The holidays: With all the decadent food and drink, constant excuses to skip the gym and ever-evolving sources of family drama, they can leave you feeling pretty ragged come Jan. 1, and eager to press the reset button on your routine. No one understands that more than doctors. They’re presented with all the holiday temptations and stressors we are—plus they have to deal with insurance companies on a daily basis.
So The Remedy asked doctors across the country how they use their medical expertise to decompress and detox from end-of-year stress and face the new year healthier and happier.
“During the holiday season, many of us are more likely to consume a lot more sugar than usual,” says Andrea Santo, DMD, a dentist with Lakeview Dental in Coral Springs, Florida. “With increased alcohol consumption, desserts, and other indulgences—plus later hours entertaining or socializing—we can often forget to perform our evening oral-health routines. That’s why I like to kick my routine into high gear during the holidays and not wait to ‘detox.’ It’s much easier to combat increased sugar consumption while you’re enjoying it, versus waiting until you’ve already set bad habits into motion.”
The Remedy Rx: “Make brushing twice a day and flossing a priority, and try to never go to bed with recent sugary substances on your teeth, which is not ideal for sleep,” says Santo. “The new year is the perfect time to begin a habit of making your oral health a top priority.”
“We tend to want to revamp our entire lives come January,” says Danielle DonDiego, DO, a board-certified obesity and family physician with Your Doctors Online. “But instead of looking at 2020, make weekly or monthly goals that can evolve into something bigger.”
The Remedy Rx: Make a list of the things you’d like to change and prioritize them. Start with one, and work your way down over time. “Maybe you need to get your sleep in order for the first two to four weeks, before you tackle a new workout regimen,” says DonDiego. “Or maybe your relationship need to take priority before starting a new diet. It’s possible to do more than one, but greater success happens when you can go all-in on one thing at a time.”
“Detoxing can also mean decluttering, getting organized, and making your space conducive to making these [life] changes easily,” says DonDiego.
“As far as diet, don’t feel the need to be extreme,” says DonDiego. “Extreme changes have a higher risk of rebound, and you’ll want anything you do to be sustainable. January is not a time to punish yourself for what December entailed! Don’t overcorrect out of guilt.”
The Remedy Rx: Don’t starve or punish yourself. Cut back on processed foods and added sugar, and focus your diet on whole foods, complex carbs, lean protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
“The key to sustainable health change is making small goals,” says Amber Robins, MD, MBA, a family medicine physician with Your Doctors Online. “Research has shown that a drastic change in diet or exercise is less likely to be sustainable. We see it all the time with yo-yo dieting, where someone loses weight, then gains it right back a few months later.”
The Remedy Rx: “My suggestion to my patients is, find one to two things you’d like to change about your diet and exercise,” says Robins. “From there, create a specific, realistic plan on how to achieve that goal. Whether it’s adding an apple to your diet within the next two weeks or taking a walk two to three times a week, these changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Once you reach one goal, continue to come up with new goals to incorporate into your routine.”
“Remember the example given on airplanes that you must put your own oxygen mask on before you help others? If you don’t, you won’t be helpful to anyone,” says Anna Cabeca, MD, author of The Hormone Fix. “Schedule and prioritize some self-care. This means being good and kind to yourself and not beating yourself up when you suffer, fail, or feel inadequate.”
The Remedy Rx: “Treat yourself the way you would your best friend,” says Cabeca. “Speak loving truths to yourself, and do some positive coaching.”
“Your body churns out the feel-good, bonding hormone oxytocin when you’re in a social gathering,” says Cabeca. “This happens naturally to help achieve more harmony and oneness among the group. Researchers have found that your brain releases more oxytocin during social contact and social bonding, and this can actually speed up healing from disease.”
The Remedy Rx: Consider socializing as important as exercise. Plan to see friends and family regularly and maintain strong social connections. If you find yourself becoming isolated, make it a goal to add one new social event to your schedule each week or month—whatever is realistic for you.
“Most of us do not receive nearly enough vitamins and nourishment daily. Choose a diet and lifestyle that promotes a healthy balance and keeps you feeling happy and energetic,” says Cabeca.
The Remedy Rx: “Channel your inner Marie Kondo and think about your own eating habits and food choices,” she adds. “Do they spark joy, or anxiety, misery, or frustration? Choose what you’ll eat, and how much, based on tuning in and listening to what your body needs.”
“When I get the opportunity, especially on the weekends, I rely on a lot of self-care. Doctors who take care of themselves are definitely better able to handle the increased workload that the holiday season brings and prevent burnout,” says Monisha Bhanote, MD, FASCP, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville, Florida. “I make sleep a priority and keep a regular sleep routine both on weekdays and weekends, waking up and sleeping at similar times.”
The Remedy Rx: “Commit to getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night,” says Amy Ricke, MD, a psychiatrist with Your Doctors Online. “Studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a number of physical and mental problems, including diabetes, hypertension, anxiety and depression.”
“Movement doesn’t necessarily have to high-intensity to be effective,” says Bhanote, who is also a teacher of yoga medicine. “I like to increase the time I spend with restorative yoga and myofascial release techniques.”
The Remedy Rx: “Restorative yoga balances the nervous system, deeply relaxes the body and stills the mind so we can cultivate conscious relaxation,” says Bhanote. “It involves a yin style of yoga with longer-held supported poses. It’s about doing less, yet feeling restored. Myofascial techniques work by correcting muscle imbalances, improving joint range of motion and relieving muscle soreness and joint stress.”
“After the holidays come and go, many can be left feeling guilty, or feeling bloated from over-indulgence. There are a lot of easy ways to fix it — however, that doesn’t include a detox drink,” says Tarek Hassanein, MD, a liver surgeon and founder of the Southern California Liver & GI Center. “The liver is the body’s detox organ. It acts to detoxify all the things entering your body, and your organs that are housed within it. While there are many drinks touting detoxification properties, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to detox, less is more.”
The Remedy Rx: Don’t waste your money on drinks and supplements that promise to cleanse or detox you. “When people use detox drinks and the like, they’re whipping a dead horse,” says Hassanein. “Your body is already trying to detox, and you’re doing nothing but adding another task to its busy to-do list.”
“Fasting is the best detoxification approach that the body can take. This is because you are giving your body a break,” says Hassanein. “For example, when a car engine is overworked, you let the car sit for a moment and then try it again. The body works the same way. When fasting, your body gets the chance to detoxify on its own terms.”
The Remedy Rx: “Fasting, water, fruits and vegetables are the key,” says Hassanein. “Revitalize your body with minerals, vitamins, and fluids that they need, and minimize what you have been eating, like too much fat, protein and sugar.”
“In January, I focus on is getting my circadian rhythm back in sync,” says Felice Gersh, MD, an OB/GYN and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group in Irvine, California. “This is extremely beneficial for both physical and emotional health restoration.”
The Remedy Rx: Gersh begins with a five-day “fasting-mimicking” diet or a four-day water fast. “I strictly adhere to time-restricted eating for the days I’m not fasting, and do this for the entire month of January,” she says. What that entails: A large healthy breakfast with plenty of vegetables and fiber within two hours of waking, a minimal lunch and a moderate early dinner, with “forks down” by 7pm. “I have no snacks and a 13-hour fasting window from dinner to breakfast,” she explains. “This enables me to get my gut microbiome, gut health, and circadian rhythm back in order and is immensely important for rebooting all facets of metabolic health.”
“Another thing I do to get my circadian rhythm back in order is to go to bed by 11pm at the latest,” says Gersh. “I get morning and midday sun, and watch the sunset.”
“As the new year approaches, take inventory of the relationships in your life,” advises Ricke. “Try to grow those that are based on mutual trust, concern and respect and bring joy. Start to distance yourself from those people that do not truly want the best for you.”
“The hustle and bustle of the holidays can mean the worst for people suffering from migraine,” says Deena Kuruvilla, MD, a Yale Medicine neurologist who specializes in migraines and facial pain and has migraines herself. “Stress, sleep deprivation, fasting, certain foods, alcohol and the overuse of caffeine are common triggers. This difficult time starts around Halloween and can extend well into January.”
The Remedy Rx: “I often advise people to keep consistent with their regular schedule by eating, sleeping and waking at regular times, avoiding alcohols that may trigger headache (such as red wine) and drinking the same amount of caffeine they would on a usual workday,” says Kuruvilla. “Find ways to dissolve the stress that the holidays bring such as regular exercise, meditation, relaxation techniques, getting a massage or taking a yoga class.”
“The body is very resilient, so I don’t subscribe to any cleanses or extreme restriction-type programs that have grown into a billion-dollar industry,” says Sasan Massachi, MD, a primary care physician in Beverly Hills, California. “Personally, I always make an effort to return to a healthy baseline, which I (hopefully) have been maintaining throughout the rest of the year.”
The Remedy Rx: For Massachi, getting back to that baseline involves returning to an exercise routine and appropriate portions for meals, restricting processed foods, increasing his daily intake of fruits and vegetables, observing a sleep routine and drinking plenty of water. “If an adult is generally healthy and doesn’t have an underlying medical condition that would require other considerations, taking broad steps like those will detoxify the body and return it to a point of optimal health to take on the New Year,” he says. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these Health Mistakes Even Doctors Make—and How to Avoid Them.