Aine McAteer
On discovering the wonderful world of macrobiotics as a teenager, one of the things that excited me most was the revelation that embedded in the yin and yang system was a cure for a hangover! It was the hook I used to try to convert my fellow Irish folk to my newfound lifestyle, and for the most part it worked like a dream.

In my early days with macrobiotics, I did a stint working in a bank in Ireland, in an environment where in those days, if you didn't put sugar in your tea you aroused suspicion. When I produced my stainless steel lunch box and sat in a meditative state among my colleagues chewing my brown rice, beans and seaweed, using my newly honed chopsticks skills, I was regarded as a freak of nature. However, ears perked up when I used my hangover hook, and I managed to make a few converts along the way.

With age and experience has come the awareness that there's nothing quite as effective at winning people over to a healthier way than sitting them down to a delicious plate of food—no words need be spoken. I don't tend to go for shock value quite as much as I did in those early days when I was defining my identity and caught up in the thrill and excitement of discovering a whole new way of eating and living.

As well as my old standby hangover cure, I have integrated many pearls of macrobiotic wisdom into my life, and there's no time that they benefit me more than during holiday season. Macrobiotics is an acknowledgment of the obvious—what goes up must come down and every front has a back—the bigger the front, the bigger the back. At its extreme, every phenomenon turns into its opposite. There's only so far we can go with our greed and excesses before we experience the flip side. Finding and maintaining balance is the key.

December is upon us once again, and already I can feel the frenzy begin. Believe me, I love the excitement and festivities of the season just as much as everyone else and I welcome any excuse to don a little red dress and some sparkle, and I'm sure to be cooking up a storm. I will attempt, however, to welcome the new year with a spring in my step.

If you're concerned about being stricken with "Decemberitis," I've got a few tips that may help you tip the scales toward a healthy one.

Aine's tips for a healthier holiday season and her cure for hangovers

  • Holiday cocktails: December is party season, and we all know what that means—eat drink and be merry. If you are drinking, make sure that you keep your body hydrated (alcohol, although liquid, dehydrates the system). Drink lots of water, and even better if it has a twist of lime or lemon juice to keep your system alkalized. In macrobiotics, alcohol is considered yin—it creates a feeling of relaxation and expansion, and no need to elaborate on what it does when taken in excess, as we have all probably had the experience at one point or another. If you have overindulged, you want to ingest something that has the opposite effect—yangize. This is what my hangover cure does. It's made from umeboshi plums, which are Japanese salty pickled plums, combined with kudzu—a starch made from a strong root that is said to be grounding and alkalizing.

  • Hangover cure: As well as being a cure for a hangover, because of its strengthening and alkalizing properties, this drink is effective for other ailments such as acid reflux, stomach upset, headache, etc. It is beneficial for treating cold and flu with the addition of about 1 tsp. juice from freshly grated ginger. It was labeled the "magic potion" by some business people I worked for in London some time ago and became a staple on the menu every Monday morning to alleviate the effects of indulgent weekends! The ingredients can be found in most health food stores these days, and it's well worth making them a part of your kitchen first aid kit. If you don't feel like making the drink, you can find Ume Balls in some good health food stores, which are dehydrated and concentrated umeboshi plums, rolled into little balls. Sucking on a couple of these balls is also very effective in alkalizing and balancing the system after a little overindulgence.

    To make the drink, you will need: kudzu, umeboshi plums and tamari (soy sauce). Dissolve 1 heaped teaspoon of kudzu in a cup of cold water and put it into a small saucepan along with half an umeboshi plum, minced or 1/2 teaspoon umeboshi plum paste.  Bring to a boil while whisking, and add several drops of tamari—the mixture will go from cloudy to translucent. Continue to simmer for a few seconds. Allow to cool just a little and drink. Also, if you are consuming alcohol, it's not a bad idea to have a liver support tonic on hand, such as milk thistle, and take a few drops in a glass of water several times the next day.
  • Holiday food: Traditionally, Christmas and the holiday season is a time where a lot of meat is consumed—turkey, ham, roast beef, accompanied by generous helpings of carbohydrates such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and bread stuffing. I recommend, whether you're a meat eater or not, tipping the balance in favor of vegetables. Make sure to include a nice raw vegetable salad with your meal and some homemade or store-bought pickles make an excellent addition to any meal. Raw fruits and vegetables and particularly pickled vegetables stimulate the production of healthy digestive enzymes that will keep your gut in much better shape throughout the holiday season, so include them in your daily meals. If you are opting for a vegetarian Christmas, try my Tofu Loaf, which will satisfy the most discerning palate.

  • Stress and caffeine: It's easy to get stressed out around holiday time with trying to keep work and home life going while organizing, shopping, decorating, not to mention keeping up with the parties. Watch your caffeine consumption, as even though you may feel you need it now more than ever, ultimately it will affect your kidneys, adrenals and nervous system and leave your more exhausted and stressed. Have some calming teas around—my favorite these days is Tulsi tea, made from Holy Basil, which calms the nervous system. Take an occasional walk in nature, do some deep breathing, take a yoga class—whatever it takes to keep you stress-free and makes your holiday season more enjoyable. Most important, get some good rest. I often have some L-Triptophan around if I'm feeling a little harried and having a hard time sleeping or if I'm moving through time zones. L-Triptophan is an amino acid that calms the system and helps with getting a good nights sleep. It's present in turkey, hence that lovely sleepy feeling you get after a big turkey dinner.

  • Christmas trees: I love the ritual of decorating a Christmas tree, but personally I'd rather not participate in cutting down our trees. Every year I forage for a great branch or a piece of interesting driftwood or something I can hang some fun, colorful decorations and lights on. It still gives that festive feeling and a focal point for my gifts and leaves just one more tree connected to its roots.

  • Wrapping presents: With the state of our economy these days, recycling makes more sense than ever. One year, I wrapped all my Christmas gifts in pages from my Victoria Secret's catalogs. My male friends certainly had no complaints! Another year, I hit some thrift stores and bought up all the old silk scarves I could find to wrap my gifts in. It's fun to get creative with gift wrapping without affecting the environment. If you do get lots of paper-wrapped presents, try to carefully remove the paper so you can fold it up and stash it to wrap your gifts next time around.

  • Gift giving: When it comes to gift giving, it really is the thought that counts. I worked in one job, and every year our dear nanny would put me to shame. While I was struggling to get it together to find gifts for a few close friends, she had already made dog biscuits for all her friend's dogs, embellished my handmade aprons with sparkly beads and knit scarves for our bosses' nephews. Not all of us are quite as resourceful, but look at ways you can be creative with what you have available. On low-budget years, I've given my friends handmade gift certificates for a half-hour hand or foot massage, and they're always well received.

  • New Year's resolutions: Why not get a head start on some of your New Year's resolutions and start to implement them now. Just in case you haven't, I promise I'll be around in the New Year to give you a shoulder to cry on and hopefully some tips to help you get back and stay on track for a healthy and productive year ahead.

Happy holidays!

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