contains peppermint and ginger oils if you suffer from general indigestion. Follow the recommended dosage instructions since these differ from brand to brand.
Consider trying intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) means purposefully going for extended periods of time without eating. The purpose of fasting is to force your body to use up available energy in the form of glucose/glycogen so that it starts tapping into your stored body fat. Fasting also helps with detoxification and digestion and has many other long-term metabolic benefits too. Fasting is an ancient practice that has long been used to support overall health and even promote longevity, yet many people are surprised to learn that it can be used in an alternative form to regularly support the body’s natural processes.
You may want to try IF by fasting for about 13-18 hours per day in the days leading up to Shavuot; this would mean you only eat within a short “eating window” of about 8-13 hours and then abstain from having all solid foods outside of that window (you can drink water, black coffee and tea). Once the holiday begins, you can also make your Shavuot meal the main, or only, meal you have that day and choose to consume only liquids or fruits and veggies during the remainder of the day.
Not only is IF a helpful short-term strategy for managing the holidays, but you can continue to practice it throughout the year to prevent weight gain and support hormonal balance.
Get enough sleep
Being short on sleep can increase the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body, which can make you feel moody, foggy, and hungrier. When you’re sleep deprived you’ll also be more susceptible to experiencing cravings for sugary foods and processed carbs, leading you to overindulge. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is the best way to keep your hormones balanced, your cravings in check and your mood upbeat.
Drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic drink
This will help you slow down, consume less alcohol overall and prevent symptoms associated with dehydration and/or a hangover. It may also help reduce cravings associated with alcohol consumption, like sweets and salty foods.
Swap alcohol with a healthy but festive alternative
If you’re up for it, you may want to skip the alcohol altogether this Shavuot, or replace some of it by drinking kombucha (a fermented beverage that provides probiotics), sparkling water with fruit, chilled herbal teas or other low-calorie, hydrating beverages. If you do drink alcohol, I recommend sticking to low-sugar drinks like a small amount of liquor mixed with club soda or lime, or a glass of non-sweet wine. No matter what you choose, try to have no more than 2 drinks in a day.