Eat, drink and stay healthy during the holidays

The holiday season is filled with carb-laden treats and gluten-containing foods that can cause digestive distress and be a detriment to your mood and waistline.

by Paula Owens — 

The holiday season is upon us. Our schedules are filled with shopping, holiday parties, relatives, food and spirits, and obligations. Socializing during the holidays can be stressful and challenging for some people, especially if friends and family are not as health conscious as you. The abundance of treats and homemade goodies can be hard to resist. Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to avoid holiday weight gain.

Hydrate — Even though the temperatures are cooler, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Drink an 8- to 10-ounce glass of water upon waking. This is important for hydration after a long night and also helps cut daily food intake by 13 percent. Add the juice from a lemon or lime to the water to nourish liver function and increase your body’s ability to cleanse itself of toxins and aid in weight loss. When you are hydrated, your body will no longer retain water.

Move your body — Physical activity helps relieve stress, regulate appetite, increase metabolism and boost your mood. Rev up your metabolism with a 30-minute metabolic workout that incorporates five to six sets of multi-joint, big-bang exercises such as push-ups, dead lifts, lunges, squats, kettlebell swings and chin-ups performed with minimal rest between sets.

Sleep — Do not skimp on sleep. Get seven to nine hours of restful sleep every night. Sleeping less than seven hours disrupts hormones and increases your risk of added body fat. Research shows that those who fail to get enough restful sleep consume more calories, especially from unhealthy foods.

Cooking and baking tips — The holiday season is filled with carb-laden treats and gluten-containing foods that can cause digestive distress and be a detriment to your mood and waistline.

Parties can be challenging for people who are gluten intolerant or wish to avoid grains. Fortunately, you can re-create many of your favorite recipes with various low-glycemic options, including coconut oil, hazelnut flour, buckwheat flour or grain-free and gluten-free options, fiber-rich coconut flour and almond meal. Many dairy-free, casein-free options are also available.

Replace vegetable oil with organic apple sauce, pureed prunes or coconut oil, and use aluminum-free baking soda/powder and cornstarch. Instead of margarine, use arrowroot or organic butter. White flour can be replaced with coconut flour, hazelnut flour or almond meal.

On-the-go tips — Avoid becoming famished when you are away from home. Prepare ahead and pack healthy snacks in your purse or car glove compartment. Some easy and healthy options include a protein shake, raw nuts or seeds with an apple, celery with almond butter, hardboiled eggs or beef jerky.

Breakfast — You might be tempted to skip breakfast to reserve calories for an upcoming party; however, skipping breakfast leads to overeating and eventually weight gain.

Consume a well-balanced breakfast with protein and fiber; it will provide you with a feeling of fullness, plus you will eat less throughout the day. Protein and fat help balance your hormones and energy, fuel your brain and prevent low blood sugar. What you choose to eat first thing in the morning will reflect how you think and feel the remainder of the day.

Mid-morning buzz — Pass on the white chocolate peppermint mocha with whipped cream. It is loaded with artificial sweeteners, sugars and a whopping 700 calories. Instead, opt for organic drip coffee. Add a bit of heavy, organic cream and cinnamon for holiday flavor. Enjoy green tea to increase mental alertness and energy. Research suggests the ECGC in green tea can boost fat-burning.

Lunch — Fill up on organic animal protein such as chicken, turkey, grass-fed bison or beef, or wild salmon. Add fiber from vegetables or a dark leafy green salad mixed with plenty of olive oil, plus lemon or apple cider vinegar.

Afternoon energizer — Avoid starchy carbs, sugary snacks and sodas void of any nutritional value. Sure, you will get a quick burst of energy but at the expense of creating an insulin spike. You will end up depleting yourself of energy, craving more carbs, creating hormonal havoc and eventually adding inches to your waistline. Instead, focus on fat- and protein-based foods to stabilize your hormones, boost energy and your mood, and provide a feeling of satiety.

Party-time tips — Before going to a party, snack on a handful of almonds and sip a cup of green tea. If you are going to a party where healthy options will be limited, bring a healthy dish or appetizer for all to enjoy. At the party, graze on vegetables, guacamole, shrimp with cocktail sauce, chicken skewers or nuts.

Sweet-tooth cravings — Save them for after a balanced meal. Go for the dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content or strawberries dipped in dark chocolate versus cookies, pies or cakes, which are full of unknown ingredients. If you choose to indulge, do so without guilt — take a small portion and enjoy every bite.

Extra sugar and carbohydrates that are not being used by the body are generally stored in the liver as glycogen. If the liver is full, your body will make fat from the extra sugar and store it in existing fat deposits in your body, which is why there is such a direct link between sugar and weight gain.

Limit alcohol intake — Remember, calories from alcohol tend to be stored in the mid-section and contribute to excess belly fat, muffin top and love handles. Most liquor is made from corn or wheat and spells trouble for those with hidden food sensitivities.

Drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions, which can cause you to indulge in excess eating; it also inhibits your body’s ability to produce fat-burning hormones. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinking even as little as one ounce of vodka can slow your metabolism by as much as 73 percent.

If you decide to indulge in alcohol, opt for a glass of red wine, preferably Pinot Noir, or cocktails made from fresh ingredients. Beware of eggnog, White Russians or mudslide mixes, which are full of sugar and contain as many as 500 to 800 calories per drink. Drink plenty of water between each alcoholic beverage, which will accomplish the social goal of having a glass in your hand, while cutting excess calories and the hangover.

Be accountable — Keeping a food journal during the holidays is one of the best ways to keep the pounds off and make you accountable and aware of what and how much you are actually eating. People who journal what they eat tend to lose twice as much weight and make much healthier food choices.

Practice portion control — Graze; do not gorge. Chew your food thoroughly and remember to take digestive aids.

Keep in mind that you are what you eat. Following these tips can help you ring in a new you in the new year.


Paula Owens, M.S., is a nutritionist and fitness expert with more than 25 years of experience. She is the author of The Power of Four and Fat Loss Revolution and the creator of “21 Days to a Leaner, Healthier You,” an online exercise and weight-loss program.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 6, December 2012/January 2013.

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