Nix Those Holiday Excuses!

by Jeanne Rhodes

Who says Thanksgiving has to be a gargantuan meal? Or Christmas? Traditional, yes, but no creature should be stuffed other than the turkey. The family should walk away from the table, not waddle.

To avoid the average weight gain of ten pounds over the holidays, there are ways to sidestep our mental barriers or mental blocks, better known to us all as “EXCUSES.” The following no-fail solutions will show you how:

Excuse: It’s too hard to diet during the holidays.

Remedy: Find a kinder, gentler food plan. Dieting is a punishing regime, and like a prisoner on death row, you’ll be glad for any reprieve. Dieting is also damaging to your health. Instead, forget dieting and try a reasonable healthier eating plan, one you will enjoy so much that you will maintain it your entire life. Make one improvement at a time, beginning with your next meal. I usually have my clients make one or two changes each week. During the first week they drink more water and begin a comfortable walking program. Gradually they begin reducing their fat and sugar intake and increasing their fiber intake.

Small changes deliver large returns. Simple variations in favorite recipes can have a major effect over the long haul. The goal is to enjoy the process of making positive changes while focusing on your healthier, slimmer body. A focus on improvement, not perfection is essential - success breeds success. Make one change today and you’re already on your way!

Excuse: I’m too stressed during the holidays to worry about what I eat.

Remedy: Make time for yourself now to avoid the health problems that may not give you a choice. Stress creates what one nutritionist calls a “PIG” response - Problem of Immediate Gratification. You dash home after a hectic day, or you’ve had a disturbing conversation and you head for the refrigerator seeking a junk food fix.

To head off stress-related eating, try just five minutes of walking to release a flood of the brain’s “feel good” stress-relieving serotonin neurotransmitters. Dr. Ralph LaForge, Exercise Physiologist, calls exercise “Nature’s Prozac” because of its positive impact on stress and mood. Serotonin is also an appetite suppressant!

Excuse: It’s hard to stay away from the holiday cookies and candies that I keep on hand for my friends and family.

Remedy: Your friends and family need healthy snacks too. If they resist, try getting cookies or candies that have little appeal to you. Then have a few of your very, very favorites on hand and plan to have them once a week - not every day.

If you have children, remember that they learn their eating habits primarily from you through role modeling. A constant daily indulgence in holiday candies and cookies is not any better for them than it is for you. Parents who want healthy children need to role model healthy eating. Our children today are having more health problems than at any other time in our history as they role model their parents’ poor eating habits.

Excuse: I don’t have time to prepare low fat healthy meals during the holidays.

Remedy: Use easy-cooking strategies. In the beginning, healthy eating does take extra thought because old habits die hard. The challenge is to find an efficient food plan that fits your lifestyle. Healthy food is quick and easy to prepare with many choices at the supermarket to make it convenient. Most fast food restaurants now offer healthy choices, already prepared, that can be taken home for dinner on a busy night. Grocery stores offer chicken, fish and seafood already cooked as well as salad bars. For a convenient evening meal, pick up these things on the way home once or twice a week. Some Chinese restaurants offer low fat, convenient take-out food. In addition, preparing a list of quick, nutritious meals to refer to when you’re out of ideas is beneficial.

Excuse: I can’t give up holiday cookies.

Remedy: No one food is unhealthy. Build in the cookies, but do so infrequently - once a week, not once every day. Ordering bacon on occasional breakfasts out or eating cake and ice cream on birthdays will not create a problem. “Occasional” is the key, not “Consistent.”

Treat yourself to some of the exotic healthier foods you like. For example, splurge on white lump crabmeat, grilled salmon, expensive mushrooms, or your favorite out-of-season fruit.

Excuse: During the holidays I have to eat out a lot, so I have no control over the food that’s available.

Remedy: Fish, seafood (without the butter) or poultry breasts are always safe bets that will satisfy most taste buds. Even if the chicken breast is fried, removing the skin brings the fat down to about the same as baked without the skin. Add a large tossed salad with a low fat, sugar-free dressing and the meal is not only healthy, but satisfying and delicious!

Remember the old saying, eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner. A large evening meal is like filling up your gas tank at the end of a trip. The body will store 25% - 45% more (read “fat”) at dinner than at breakfast or lunch. Making sure you have a good breakfast and lunch with an afternoon snack around 3:30 will help avoid the drop in blood sugar which brings on ravenous hunger in the evening.

As your mind overcomes these hurdles, your body will start pitching in too. Cravings for sugar and fat are predominately biological and have little to do with willpower. Your biology changes as a result of healthier food choices, which in turn, diminishes and finally ends these cravings. And you’ll have a lot more energy to enjoy the holiday festivities. Soon you’ll silence the demon that whispers in your ear, “you’ll never wear THAT size jeans, so why bother?” Tell the little devil, “I bother because I care about my health and my looks. And I respect myself too much to be discouraged by lame excuses.” A Bonus - when you make loving choices for yourself, your family and everyone around you will benefit. It’s your contribution to the healing of our world.

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.