So often, I am asked to provide people with tips to get them through the holiday food orgy. It actually seems to start at Halloween and continues until New Year's Day. This is also the most challenging time for people who are trying to lose weight. For some of us, keeping it off is a daily struggle. However, at this time of year, your chance of adding a few pounds to your belly is better than winning any money with a lottery scratch 'n' win ticket.
This time of year seems packed with reasons to overindulge -- there is "holiday" just about every month, never mind any birthdays and other life celebrations. But remember: the holiday meals are NOT the Last Supper! Instead of going overboard on your food intake, make a commitment to re-evaluate your eating habits and fitness routines.
The key to weight balance is this simple formula:
Weight Balance = Energy Intake (food) - Energy Expenditure (exercise)
All foods can fit into a healthy diet. However, you must eat smaller portions, learn to just say "no" and accept that the farthest parking spot from the mall entrance is really a blessing to get you to burn more calories! Remember, your body is a temple and you need to take care of what you put into it.
Try these six tips to help you have a healthy holiday season.
Tip #1 - Don't Starve Yourself
Start every day with breakfast. Even though you'll most likely gobble up lots of turkey and fixings at your holiday meal -- maybe even more calories than you would normally eat in a day -- it is best for your body if you eat small meals throughout the day.
There are three reasons for this: First, something called the thermic effect of feeding, which causes your body to burn calories during the act of eating; chewing, swallowing, digestion and absorption all play a role in your metabolism.
Second, we have all evolved from humans who survived periods of feast or famine. Thus our bodies are well-adapted to slow down our metabolism when we are not being fed consistently -- which will cause the body to hold onto fat! Who wants that?
Finally, you don't want to show up at your host's house all in a cranky mood because your blood sugar is so low! When you end up in a food situation where your eyes are bigger than your stomach, you will eat the first things you see. These are often not the healthiest items on the menu.
You may also overeat, because it can take 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are full. By then, you may be past the point of no return. You know that feeling -- you're so uncomfortable, it feels like the food is still in your esophagus.
Tip #2 - Eat Small Portions
You certainly can try all sorts of yummy holiday classics, if you eat smaller portions. Ask anyone who has immigrated here from another country about food portions in the United States and they will tell you our servings are way too big! You can always pack your plate with lots of veggies (assuming they are not fried or swimming in butter or oil!). My favorite part of any holiday meal is the side dishes. After all, we can have turkey, chicken, ham or beef all year long. It's those special "little" dishes that make the meal meaningful (besides the company and the conversation)!
So, when you do consume those wonderful foods, keep the portion small -- half a cup or less. This way, you won't feel guilty and you can enjoy your meal. As I always say, food is meant to be pleasurable.
Tip #3 - Get Moving
Remember: to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight, you must expend energy -- so get moving! The current recommendation is to exercise for 30-60 minutes each day. Can you incorporate more physical activity into your day? Walking is a good start, and simple exercises like push-ups, squats and lunges can be done while you are cooking in the kitchen! Think I'm nuts? Well, the next time you're waiting for water to boil or for a meal to finish cooking, see if you can't squeeze in five to 10 squats.
You can do push-ups off the counter. I like to do arm curls with grocery bags while bringing them into my home. You may have heard the experts say, "Take the stairs versus the elevator or escalator" -- it works! Every little bit of movement counts! However, moving your finger over a keyboard or moving a mouse really doesn't engage large muscle groups.
Tip #4 - Beware of Liquid Calories
Just because you don't chew it, doesn't mean that it's calorie-free! An easy way to avoid consuming extra calories is to be aware of the fluids you drink. Most people do not need that extra "protein" drink, as our diets are usually adequate. Most of the time you should drink water, unsweetened tea or coffee, 100 percent fruit juice or milk. Special beverages, like apple cider, eggnog and champagne (or any alcohol for that matter), can pack on pounds.
Tip #5 - Don't Buy Holiday Candy
After every holiday, the stores sell the unsold "thematic" candy at a deep discount. And we love a great deal, right? Wrong! Those food items are far from nutritious. You don't need it! Your co-workers don't need it. We sabotage our friends' and families' efforts to watch their food intake when we leave out bowls of candy for them to pick at.
Tip #6 - Bring Your Own Snacks
As a mom who travels a lot with her kids, I can tell you a few tricks for keeping everyone's eating habits in check. In our family, we bring our own snacks and buy healthy ones when we arrive at our destination. Often these include bottled water, juice boxes, cereals and fruit. I'm also a huge fan of the 100-calorie snack packs. You can also make your own mini-bags of goodies by pre-packing your treats in those Ziploc snack bags. Talk about portion control!
It's OK not to clean your plate. Your children learn by example, so teach them to do as you do, not just as you say. You can have a positive influence on so many people around you.
Don't wait until the New Year to change your ways. Do it now and have a happy holiday season!