Randy, Bud Wilson, Alisa Kigar and I had a blast on Randy’s “Healthy U” radio show (listen to the whole radio broadcast here) this week (on KMEM 100.5, Memphis, MO), jawboning about the pitfalls and strategies of healthy holiday “eating”. You can listen to the entire broadcast here. First of all, lest you think you are the only one out-of-control with one aspect of your life (i.e. consuming holiday goodies) when the holidays roll around, think again. Holiday loving (December is the #1 conception month), credit card sales (remember that catchy “buy one and get 1/2 off the second” slogan we all fall for, especially the holidays) and alcohol binging (it is estimated that 1/2 of Americans binge drink over the holiday season) are evidence that it’s not all about the food, it’s a general merry-making on steroids haze in the holiday season, that we all need to slightly rein in. Lets do some simple math to sort it out. The risky period is Thanksgiving through January 1st, that’s 35 days. If you ate all of the goodies your heart desired on just the true holiday and, just for fun, throw in two holiday parties, you would be talking about roughly 20% of the “glutton window” being designated “treat” days. That’s about 7 days, with 28 remaining to stay within the boundaries of healthy eating. Also know that the food industry lives to stimulate our taste buds and they are good at it. In “What Happens to Your Brain When You Eat Junk Food (And Why We Crave It)”, a food scientist Steven Witherly explains the scientific reason why junk food is so addictive and how we easily fall prey to it’s appeal . At the University of Chicago, psychological scientist Wilhelm Hofmann observed two groups of volunteers. One group was vigilant about their diets while the other group was the “lucky” group that didn’t have to worry about dietary restraint. In “Weight Control: The Psychology Behind Holiday Pounds” when those dieters were exposed to “visions of sugarplums and other temptations”, their emotional response was much more elevated than the non-dieters, designated as the “hot” state, putting them at greater risk, over time, to abandon their dietary goals.
So how do we personally slay the “holiday eating dragon” in some of us? These are tips for those “in-between” holiday days and just general good health.
1. Remember food variety is the spice of life, go for that “mouthfeel.” Our brains are wired to crave novelty in foods. That doesn’t mean you need to fix a meal that takes 2 hours to prepare at this time of year, no one has the time for that. Fix a relatively simple meal with “mouthfeel”, that is the sensation created in the mouth with a combination of the food’s taste, texture, smell and temperature. Here is an example of such a simple lunch or supper meal: Cod (simmered in court bouillon) with a White Bean Puree with a side of Roasted Parmesan Kale sprinkled with white balsamic vinegar. I will send you the recipe on my next blog.
2. Skip the processed foods. Remember what I said about the food industry? They absolutely know our taste buds, but we can thwart their efforts by being prepared. Carry a small baggie of healthy treats (almonds are great for this) in your car, purse or leave it in your desk at work, for those times when those holiday cravings are calling your name. Have a thermos or large cup of water, on hand, at all times. I prefer spring water but whatever floats your boat. You know the drill about shopping the periphery of the grocery store already, skipping the processed, boxed foods. The best grocery purchase to make this time of year for staying on track is fresh vegetables (roasted is our favorite this time of year, along with broth-based soups) with a complement of lean protein.
3. Three square meals per day, but if you can’t , at least, DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST! The science is pretty clear on this. Breakfast represents breaking our fast from a full night’s sleep, making it imperative for staying on a healthy eating track. I will be honest, I am not someone that craves the idea of breakfast or breakfast food, so my way of dealing with that mindset is to eat fix us a minimal (quick) breakfast that has the right amount of protein and healthy carbohydrate sugars (fruit) that will keep me (and my husband) productive and full until lunchtime. Check out “Egg Breakfast Enhances Weight Loss”, a study out of St. Louis University. This was a study published in the International Journal of Obesity; in it two groups were tested for weight loss, one group ate a bagel breakfast and one group ate an egg breakfast, the egg group exhibited a 65% greater weight loss, along with a significantly greater loss of BMI and waist circumference, than the bagel group. So it is not enough to just eat any breakfast. Having a healthy satiating protein (like the egg, cheese or yogurt) on-board is also mandatory at our house.
4. Get the right amount of sleep for you! I know this is a tall order this time of year, what with all of the extra fun holiday chores and outings. But understand, if you don’t at least get in the ballpark of adequate sleep your body needs, your hormones start sabotaging you. “The Dream Diet: Losing Weight While You Sleep” explains this hormone balance. The appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin conspire to make your hunger scale out-of-control. Restful sleep sustains your leptin/gheriln balance.
5. Exercise daily. It doesn’t have to be a marathon. Don’t even think weight loss on this one, even though it will help you maintain your weight over the holidays. Just do 1/2 of the daily exercise you normally do, if that is all the time you have. Strictly do it because you will feel good the rest of the day. I promise, you won’t be sorry you made the effort! It really helps us deal with the stress of the “I have so much to do and there is soooo little time.”
Okay, now this is the “lightning round” we talked about on the radio of how to deal with the specifics of those “holi-days” of eating. Remember, treat yourself royally on those “holi-days”, so you’ll feel like royalty the next day too!
1. It’s all about confidence! Gals especially, pick out that outfit you are going to wear to the party or holiday get-together a couple of days in advance. You can shop in the back of your closet like I do every year, bringing out those old holiday outfits that are only worn once a year, or just buy one new piece to liven up an old outfit. Buy Spanx if you need that extra confidence too, it’s okay! This gives you something to look forward to without that last minute rush and dread of: whatever in the world am I going to wear this year?
2. Never arrive famished at a holiday gathering. Before leaving home have a small salad or soup to stave off that over the top hunger. If you don’t have time for that, go to a gas station on the way to the party and get a small helping of protein. While Randy fills the tank, I pick up some jerky and water. Try this trick, or your own variation, it really works!
3. Peruse the buffet line WITHOUT A PLATE IN YOUR HAND. Get a game plan on the foods that are real treats. Don’t pick the foods you have access to all year, that’s no fun. When you finally do have that plate in your hand , load up on veggies first. Eat those veggies first too. If you are really hungry after eating them go back for a second helping of veggies before consuming the “treat” food you still have on your plate. Nobody has to know that you haven’t even touched your “treat” food yet, it is your little secret.
4. Think about the people connections you are going to make, it’s not all about the food. Before arriving at the party, think of who you might see and tickle your memory of important things to say to each person so you aren’t at a loss for words. This will make you and recipient of that effort, glad you came to the party.
5. Know how to handle hot-button friends, acquaintances and relatives; they can also be a source of stress (and overeating). If you have a friend, acquaintance or relative that pushes your holiday buttons saying things like “the boss has recently given me accolades, how about you?” Have a game plan of how to deal with that situation.
6. Be aware of every bite you take! Savor the holiday treat foods you have decided to put on your plate, sssslllloooowwwllllyyy, you will enjoy it even more. That is also a tall order when you are also trying to be sociable, but worth the effort. You should savor it slowly enough that you can describe the dish in detail to anyone.
7. Thank whoever is responsible for the food and libations at the holiday party/get- together you attend. Remember, whoever prepared this food for you went through a lot of trouble to do the best they could do so you could have a memorable holiday time. That thanking should include the executive chef AND the servers or maybe just Aunt Minnie and Uncle Bert. Thanking the people who prepared your food by describing exactly what you liked to them about the favorite dishes that they prepared, goes a long way toward catching the true meaning of what this holiday season is all about.
The holidays are a time of connecting with friends and family. Don’t miss those connections by being caught up in the other “noise” of the holidays that doesn’t last. Make this holiday season one that you can put in your memory bank as a joyful (but not TOO joyful) one to remember.