It’s beginning to look a lot like “stress-mas” ….where all the office parties, holiday happenings, family events, and winter comfort foods seem to be on the worried minds of those trying to stay committed to healthy eating. Even with the best of intentions sometimes we give into the temptations that lurk around every event, and even those that pop out of no where, like your co-workers well-intended brownie-giving spirit.
Let me be the first to tell you: IT’S OKAY.
‘Tis the season to eat a few things you don’t normally eat. After all, Grandma may only make her famous apple pie once a year, so live a little. NOTE: A “LITTLE” is the key word. Your body can handle “once in a whiles”, however, we start to have problems when the “once in a whiles” become “every day or every other day”. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of helpful strategies to help you stay committed to healthy eating, even when surrounded by table after table, house party after house party, office shin-dig after office shin-dig, comfort food after comfort food, and so on. In no particular order, here we go:
- Start every day with protein. Studies have shown that starting your day with protein can actually help set the stage for less cravings later in the day. Even if you intermittent fast at sometime during the early part of the day, when you do break your fast, start with protein, and be sure to note which protein sources stick with you longer, so that you avoid digging into your co-workers candy bowl an hour after you get to work.
- Save carbs for later in the day. Have a “season’s eating” event in the evening? Save your carbs for then, and focus on protein and fats and non-starchy veggies throughout the day. This will lower your insulin and glycogen stores throughout the day, to more readily deal with and use carbs later in the day. Besides that, starting the day with carbs of any amount (even something as simple as a bowl of steel cut oats) can and will set the stage for more and more carb cravings, as insulin causes highs and lows in certain people leading them to overeat once they hit the party.
- Drink 1/2 your bodyweight in water. And drink several glasses just prior to any “season’s eating” event. Feeling ravenous? Sometimes our body mistakes hunger for thirst, so while you may be hungry and then tend to overeat, starting with water can help stave off too much noshing. Want a bonus tip: add a capful of raw apple cider vinegar and a pinch of stevia to your water and watch your appetite decrease. Apple Cider Vinegar is a natural appetite suppressant and also helps the liver detox more efficiently (especially when processed foods and alcohol have been making an appearance).
- Exercise for 30 minutes first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Research has shown time and again that this is a proven strategy for fat loss, in addition to helping you by psychologically setting your day up for success. Many have found that by starting your day this way, you are more likely to make more sound decisions regarding quality food as the goes on. Exercising first thing calms the brain, sends endorphins and feel good chemicals soaring so that you don’t require pleasure from foods as much. In addition, it helps regulate insulin and cellular energy for the rest of the day.
- Try a bit of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting means going for a short part of your day without food. Think it’s too hard? You do it already without even realizing it: Say you stop eating by 8pm each night, and you don’t eat again until 8am the next morning. That’s intermittent fasting. You fasted for 12 hours. Fasting allows your body to dip into it’s energy stores – namely STORED BODY FAT – for burning. This cannot happen if you are snacking, munching, and noshing all day. Think of it this way: will your bathtub ever drain if you are constantly running water into it? There needs to a “pause” in your eating for your body to properly use stored body fat for energy. So whether you fast overnight and perhaps just add a few extra hours, say from 8pm – 10am, or you simply go longer stretches between meals (for instance: breakfast 6am, lunch 1pm, dinner 6pm), this will allow your body to dip into fat storage areas of the body (goodbye saddle-bags) rather than simply burning the constant granola bars, crackers, and latte’s that you keep on hand at any given moment.
- De-stress. Part of seeking comfort foods as pleasure this time of year can be do to a drop in dopamine in our brain from lack of sun, shorter days with more to do, and holiday stress to boot. Your body is hard-wired for pleasure so if you are not making time in some part of your day to relax, do something fun, even for just 5 minutes, you will naturally reach for those warm baked cookies as a bit of pleasure in your day. Perhaps, starting the day with a warm cup of coffee and a good book for 15 minutes, or ending the day with a relaxing stretching video? What about coloring in one of those trendy adult coloring books? Or taking your lunch break down by a river or a lake and breathing in fresh air? Guided meditations are even available as podcasts that take up as little as 3 minutes of your day and can be done anytime anywhere to help you de-stress and press your internal reset button. Find pleasure for at least 5 minutes each day, apart from another piece of fudge in the office lounge.
- Sleep. Period. If you do nothing else on this list, then sleep. Bottom line: 90% of us are not getting enough zzzz’s. And it causes a spike in “Ghrelin” (think of a hungry little gremlin) your HUNGER hormone. So while you may have thought you could resist alot of things at the family dinner, lack of sleep leads to lowered inhibitions and a body full of Ghrelin screaming “feed me!!” Even just 30 extra minutes of sleep can help shut down that constant gremlin of hunger. Bonus tip: Trouble sleeping? Try turning off your wi-if to turn down some high-tech static energy in your brain and do this an hour before bedtime so you are less tempted to play on your phone as well. (This is especially true if your wi-fi router is in your bedroom). Electromagnetic radiation from wi-fi coupled with blue-light from your phone is a recipe for a sleepless night. More sleep is one of the best ways to EASILY lose fat AND keep it off!
- BYOF. Bring your own food. Got a “season’s eating” event coming? Then get to prepping. Tell the host you will be happy to bring something, and then bring a dish to share that also happens to be something that can keep you on track, and provide food for you to nosh on when tempted by other treats and dishes. Examples: deviled eggs, and olive and relish tray full of different kinds of olives and pickled foods, a meat and cheese tray made from nitrate-free meats and organic cheeses, a cole slaw made from soy-free mayo, a kale salad with lemon-cumin-olive oil dressing and pine nuts, a roast made from grass-fed meat, a greek yogurt trifle with stevia sweetened yogurt topped with berries and chopped nuts, and my personal favorite: a large homemade (not store-bought) veggie tray of jicama, peppers, sugar snap peas, cucumber slices, carrot slices, celery and more with a hearty, homemade guacamole for dipping.
- One last call for alcohol..…as in, nurse one drink for the entire event. If alcoholic beverages are on your radar when you enter a party, then pick your favorite and make it last. If a glass of red wine tickles your taste buds, then perhaps make it go farther by making it a wine spritzer with club soda. Then switch to club soda and lemon afterwards. Your gut, brain, and body will thank you the next day, not too mention your inhibitions won’t be lowered so much that you not only wake up with a wine hangover, but also a cheesecake hangover.
I could go on and on, and if you want more, consider my “Meal Plan to Survive the Holidays” on my SHOP page. A full, complete and very detailed meal plan with loads of tips, tricks, holiday and comfort food recipes done right, and supplement recommendations as well as a full grocery shopping list to keep you on track and possibly even help you reach January 1st with pounds lost rather than pounds gained!