Healthy Holidays Game Plan

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The holidays are upon us - the time of year when many people under-prepare and overindulge. What do I mean by “under-prepare?” Well, when faced with days of holiday temptations like pies, casseroles, cakes, candy, and holiday drinks, many people feel overwhelmed and lost without a game plan. You don’t have to be one of them! See my Healthy Holidays Game Plan below. I’ve included tips not just to help you avoid gaining weight, but also to ensure that you feel your best. It’s important to remember that holiday foods are usually loaded with empty calories (high in calories, low in nutrients), and typically have lots of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. As a result, overindulging makes us feel tired and bloated. We may notice symptoms such as congestion, stomach distress, headaches, itchy skin, and/or achy joints. We can also feel moody or depressed after our sugar high comes crashing down. Top that off with the disappointment of having gained weight and undone our healthy habits, and we’re not really having “happy holidays” anymore!

Prepare yourself with my top tips for surviving holiday meals, including my Recipe Makeovers below – cleaned up versions of traditional (and not-so-traditional) holiday recipes. Still delicious, now nutritious!

Here are my tips for looking and feeling your best this holiday season.

Step 1: Be Aware of Holiday Eating Triggers

In order to prepare for what’s ahead, it’s helpful to consider what might trigger you to overeat during the holidays. According to health researchers, several factors can contribute to holiday weight gain:

• Stress. We love our family, but sometimes close quarters (or just an extended meal) with our relatives can make us a little stressed. Add to that the pressure of kids on vacation and a change in schedules, and you’ve got what’s known as “food drivers” – eating to feel better. In addition, this kind of anxiety may cause your body to increase the production of cortisol (the stress hormone). An increase in cortisol can cause weight gain regardless of the amount of food you eat.

• Travel and Sleep Deprivation. Whether vacationing or visiting relatives, traveling disrupts our everyday schedule and can be exhausting. We tend to dine out more and exercise less. In addition, we may not sleep as well in a “foreign” bed or we get less sleep as we try to pack more into each day. Research shows that our appetites increase 25% when we’re tired! Plus, we crave sugar, caffeine and carbs to give us quick energy.

• More of everything. If everyone around us is indulging ... and if everywhere we turn we see a platter of treats ... our resistance wears down. "The proximity and visibility of a food can consistently increase an adult's consumption," says Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and human behavior at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating. "Even for people with the greatest resolve, every time they look at a candy dish they say, 'Do I want that Hershey's Kiss, or don't I?' Gradually our resolve is worn down." 

• Binge Now, Resolve Later. Millions of people make New Year’s resolutions to eat better and lose weight. However, according to a study cited by Dr. Suzanne Koven of Massachusetts General Hospital, people often take an “all or nothing” attitude between Thanksgiving and January 1st – binge eating now before they begin their resolution. 

Step 2: Arm Yourself With Proven Strategies

So how do you prepare to face the odds against you this time of year? Plan ahead and follow my Healthy Holidays Game Plan:

• Set a clear intention. What is your GOAL for surviving the holiday? Write it down, including the “why.” For example: I would like to MAINTAIN my current weight because I don’t want my clothes to feel tight. I would like to AVOID OVEREATING because I want to be a good example for the kids and don’t want to have an upset stomach when my family is visiting over the holiday.

• Don’t have it in the house. You CAN control what’s in your fridge and pantry! Don’t stock up on candy, cakes and sugary drinks and you won’t be tempted to eat them. If your family wants a holiday treat, suggest a dessert place they can patronize and ask them not to bring home “leftovers.” You can also create a healthy dessert alternative (see my Holiday Recipe Makeovers). Let your friends and family know about your health goals and ask for their support.

• Eat before you eat. Don’t attend the holiday meal on an empty stomach. (Many people think that skipping meals on the big day will help them save calories, but studies show the opposite is true.) Instead, start your day with a healthy, high-fiber breakfast such as a veggie omelet or gluten-free oats with protein powder, walnuts and blueberries. Then, have a midday protein shake that includes a handful of spinach, half a green apple, half a frozen banana, almond butter, unsweetened almond milk, and hemp seeds. This has plenty of fiber to keep you satiated so you won’t want to overeat at the table.

• Eat small portions of just your favorites. Use a regular spoon – not a serving spoon – to place a small portion of your favorite foods on your plate. Skip any foods that you don’t absolutely love. This way you’ll be able to taste all of your favorites without overeating any of them. Eat slowly, starting with the veggies and protein, and try to be mindful as you eat; savor each bite and chew slowly and you'll be more satisfied and less tempted to eat more or snack later.

• Don’t linger. Once you've finished your meal, offer to help clean dishes; take the kids (or the family dog) for a walk; or start a game of catch outside. You can also grab one of your favorite relatives and sit in another room to catch up, or pull out some old family movies or DVDs and gather everyone together to watch. Plan time to enjoy non-food centered recreation.

• Don’t come empty-handed. When you are invited to a holiday meal, offer to bring a dish – and then make it a healthy one. Bring hummus with carrots and cucumbers; salsa with Mary’s Gone Crackers (my favorite gluten-free crackers); a tray of mixed nuts and roasted chickpeas; a bowl of roasted red and green peppers and hummus with a variety of olives. Now you will have something healthy to eat! (You can use this tip when you are the host, too!)

• Drink up! Fill a glass with sparkling water and lime and sip on it throughout the meal. It’s a great alternative to sugar-laden alcoholic drinks or wine. Sipping water throughout the day will also help you refrain from mindless eating and drinking! Keep in mind that judgement decreases with each alcoholic drink, making that second serving of dessert or potatoes look like a better and better idea.

• Be generous. Don’t be tempted by leftover pies, potatoes, sauces, and stuffing. A few days before the big meal, stock up on disposable storage containers so you can send your guests home with all the leftovers. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it!

• Get back on track fast. Even if you do eat more than usual at your celebratory meal, don’t throw in the towel for the rest of the weekend! Wake up at your regular time the next day and have a glass of warm water with lemon within an hour of waking. Lemon acts as a natural detoxifier to help you eliminate toxins and restore an alkaline pH to your body. Make a smoothie or eat a banana and head to the gym; or go for a walk or bike ride. Have a high-fiber lunch such as veggie stir-fry, vegetarian chili or soup. And continue to drink plenty of water throughout the day (aim for half your weight in ounces of water each day.) The faster you get back on track, the less chance you’ll have of gaining weight or feeling uncomfortable symptoms.

• Be good to yourself. While it may feel good in the moment to indulge in that pumpkin pie or stuffing, these foods often make us feel bad. They typically contain loads of sugar, salt, processed ingredients, and saturated fat. If you notice you feel bloated, congested, headache-y or itchy, chances are you’re having food-related symptoms. For example, wine contains histamines, which can cause congestion and/or sinus headaches. Carbs and sugary foods wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, and we feel tired, moody or depressed after the “sugar high.” Be good to yourself by choosing foods that help you feel energized, in control, confident, and symptom-free!

Don’t let the holidays stop you from achieving your health & weight loss goals! Now is the perfect time to take control of your cravings, instead of your cravings taking control of you. If you would like to look and feel better, have more energy, and reduce your symptoms, - click here to schedule your free consult and take the first step towards revolutionizing your health & fitness.

Wishing you a peaceful and healthy holiday season!

Jeannie Oliver