The overindulgence of the holiday season is probably most evident in the foods bought and served in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Sugar, alcohol, white flour, hydrogenated oils – all foods that are harmful to our health – are served up in abundance and our best intentions are put aside as the holiday season swings into action.
To add insult to injury, many of us feel stressed during the holidays. Not looking forward to seeing that relative who is rude to you? Don’t know what gift to get for that special someone? Have no idea how you are going to pay for all the holiday-related expenses? The list goes on and on. As stress levels go up, our body increases its production of cortisol and adrenaline – two hormones that are upregulated when our bodies are under attack. And make no mistake – both acute and chronic stress are viewed as an attack on the body. These hormones, when combined with our less than perfect holiday diets, are the reason most of us gain those 5-7 pounds of weight over the holidays, feel tired and/or get sick.
Nutritionally speaking, the Holidays are a bad time for our fat and sugar consumption. Did you know that our cell membrane are made from the types of fats we have consumed in the last 90 days? If we are eating processed foods made with hydrogenated oils, our cell membranes become brittle and less able to take in the nutrients we need to fuel our body. This makes us more vulnerable to a host of unpleasant conditions such as DNA damage and the “C” word. Bad fats should never have a place in our diets. Sugar does not get a pass either – did you know that the average American consumes close to 160 pounds of added sugars yearly? No wonder one out of three children born after the year 2000 will develop Type II Diabetes in their lifetime. We don’t have to look further than sugar when assigning blame for the epidemics of obesity, metabolic disease and cancer in our country.
You don’t have to be one of the statistics.
During this Holiday season, I want you to be mindful and have awareness around the foods you take in. Make a conscious connection with nourishing whole foods and leave the bad fats and sugar behind. Make a commitment to follow the 80/20 rule – for eighty percent of the time, eat foods that are what I call “on plan” — those that stabilize blood sugar levels and bolster our stress handling capacity. Leave the “fringe” or “guilty” foods for the twenty percent – as exceptions, eaten consciously and knowing that they can’t hurt you when the majority of your diet is good. When you are at home or in an environment that you can control, choose the healthy options. Leave the “questionables” for holiday-related get-togethers and restaurants. Who knows? If you follow the 80/20 rule, you may actually lose weight!
Here are some examples of 80/20 eating:
In the morning, instead of coffee and white toast, drink a green tea and have a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal topped with cinnamon pears and walnuts, or an egg white omelet with goat cheese, greens and berries. The key is to start your day with a healthy protein option such as nuts or seeds, nut butters, eggs, wild-caught salmon or goat cream cheese. Quinoa, although categorized as a grain, is actually a seed that contains all 9 essential amino acids and is one of the few vegan goods that is a complete protein. It cooks up in 15 minutes and can make a delicious hot porridge in the morning. Have the leftovers in a lunch salad or as a substitute side for dinner. By breaking your fast with a protein and complex carbohydrate in the morning, you will stabilize blood sugar levels and eat less during the rest of the day – programming your body for optimal metabolic function.
Beware of the micros:
So many of my clients obsess with macronutrient ratios – “should I be keto? Paleo” or “what is the maximum grams of carbs I can eat?” These considerations pale in importance when thinking about micronutrients – what vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is the food I am eating providing me with? Is my food rich in minerals like magnesium and vitamins like B12 and C – all of which support my adrenal glands and hundreds of other functions in the body? If the answer is NO, include more brown rice, citrus and berries in your diet.
Avoid the afternoon slump:
Starting with a protein-rich breakfast should really help in this area. But if you already know that you hit that dreaded afternoon slump, make an effort to stave it off – have a snack of healthy seeds or nuts 30 minute to an hour before the usual slump-time! Now here is where portion control is important. You do not want to eat a huge bag of almonds – you will become overfull and spoil your appetite for dinner. Plan to have 15-20 almonds – this should give you the energy you need to get through your day without jeopardizing your Holiday weight management goals!
Skip the carbs at dinner:
Stick to a lean protein, leafy greens and a salad for dinner. This should help manage blood sugar and weight!
What to do if you are going to a party:
I apologize ahead of time if you have heard some of these before – they work! Follow these and enjoy your social gatherings.
- Don’t go to a party starving. If you are going straight from work, grab a handful of raw almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds. These are great protein sources that can be stored in your car or at your desk at work.
- If you are coming from home, have a hardboiled egg. It’s the perfect protein — only 70 calories and it contains a liver protective an amino acid which will help if you plan to consume alcoholic beverages.
- Be present when making your food choices, by that I mean know what you are putting on your plate and when you are eating your food, really taste it. Don’t just grab, pile on and then eat food mindlessly so that you do not remember what you ate. Really connect with your food – choose consciously and eat mindfully!
- Employ the 15 minute delay rule. It takes 15 minutes for the brain to tell the stomach it is full, so if you keep eating until you are full, you will have over-eaten. Eat until you’re about 80% full to allow your stomach to catch up to your brain.
- If it is a buffet event, opt for a small plate and don’t circle back for more.
- Skip the crackers – instead pair fruit and cheese or veggies and cheese. Fish and shrimp are also great options – low calorie, but nutrient dense so you will not be full, but satisfied. Avoid battered and fried varieties.
- Avoid offering with heavy sauces. They will be messier and potentially full of unwanted ingredients and unneeded calories.
Crowd out the bad with the better:
- A great system is to fill up on healthy stuff to leave less room for the not so healthy. Your stomach only has so much room – fill it with the good stuff first!
- Our cells need oxygen for proper and efficient function. Greens are low in calories and high in oxygen, so you can have them on an unlimited basis. Go for the salad. Pile up on the salad. Indulge in the salad. Gorge on the sautéed spinach and stuff yourself full of celery!
- When considering a dessert, employ my 2-bite rule. Take 2 bites, savor the heck out of each bite. Eat is slowly and deliberately, move it all around your tongue so you will be able to discern the different flavors. I guarantee you, you will get more out of those two bites than two big pieces of anything sweet if eaten mindlessly. Eat a piece of fresh fruit – winter is full of sweet delicious options such as pears, apples and persimmon! You may like it so much that you can skip dessert all together!
I hope I have given you the tools you need to enjoy this holiday season without guilt, deprivation or weight gain! Follow the 80/20 rule and don’t give up on the 80% just because you overindulged on your 20%. Get back on the horse so to speak – it’s never too late. Select carefully, chew thoroughly, savor, connect with your food, thank it for the nutrition it provides and focus on the real important stuff – your loved ones, holiday music and the unlimited potential to be the best that you can be!