Healthy holiday tips

February 22, 2012

Exercise, Food, Lifestyle

Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to avoid that end-of-the-year weight gain and stay healthy, happy and fit.

by Paula Owens — 

The holiday season is upon us. Schedules are filling up with shopping, work deadlines, parties, houseguests and other obligations. Socializing during the holidays can be challenging, especially if your business associates, friends and family are not as health-conscious as you are. Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to avoid that end-of-the-year weight gain and stay healthy, happy and fit.

Hydrate — Drink water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Drink a glass of water upon waking; doing this is not only important for hydration after a long night of sleep, but it also helps to cut daily food intake by 13 percent. Add the juice from a lemon or lime to enhance liver function, increasing your body’s ability to cleanse itself of toxins, which can aid in weight loss.

When you are hydrated, your body will no longer retain water (which makes you look puffy). And, if you plan to enjoy a few cocktails at your holiday parties, always sip on water to avoid overindulgence and prevent dehydration.

Move your body — Physical activity helps relieve stress, regulate appetite, burn extra calories and boost your mood. Rev up your metabolism with 30 to 45 minutes of circuit strength training, incorporating five to six sets of multi-joint, big-bang exercises, such as push-ups, dead lifts, lunges, step-ups, kettlebell swing-throughs and chin-ups performed with minimal rest between sets. Research suggests that exercise, specifically weight training, increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the release of growth hormone, a powerful fat burner.

Invest in some fitness equipment for your home, such as PowerBlocks, a stability ball, kettlebell or TRX® suspension trainer. The options are endless — stay on track with online exercise and weight-loss programs, ride your bike, walk the dog, join a fitness class, hike with friends, hire a fitness expert or practice yoga.

Gluten-free — The holiday season is filled with carb-laden treats and gluten-containing foods that can cause digestive distress and be detrimental to your mood and your waistline. Parties can be challenging for people who are gluten intolerant or those who wish to avoid grains. Fortunately, you can re-create many of your favorite recipes with various low-glycemic options, including coconut oil, hazelnut or buckwheat flour, or my favorite grain-free and gluten-free options: fiber-rich coconut flour and almond meal. In addition, many dairy-free and casein-free options are available.

On the go — Avoid becoming famished when you are away from home. Pack nutritious snacks in your purse or the glove compartment of your car. Some healthy options include protein shakes, protein bars (void of soy and hydrogenated fats, of course), and raw nuts or seeds with an apple.

Breakfast — Avoid the temptation to skip breakfast to reserve calories for an upcoming party; this is a surefire way to gain weight. Consume a well-balanced breakfast with protein, which will give you a feeling of fullness; plus, you will eat less later in the day. Protein and fat help to balance your energy, fuel your brain and prevent low blood sugar. The first 40 grams of protein you eat every day go toward rebuilding your immune system.

If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you will have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry for overall happiness and clear thinking. Opt for a buffalo burger with salsa, a handful of nuts and a side of blueberries, or eggs with spinach and avocado. Try juicing. A quick, energizing, on-the-go breakfast favorite is juice made with kale, watercress, parsley, cucumber, green apple, ginger and lime. Add protein powder and coconut oil to create a balanced meal.

Mid-morning buzz — Take a pass on the white chocolate peppermint mocha with whipped cream, which is full of artificial sweeteners, sugars and weighs in at a whopping 700 calories. Instead, opt for drip coffee. Add a bit of heavy organic cream and cinnamon for holiday flavor and to help stabilize the insulin spike. Or enjoy some green tea to increase mental alertness and energy. Research suggests that the ECGC in green tea can boost fat burning.

Lunch — Fill up on protein (organic chicken or wild salmon) and fiber from veggies or dark leafy greens. Mix the greens and veggies with olive oil and add lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette.

Afternoon energizer — Avoid carbs, sugary snacks and sodas, which are void of nutritional value. Sure, you will get a quick burst of energy, but at the risk of creating an insulin spike. Ultimately, by eating too many of these types of snacks, you deplete your energy and, over time, you will add inches to your waistline.

Instead, focus on fat- and protein-based foods to boost your energy and mood. Examples of an ideal afternoon snack include a protein smoothie with a scoop of greens and coconut milk, an avocado with gluten-free crackers, celery with almond butter, hummus with chopped red bell pepper or a handful of walnuts with an apple. Apples contain a natural fiber called pectin, which helps control blood sugar and gives a feeling of fullness for hours.

Parties — Before the party, snack on a handful of almonds and sip a cup of green tea. The fat and fiber from the almonds will reduce your appetite. The caffeine from the green tea will help keep you energized and increase mental alertness. If you are going to a party where healthy options will be limited, bring a dish of your own for all to enjoy.

A great natural appetite suppressant and blood sugar stabilizer is apple cider vinegar (which contains the “Mother”), taken in a small amount of water before meals. Once you are at the party, you can graze on veggies and guacamole, shrimp with cocktail sauce, chicken skewers or nuts.

Sweet tooth — Save it for after a balanced meal, and opt for a piece of dark chocolate with at least 60 percent cocoa content, or strawberries dipped in dark chocolate instead of cookies, pies or cakes, which are full of unknown ingredients. If you choose to indulge in a treat, do so without guilt — take a small portion and enjoy every bite.

Practice portion control and graze — Do not gorge. Chew your food thoroughly, and remember to take your digestive enzymes.

Limit alcohol intake — Remember that calories from booze tend to be stored in the abdomen, which can lead to the dreaded muffin top or love handles. Alcohol, in excess, is a toxin. It is metabolized before food in order to rid it from the body. If you are going to indulge in alcohol, opt for a glass of red wine or cocktails made from fresh ingredients. Beware of eggnog, white Russians or mudslide mixes, which are loaded with sugar and contain up to 500 to 800 calories per serving.

Dance at the party to burn extra calories. Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage, which will accomplish the social goal of having a glass in your hand, while cutting down on the excess calories, the overindulging and the hangover. Wishing you a safe, happy and healthy holiday.

Paula Owens, M.S., is a nutritionist, a certified fitness expert and holistic health practitioner, and is the author of The Power of 4. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the natural health, nutrition and fitness industries and is the creator of “21 Days to a Leaner, Healthier You,” an online exercise and weight-loss program.


Reprinted from AZNetNews, Volume 30, Number 6, Dec/Jan 2012.

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