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7 Steps To “Handling” The Holidays (and the rest of the year)

1.  Preparation and Planning

If there’s one thing more than any other that gets in the way of success when it comes to eating healthy food on a regular basis, it’s a lack of PREPARATION and PLANNING. Think about it: how often do you start to think about what you’ll have for dinner on your way home from work? You’re exhausted after a long and demanding day, and have a huge meeting to prep for tomorrow. You try to sort through what’s in the fridge or pantry in your mind while driving, and too often, you come up short. In other words, you see a thing or two – maybe some cauliflower in the vegetable drawer and some uncooked brown rice in the pantry (and you aren’t willing to wait the 45 minutes for it to cook!) So you decide that just this once, you’ll cave and stop to pick up a pizza or Chinese.

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That’s during the other 11 months of the year. Then – along come The Holidays. That 4-6 week period when you have the ‘normal’ stuff to deal with, but you also have to fit in Christmas shopping, a couple of parties with friends, some relatives’ coming to visit for a few days, and your own kids’ expectations of how things will play out. That’s huge pressure, and it creates enormous stress in our lives. What to have for dinner (or breakfast and lunch for that matter!) are not at the top of the list of priorities.

At least that’s the way it’s always been, huh? If you are an ‘average’ American, The Holidays pretty well guarantee you a few extra pounds – around 5 – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Are you OK with that continuing every year for the rest of your life? If not, then it’s up to you to do something about it. Remember – Being crazy is always doing what you’ve always done yet expecting different results.

Plan everything you’ll eat the next day before going to bed at night. That’s right. You wouldn’t think of not having a ‘to do’ list for work every day, or going into an important meeting without having thought ahead about the outcome you want for the company. It’s the same principle: When you fail to plan, you truly DO plan to fail. But when you have a plan – my, how much easier things become!

2. Breakfast Is The Mandatory Meal

So this is the year when you’re not going to be an ‘average American’ and gain that traditional 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. You’ve recognized that lack of preparation and planning is the ‘deal breaker’ and you intend to make a plan for the next day’s eating before going to sleep every night. That means you are well on your way to a different result this time. Good for you!

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Now, a question… How many times have you carried out a strategy similar to this: ‘This morning I’ll skip breakfast, because there’s a family party tonight at Aunt Mary’s. She always fixes a fabulous dinner and I want to be able to enjoy it and still not eat too many calories all day!’ You have this crazy idea that by not eating breakfast (and sometimes lunch as well) that you’ll save on calories, and be able to eat all you want in the evening, and keep from gaining any weight or doing any damage at all.

Problem is, throughout the day, you become ravenously hungry so that two things happen: You are likely to grab some high-calorie, nutrient-poor snacks along the way to keep yourself going, and they have a crashing effect on your blood sugar – not to mention your weight! You may even experience mood swings due to imbalances in your system, and have a less-than-productive day. Then when that grand meal comes around at Aunt Mary’s, you eat way too much because you are so vulnerable. You overeat that night and feel the effect when you experience poor sleep and awake feeling tired and sluggish the next morning.

By employing a similar approach throughout the holiday period, you find you have gained weight and feel rotten as the New Year approaches. You have eaten too many nutrient-poor (and calorie-rich) foods, and your body is telling you it’s not getting what it needs by making you feel hungry all the time! So this year, make Rule #2 a priority: Eat a power-packed breakfast every single day – not negotiable!

3. Focus on Fiber

It’s great to know that you are already getting into the swing of things to ensure you come out of this holiday season with winning numbers (aka your weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure).  You’re on your way because you’ve already started making a plan for tomorrow before going to sleep tonight.  And you’ve made breakfast – a power-packed breakfast – top priority for the remainder of the year.

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You probably know why fiber is good for you in general: It promotes regular bowel movements and thus prevents constipation. It removes toxic waste through your colon in less time and prevents colon cancer by maintaining an optimal pH in your intestines. It lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease as it regulates your blood sugar. The best news is that while it’s doing all of that, it makes you feel full so you eat less, thereby helping you lose weight!

So it’s time to increase the amount of fiber you get every day. As you increase fiber, be sure to increase water so you don’t get a stomach ache, and increase the fiber somewhat gradually. In other words, don’t go from the typical 12 grams to 35 or 40 grams all in one day. Work up to it.

Now you may be thinking that the simple way to increase fiber is to buy some of those packaged cereals and bars that have fiber in their name, indicating they are a great source of it. While they may have a good amount of fiber, they are processed foods and have other drawbacks. So this time, go the natural, whole foods route. Increase your fiber by shifting how you think about food.

Where do you find fiber? In plant food. There’s none in animal food.

So shift #1 is to eat more plants and fewer animals. Which plant foods have fiber? All of them. That’s right, you will find fiber in fruits and vegetables, in whole grains, in beans and legumes and in nuts and seeds. That’s a broad range of foods from which to choose every time you want to eat. The trick is discovering how to do it and still get the presents bought, the turkey cooked, the parties attended….

So shift #2 might be: choose one category of plant food, say nuts, and think about how to eat more of them through the holidays. That’s not too difficult, as it’s common to see nuts as a snack food at holiday parties. However, the roasted salted variety have lost many of their nutrients due to that processing. So stick with raw, unsalted nuts. You say you can’t imagine eating saltless nuts?!? I completely understand as I thought the very same thing at first. But interestingly, once I ate a few, I realized the flavor of the nuts was much more interesting and pronounced when eating them raw. I found I enjoyed them even more! So keep a stash of raw nuts handy – in your car, in your bag or backpack, in your desk drawer… virtually everywhere you will be over the next several weeks. Then when hunger strikes, you’ll be prepared with a good, high-protein, high-fiber food that will satisfy and keep you out of trouble.

4. Crowd Out The Sugar

There’s nothing worse than being told you can’t have something you really want. So I’m not going to tell you to avoid the traditional holiday goodies. You’ll just want them even more, and you’ll be in a funk because you feel deprived.

I operate on the principle of ‘crowding out,’ and I have found it’s much more productive.

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Here’s an example of crowding out: You know soft drinks aren’t particularly good for you, that they offer no redeeming nutritional value, and they can actually cause harm in several ways. However, if you are a fan of soft drinks, and have developed a habit of having a couple every day, suddenly telling you not to ever have another one is a pretty tough expectation. You like the taste, you like the fizz, you like they way they seem to partner so well with the food you enjoy at, say lunch, at your desk. You use a cola as your source of caffeine, and can’t imagine being alert without having one at the start of your day. I get that. I used to be just like that. I had a diet Coke on my desk at all times for years.

So instead of telling you to stop drinking soft drinks, I tell you to drink more water. Funny thing, when you start to focus on what you can add to your day, you drink fewer soft drinks, just because you are thinking about what to add instead of what to take away.

So in the case of the holidays, instead of telling you not to enjoy Christmas cookies, I want you to EAT YOUR GREENS!

That’s right, make sure you have some dark, leafy greens every single day from now until New Year’s Day. EVERY DAY. At least one serving. Doesn’t matter if they are raw or cooked, whether it’s kale or spinach or chard or brussels sprouts, whether you have them for breakfast or lunch or dinner or a mid-afternoon snack. Just make sure you include them — without exception.

Will this one thing make a big deal difference? You bet it will. Why? Well, first of all, dark leafy greens are the most missing food in the American diet. Secondly, they are the most beneficial foods on the planet. Just for starters, they:

  • prevent cancer
  • improve circulation (think heart disease prevention)
  • boost immunity ( this is the season for colds and flu, remember?!?)
  • clear congestion improve mood and are actually a powerful anti-depressant (get rid of those sad feelings!)

So look for ways to love them and you’ll keep your focus on the good stuff – and maybe eat a little less of the sugary stuff this holiday season!

5. Go NUTTY With Snacks

Can you imagine that by eating the right kind of snacks you can actually lose weight? For some people, eating several times a day has a positive effect on their blood sugar, keeping it balanced. That feeling of being stabilized keeps those people from being ravenous between meals, and can actually result in eating less at meal time. (Note: this applies to some people, but not necessarily you! The principle of bio-individuality refers to the fact that there’s not one right way for everyone to eat, as everyone’s body responds differently to food.) So snacking between meals may – or may not – be right for you for the long haul.

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Having said that, during the holidays, it’s almost impossible to avoid snacking. We are surrounded by food 24/7 it seems. People bring goodies to the office; there are celebrations and special food brought to business meetings; we meet old friends for tea to catch up on the year’s happenings. It’s a never-ending ‘occasion’ that always includes food, usually highly indulgent food. What’s a person to do?!?

You’ve got to arm yourself with a strategy. You can’t just show up for all these occasions and expect not to get bitten by the holiday goody bug. You’re human, after all!

So here are 3 simple ideas that can help:

  • Never – and I mean never – leave the house without some nuts. Nuts are great sources of protein, healthy fats, minerals such as calcium, selenium and zinc. They satisfy for a fairly long time, so keep the ‘crazy cravings’ at bay. And best of all, they tend to be offered as an option during the holidays. But just in case, it’s a good idea to have some with you. You can reach in your pocket and get a handful when you need to.
  • Choose the fruit option when it’s available – Fruits also tend to be available during this time of year, like clementines, pears, apples. When you’re about to chow down on sweets, remind yourself that a pear is incredibly sweet and can satisfy that desire for sugar, while bringing with it a huge fiber payoff. Just think about the pleasure of the juice of a pear running down your arm as you take a bite, and you may even be persuaded to forego the fudge! (Spreading almond butter on pear slices is a particularly nice treat!)
  • When you’re the baker, go nutty! By adding chopped walnuts to mint brownies, sesame seeds to Christmas cookies, pulverized pecans to pumpkin muffin batter, it’s possible to upgrade some indulgent foods and make them more satisfying – meaning we can eat ‘just one’ and walk away more easily.

6. Think Sweet Potatoes, NOT Couch Potatoes

What’s your normal commitment to exercise? Is it something you do every day, twice a week, when you feel like it, or is it pretty much non-existent? Whatever it is, it needs to be more for the rest of this year (AND IN FUTURE YEARS). That’s right. If you are currently committed to daily exercise, make that twice a day (or twice as long) at least 2x per week. For example, if you normally do 30 minutes every day, make it 45 minutes twice a week and keep it at 30 minutes the other days.

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If you currently do twice a week, make it 4 days – just for the holiday season. If it’s occasionally – make it a firm 3 days a week through the end of the month. If it’s pretty much non-existent – well, now’s the time to change that. If you really think you can sit on the couch (or similarly, use the ‘I don’t have time’ excuse) and not gain weight during the holidays, well, you’re pretty much living in another world. C’mon. Get up and move.

Take the dog for a walk twice a day. Chase your kids around the house every afternoon when you get home, and once before they catch the bus – just for good measure. Run up and down the stairs for 10-15 minutes at lunch time, and again before getting in your car after work. You KNOW what to do. You’re just not doing it. You are telling yourself that you’ll get to that when things slow down, when the kids go to college, when you suddenly discover another hour in your day. Right. Not gonna happen, is it?

Just a thought: if you don’t have time for getting healthy now, later – when you’re older – you won’t have health, and it won’t really matter how much time you have. You won’t be enjoying it. As a matter of fact, your time on this earth is much more likely to be spent in a wheel chair, or connected to an oxygen machine, or simply still sitting on a couch. It’s just that the couch is more likely going to be in a nursing home, ’cause you won’t be able to take care of yourself.

Not a pretty picture? You can change it. You can decide to take charge of your health (and your weight, if it’s an issue) by starting now – during THIS holiday season. You find time to do the things that are important to you. Search deep inside to figure out why this matters.

7. Don’t Stop Just Because You “Handled” The Holidays

If you’ve been following these tips for “Handling” the Holidays, you’re beginning to catch on – it’s possible to change directions (in the area of health) by thinking differently about food. Just imagine staying in that positive new direction for the next year. And the year after that. And so on…

About The Author

Paula Antonini

Holistic Health Counselor and Nutrition Coach

After losing her mother to a stroke at the age of 55, and after spending 40 years as a senior executive in Sales Management, Antonini returned to school in her quest to discover how to stay healthy throughout the aging process. The more she learned, the more determined she became to share that knowledge with others. Those who know Paula are very familiar with her passion and style. Her experiences in both business and health and nutrition coaching make her the perfect health counselor for those of you who want to stop worrying about weight and achieve the high energy you need for both your professional and your personal life — and have fun along the way!

For more information on Paula, visit www. SimplyNutrition.org