Surviving the Holidays

Why wait until New Years to make the resolution to make positive changes in your life and take your health into your own hands?  With the enormous amount of excess calories available around the holidays, it is no wonder that studies have shown the average American could gain about a pound between mid-November and mid-January.  Those who are already overweight  and obese gain more weight than those who are healthy weight.  This is a troubling statistic considering the deliciousness you will find around the Christmas table is not going away anytime soon.  So what can we do about this?

There are many surviving the holiday guides out there, and I am sure you may have read the countless articles where the advice is restricting what you eat on holidays, and only taking a small spattering of high caloric foods.  This allows you get a taste, but not a lot of the calories. I am sure, if you are like me, these hyper-palatable foods trigger impulses in your brain, and any strategy going in, quickly fall amongst the wayside. This impulse to eat  these calorically dense foods when they are available is part of our DNA. We can do our best to curb these impulses, however, but chances are, at the holiday table, the battle is lost.

So what are alternative strategies?  I always like to take a step back and look at the big picture.  In December there are 31 days. Four of these days (Christmas eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, and one Christmas Party)  should be the go crazy and let the dogs out days where we let our primordial selves come out as we go on a food/beverage binge.  That leaves 27 days that we can shift our focus on to actually make a big difference. So, what can you do?

The focus of every non-holiday meal should be eating nutrient dense, non-processed foods.   Some easy strategies are

  1. Start your day with protein. 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up.  Protein should be the center piece of your breakfast, not an accompaniment. Eat your eggs (whole thing, yolk and all. Eggs are not bad for you), or Greek Yogurt, or protein smoothy, etc.  Just get your protein in.
  2. Eat protein at every meal.  Protein is satiating, and is self limiting in how much you can consume.  Protein also is the only thermogenic macronutrient, which means, you burn calories to digest it.  You cannot eat to much lean protein, the more you eat, the more calories you burn and when you meet your bodies protein requirement, it becomes 100% thermogenic.  Studies have shown, as long as no underlying kidney disease, you can eat as much as you want and it is safe, so all the old wives tales about bad things happening are not substantiated with science.
  3. Fill the rest of your plate with ample amounts of  non-starchy vegetables. Accompany this with a small amount of healthy fats (This is an entire separate article) like avocados, olive oil, nuts or nut butters, and organic butter.  
  4. If you need to snack, nut butter and apples or celery, some low glycemic fruit, whole fat dairy like plain yogurt or cottage cheese.  Sometimes a glass of water is enough to curb your hunger because you are not really hungry, just bored!
  5. If you must have a sandwich instead of a salad or meat and veggies, use sourdough bread, or a very non-refined whole grain bread,
  6. Stay away from anything refined or greatly processed.  Stay away from boxes. Look to see if something in a package has sugar added.  If it does avoid at all costs.
  7. Drink water, seltzer, tea, or coffee without sweetener or use something natural like stevia if you must. A small splash of heavy cream in coffee gives both sweet and creamy taste if you are a milk and sugar person.  
  8. Resist the daily temptations around you so you can enjoy the indulgences when they matter!

Exercise every day.  

  1. Hit the gym!  Get a workout in
  2. Try to be active during the rest of the day.  Days you don’t come to the gym, 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is the minimum.  Stay active for 30 minutes.
  3. Spend any extra time stretching.  
  4. If you sit at a desk all day? Every hour take a bathroom break.  Get up from your seat and walk around for a few minutes.

Sleep!  Arrange your life so you get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  Less than this makes your body store body fat more. It also makes you less likely to exercise because you are tired, and less likely to make smart eating choices because your brain is tired.  

Twenty seven days of living like this in between your days of excess should leave you more energetic, and in a better frame of reference to “attack” the holidays and the holiday table.