Here we are at the midst of the Holiday Season once again. It can be a time of joy, fun, gratitude, love, kindness and lots of events with family and friends. But it can also be, as we have probably all experienced, a time of stress, deadlines, over-working, over-eating and a tendency to just plow-through, to get everything done and not worry about taking care of ourselves. I am using this blog to encourage conscious eating during the holidays. By this I mean just being aware of choices in food and nutrition whether it’s a big dinner or snacking at a party. I am not suggesting that you deny yourself any of the delicious eating opportunities during the season. It’s part of the pleasure we get from just being alive.
If you know you really need to or want to lose some extra pounds, give yourself a break from those ‘shoulds’ and the guilt that accompanies them. Plan to eat consciously and joyfully during the holidays and make another conscious decision to participate in our Weight Management program in January. We will be giving you more information over the next few weeks.
Here are some suggestions to enable the conscious enjoyment of the season.
Balance Your Macronutrients
There’s a good chance that in this low-fat, low-protein world we live in, you’re not getting the right ratio of macronutrients for optimal health. Knowing the type and quality of the foods you consume kicks your overall health up to the next level.
There are three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and they all perform essential roles in the human body. Macronutrients are the main components of our diet. Our bodies require others nutrients as well—like vitamins and minerals—but these are needed in much smaller quantities, so we refer to them as micronutrients.
All three macronutrients are needed in the diet, they each perform vital functions in the body, and they play a huge role in keeping you feeling energetic and full of the vitality you want to have over the holidays.
Everyone is different, depending on their personal health goals, activity level, and current state of health. Let’s talk a bit more about each of these macronutrients, and remember these suggestions and guidelines are not meant to keep you from enjoying the abundance of the holiday fare, but to allow you to make good conscious decisions during this pleasurable time.
If I could choose a macronutrient as the main culprit to feeling sluggish and gaining weight quickly…I’d point an accusatory finger at excess carbohydrates. I say ‘excess’ carbs because I believe that carbs in general have had a bad rap ever since Dr. Atkins became a national hero. But carbohydrates are only “bad” when they’re not being used to power some form of exercise or basic bodily functions. If you over eat carbs they are most likely going to turn into fat on your body. But not all carbs are created equal. Be aware of your carb intake and make sure the majority of them are good complex carbs.
Refined carbs such as grains, sugars, starchy vegetables, breads, pastas, and pastries are especially troublesome. They’re digested so quickly that they cause blood sugar surges, reduce insulin sensitivity, and spike cortisol levels in the blood, which leads to potential health problems and can make you feel sluggish and low energy. More complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, squash, and all other fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, which doesn’t break down and get stored as fat. These foods also contain vital nutrients and leave you feeling full longer so you’re less likely to eat more than you actually should.
Eat a lot of healthy carbohydrates to fuel your activity. Those include those sweet potatoes so popular around the holidays, but don’t add sugar. With a little butter they are sweet on their own. Almost all veggies and fruit are great carbohydrate sources so take advantage of those holiday trays of fruits and vegetables.
Everybody is different, so try to be aware of how you feel with the amount of carbs you are consuming. If you’re feeling low energy, add a few extra complex carbs, rather than reaching for something processed or packaged. You need carbs! Try making smarter choices and you’ll notice a big difference in how your body looks and feels. Try substituting bread or pasta with low carb alternatives whenever possible:
- If you’re having a burger, try to only use half of the bun, or go without the bun altogether and instead sandwich that patty between two crisp pieces of lettuce.
- If pasta and sauce is on the menu, use less pasta and add vegetables into or under the sauce.
- Curry or Chinese? Simply go without rice and include more vegetables—it’s just as delicious and much better for you!
- Have extra turkey and a sweet potato and just a bite of that breaded stuffing.
- Fill up on the pie filling before your gobble down the crust.
Replacing sugar and starch filled carbs with healthier alternatives is pretty easy to do if you give it a little bit of thought. And you may feel better after your meal or outing. A few bites of your favorite treat could be very satisfying.
Let me make this super clear: Fat does not make you fat. Fat doesn’t make you fat. If you eat fat, you won’t get fat. For years fat has been demonized as having negative health properties and falsely associated with ailments such as heart disease and cholesterol problems. Because of this, foods branded as “low fat” have been sold as diet alternatives for years. But these very same low fat foods are often packed full of sugar to give them added flavor (flavor lives in fat, after all).
Just like carbs there is good fat, and saturated fat has positive health benefits. Saturated fat does not lead to heart disease when paired with an anti-inflammatory diet and if you want to have good heart markers, including blood cholesterol levels, the best way to go about it is to actually cut back on carbs rather than fat.
Saturated fat encourages your liver to function more efficiently by dumping its fat cells, which is good for your health. Fatty acids also help white blood cells recognize and destroy invading viruses and bacteria, which boosts your immune system. Eating saturated fat also increases testosterone levels, which helps to repair tissues, build muscle, and improve sexual function.
Eating fat is also very satisfying. When you don’t have enough fat in your diet, then your body doesn’t get the signals that you’ve had enough food. This can lead us to eat much more than we should. Fruit and cheese platters are looking good this season.
Protein—specifically the protein found in meat, eggs, and seafood—is loaded with positive health benefits. Like fat, it keeps you feeling full for longer so it’s easier to eat less when you have some in your system. It also helps to stabilize your blood sugar, which keeps you from binge eating, and craving sugary treats.
Eating protein helps your body develop lean muscle mass when combined with regular exercise. Gaining lean muscle by eating enough protein will make your body look and feel toned and fit.
These are Guidelines for Conscious Eating Choices
No matter what you are eating always intend to eat the best you can get in any category. Best means foods that are natural, unprocessed, without added hormones, pesticides or antibiotics. Organic, all natural, free range, or grass fed are all attributes to look for. Best does not mean “low-fat”. You don’t have to pick the leanest meats. Don’t choose low fat dairy enjoy some real whipped cream.
I wish you the best health and vitality during this holiday season. Eat consciously by consuming a balanced macronutrient diet. You will feel better, have more energy, and be able to spread the joy of the season whether you are entertaining or going out with friends and family. I hope the guidelines in this article help you stay balanced and enjoy the large variety and options of good food choices. And enjoy some of those pleasurable holiday treats too. And while you are spreading the joy, feel free to share this article with any friends or family who might benefit.