Be honest: is your holiday season centered on food? Noshing your way through a cocktail party, or wondering about the caliber of wine at your work gathering? Helping yourself to a second serving of gorgonzola mashed potatoes or Yorkshire pudding at the family dinner...or a few more latkes at Aunt Sadie's Hanukkah celebration? Yes, Hanukkah is over, but while we’re chatting away and filling ourselves with holiday cheer, we’re also filling up with calories…one sweet, salty, inflammatory nibble at a time.
Never fear! Your fairy sexy godmother is here! She’s armed, as usual, with the latest research plus the most needle-moving strategies to keep you bounded. But she’s also fully aware that half of annual weight gain for Americans occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. HALF! Ouch! Science shows that the average American packs on 6 pounds in these few weeks. No wonder so many people start off the New Year with the same goal to lose weight, only to abandon it within the first week.
Don’t let it happen to you. You’re so much more interesting than a statistic. This year, let’s try something novel. How about we manage your weight such that you cut the risks of expanding your waistline during the holidays and, as I like to say, stay in your skinny jeans without having them feel like sausage casing on January 1st.
Is Moderation Even Worthwhile?
, author of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off,
says: "Moderation is key. You can enjoy your favorite holiday treats, but do so in smaller portions and be sure to fill up on lots of lower-density foods such a big salad. Just hold the creamy dressing." I believe this is arguable, because those of you who are like me and tend toward the addictive patterns around food, moderation doesn’t work so well.
That said, I agree with Gary Taubes and Babs that a big ‘ol bowl of salad (I favor 8 ounces) before a party just might be a good idea. It stabilizes your blood sugar, which may be the best way you could attend a party without losing your mind and bingeing. Another tip is to bring your freakishly healthy food to the potlucks you attend. I take kale salad or quinoa gratin – and remarkably, few people eat my offerings (“What is wrong with you people?”). That means, I can keep noshing on them while the women around me keep one eye on me and one eye on the dessert table. Know what I mean?
If you are maintaining your weight (my mantra: forget weight loss at the holidays; just aim for “no gain”), the holidays can be the time to get discouraged. You need the added support of some Belly Bustin’ Holiday Tips
to help you get through the holidays and amplify your awareness of what you're feeling/thinking/doing.
Want a few practices from a recovering food addict? Change to a growth mindset, and don’t look upon the holidays as a prolonged eating spree. Instead, see the holidays as a single special day or two. Give yourself permission to enjoy the individual holidays, but treat the in-between time like any other days of the year. That is: get mindful, move your body, and nourish yourself with nutrient dense foods. Fill up on greens before that party. Have a hormone-balancing smoothie. Eat porridge with hemp seeds, soaked chia, persimmon, and quinoa for breakfast. Here’s a few more practices.
The Fairy Sexy Godmother Returneth
Prevent the Avalanche. Don't keep foods in the house that you know are avalanche foods, like fudge or chocolate chip cookies. Instead of diving into food after a conflict with a relative, drink a glass of water or go for a brisk walk. Did you know that a glass of water before bedtime lowers your cortisol? Oh, yes. Your fairy sexy godmother loves it when you have a pre-emptive strike against the holiday binge.
Be real. Forget trying to lose pounds during the holidays; instead, maintain your current weight. Often it’s helpful to weigh in once per week to make sure you’re not becoming like an average American as you march toward January 1, 2013.
Add your dose of exercise to the menu. Yes, it not only builds new brain cells (called “neurogenesis” – which makes your fairy sexy godmother do the happy dance), exercise is your own personal Prozac and Xanax, perfect at relieving holiday stress. Moderate, daily exercise can help offset increased holiday eating. Try 15-minute brisk walks twice a day. Studies show that for every hour of brisk walking, life expectancy may increase by two hours.
One meal at a time. If you lose control one day and pound ten sugar cookies, no need for self flagellation or radical vows. Just get back on the path, as soon as possible, and with as much compassion as you can muster. Next day – have a detox smoothie and increase your protein intake. Focus on what you want to most deeply nurture yourself.
Plan ahead for parties. Before the office parties and family gatherings, set aside time to focus on how you’d like to handle the occasion. For a couple of days before the event, set aside five minutes per day to visualize the event: who you’ll be with, how you’ll act, what you’ll eat and topics of conversation. Ask yourself that fairy sexy godmother question: How may I best serve myself and my highest intentions in this situation? If you can see yourself acting the way you wish to behave, you’re more likely to behave that way at the event itself.
Practice saying "no." (It’s a complete sentence.) Don’t let other peoples’ need to indulge cause you to indulge. Just because they’re having an avalanche doesn’t mean you need to go down with them. Instead of replying “no” when someone asks why you’re not trying this or that, try this script: “I am delightfully full! I ate the prettiest bowl of kale salad earlier.” I find that shuts them right up when they are clamoring for an avalanche buddy.
Banish the leftovers. When hosting at home, I consider it a gift to send folks home with a pretty glass or stainless gift containers for everyone to take home, full of the leftovers. Two benefits here: they get another festive meal the next day, and you prevent the fridge-raiding binge.
Recently, Gay Riley, MS, RD, CCN, provides this frightening statistic. To gain five pounds from now to the end of January, all you have to do is eat an average of 200 calories per day more than you need—an ounce of fudge here, an ounce of gravy there, some extra Yorkshire pudding. Ouch.
One of the most significant holiday diet dangers revolves around sugar consumption. You know this: problems arise from riding the sugar roller coaster. When you eat sugar, you crave more and more and your body slows down metabolically by making more cortisol, raising insulin and storing fat, and increasing reverse T3, which blocks thyroid receptors. Along with sunlight deprivation, sugar binges cause a drop in serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates sleep and appetite. Lack of serotonin makes you crankypants and want more sugar to soothe your poor, sorry self. It’s not a pretty pattern—it’s a vicious cycle. When you’re deprived of serotonin, you won’t feel calm and in control.
To help boost your serotonin level naturally, I suggest you eat more slow-carb veggies. You can also help control blood sugar levels by eating small quantities of protein three times a day, usually 4 to 6 ounces for women. For example, eat quinoa flakes in the morning with bacon, turkey at lunch and grilled salmon at night.
Holiday survival tips
To survive the holidays without packin' on the pounds, it takes awareness + concerted effort on your part. Your fairy sexy godmother has a few more ideas for you. Ready?
- No skipping meals. Hunger and unstable blood sugar lead to jungle drums and overeating.
- Lay off the sauce. Drink fewer, lighter alcoholic beverages. If you’re drinking alcohol, stick to light beer or a champagne spritzer. Your fairy sexy godmother is a huge fan of spritzers.
- Set a limit on your sweet tooth. Personally, it’s 2 desserts per week.
- Wear your tightest, hottest, most form-fitting jeans or cocktail dress. I call it “external accountability.”
- Crank up the fiber – it fills you up, limits blood sugar craziness, and helps you get rid of bad estrogens.
- Take your tiara time, and clear your mind of all the clutter. Your goal is a minimum of four times per week for 15 minutes.
Here's the best advice of all...one you'll appreciate when everyone around you is doing the post-holiday diet dance. This year, focus on how you want to feel – and you’ll savor the joy of the season, not just the food!