Curb Your Holiday Eating Cravings

What food are you eyeing at your holiday party?

What food are you eyeing at your holiday party?
Image: Microsoft Office

There will be cake.  Pie.  Butter-loaded mashed potatoes.  Juicy ham (or Tofurky).  Cheese and crackers.  Wine.  And then all of the free holiday food at work.  Holiday parties.  Times when you feel, “oh what the hell, it’s the holidays!”  Holiday eating cravings will be there, but you have a choice.  Will you be like the average American who gains a pound during the holiday season (and never loses it)?  Or will you be different?

A colleague recently asked me if it’s ok to indulge on the holidays.  I replied, it’s probably fine – as long as you remember that there are only 3 real holi”days”: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa and New Years’.  *Note: I’m assuming Hanukkah isn’t being celebrated with a doughnut-laden party every night.

We run into problems when we extend those three days to the other 30 to 35 days remaining in the year.  Over the past week I’ve collected three great resources that can help you curb holiday eating cravings during those other 30+ days, enjoy!

1. A brief 2 minute video I made for Hospital for Special Surgery about Tips for Enjoying Holiday Foods without Sabotaging Your Health 

2. An article I wrote for Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog on Three Ways to Tame Your Sweet Tooth

3. From Mercola.com: Six Simple Tips to Help Prevent Holiday Weight Gain.  While some of the recommendations are a little unusual, I really like the ideas of:

  • Keeping a proactive food diary – Writing what you will eat each day rather than what you just ate.  In effect, you’re planning.
  • Staying active – Exercise can regulate appetite for some people and it’s hard to be eating when you’re exercising.
  • Eating when you’re hungry – Rather than restricting yourself before or after a big holiday meal and throwing your eating habits and hormones out of whack, stay steady.  In other words, don’t skip your usual healthy breakfast and lunch in anticipation of a holiday dinner.  The foods at the holiday dinner are likely much more calorie dense, so if you gorge, you’re probably going to end up eating more than if you just had breakfast and lunch as usual.

A couple indulgent meals will not throw off 10 to 11 months of healthy habits – unless you let those meals extend into the rest of the month.  It’s your choice – be happy, be healthy!

P.S. If you have any additional tips that have worked for you during the holidays, please share so you can help the other readers of Death of the Diet!

Push Yourself Mentally, Listen to Yourself Physically

Photo Courtesy of: Microsoft Images

No Pain, All Gain
Photo Courtesy of: Microsoft Images

Take Action & Respond: What steps do you take to push yourself mentally to make sure you do your best during a workout?

While the post’s title seems like a dichotomy, striking the right balance between these two feelings ensures your ability to stay consistently active. Pushing yourself mentally usually revolves around two scenarios: getting the workout started and doing your best during the workout. Listening to yourself physically also has two main points: knowing when to pump the brakes during a workout and knowing when to skip a workout entirely (for health and wellness purposes). At the end of the post, I’ll share a story about a time when I managed to push myself mentally, and then not listen to myself physically to reveal how a balance of both sides are needed for long-term fitness and health.

Push Yourself Mentally

When everything is going well or our schedule is light, staying active can be relatively easy. However, most of life does not lend itself to the “best case scenario.” Getting out of bed when the alarm goes off at 5 or 6 AM for your morning jog or lugging yourself to the gym after a long day of work at 7 PM can be some of the most challenging circumstances we face when being active. The interesting thing about these situations is it’s primarily a test of mental strength (assuming you’re getting adequate sleep). Standing up out of bed or walking to the gym is not a physically harrowing task, yet it seems to make our legs feel like cinder blocks. Until we actually decide to start moving. Next time you’re not in the mood for your workout, commit to jogging for just 5 minutes. Or go to the gym and do just the warm-up. If you go, do this and still feel like you want to stop, then do so. You’ve fulfilled your commitment to yourself and should be proud that you took action, no matter how big or small. But once you start moving, you may also end up staying a little longer than expected.

And now that you’re moving, you may as well get the most out of every minute that you train. We’re busy people, so why spend 90 or more minutes in the gym (you know those people, the ones who do one set and then talk for 5 minutes with their buddies), when you can get just as good of a workout in 45 to 60 minutes and move on with your day? Keep moving, stay focused and only take your planned rest periods (or if you’re feeling very winded). If a friend wants to talk, exchange a quick word or two, but if they want to catch up on the last couple of weeks, tell them you’ll get in contact after the workout.

During our workouts we sometimes stop a few reps short or a few minutes early from what we can truly accomplish because of our thoughts. Maybe you don’t have a training/exercise plan so you’re not sure what to do next…so you don’t do anything at all. Or you get involved in a conversation with someone and by the time you’re done it’s been 20 minutes and you’ve started to cool down. Or your mind just starts to wander and you lose interest in the middle of the workout. Staying centered and focused is crucial to getting the most out of your workouts so you can get the results you want.

First, keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you are doing these workouts to begin with. For a sport? For your posture? To get into a dress or pants size? Next, create a positive, supportive environment to make sure you get going and then do all you can during exercise to “pump” yourself up. Listen to inspiring music, actually tell yourself that you can do that extra set, close your eyes and visualize that last sprint right before you do it. These are tactics elite athletes use to get the most out of themselves and their physical activity, so why not do the same for yourself? Maximize the benefit of your physical activity since you’re already doing it!

Listen to Your Body Physically

This is the counterpoint to pushing yourself mentally. When we psych ourselves up to “go the extra mile,” we need to make sure we do so safely. When working out, we tend to disregard small “twinges” and “tweaks” of discomfort (not to be confused with muscular burn during a set or sprint). Unfortunately, the adrenaline running through our body can decrease our feeling of pain and thereby suppress a more serious issue. “Pushing through it” often leads to even further problems. It’s better to stop a little short on one workout because of an unusual “twinge” than to be forced to stop for weeks because of an injury that happened because you did not listen to your body.

If the twinge is localized to one part of the body, you can always adjust your workout and focus on another area. For example, if you tweaked your leg during a squat, you can always do some rows or pushups. The rule is: if it hurts, don’t do it.

Finally, if you’re feeling under the weather, reconsider whether a workout will help or hurt. Workouts typically stress your immune system, in a good way. They break your body down a bit to teach it to get stronger. So if you’re just a little sluggish, then the workout may give your immune system a needed boost (do a lighter workout, though, just in case). But if you’re really starting to feel lousy, a workout may push your immune system over the cliff into a full-blown cold or sickness. Each person has a unique “line” that once they cross, they should avoid working out until they are feeling better. For me, it’s a bad sore throat with some body aches (which is the prelude to many other cold-symptoms).

My Story…and Lesson Learned

A couple years ago I was at a nutrition conference in San Diego and I had just completed a long day of going to talks, networking and mostly sitting from about 7 AM to 6 PM. Amazing how sitting and listening can be so draining! I had plans for dinner at 8 PM, so I only had a little while to get ready. So when I got back to my hotel room, it was very tempting to just kick back and relax for a couple hours. But I knew that there was a YMCA next door (only $5 to use) and I hadn’t been able to get to the gym the previous couple of days because of scheduling and travel. So I made a deal with myself: go and do a light warm-up, core and cardio workout (30 minutes) and call it a day. Hey, something is better than nothing!

So I went to the gym and got started. And of course by the end of my warm-up I was ready to do a lot more than a light workout. Turns out I did a bit too much! I remember pushing myself to do Farmer’s Walks (pretty much carrying two heavy weights around for a while) with two 75 pound dumbbells later in a workout that previously had me performing power hang cleans (a big powerful movement that worked similar muscles to the farmer’s walk). I felt a slight twinge in my upper shoulder but decided to finish off the last ten feet of the Farmer’s Walk anyway. By the time I woke up the next morning I could barely turn my neck and by the middle of the day my shoulder and back were in significant spasm. It was the last day of the conference and when I got in the taxi to take me to the airport later in the afternoon, my neck went into spasm every time the taxi driver sped up because the simple acceleration of the car made my neck fire in a similar way to the exercise that caused me to get hurt. Needless to say I stabilized my neck and shoulders as best as I could and took about a week off from working out. Thankfully I was back to normal within about a week and a half, but it goes to show that a “small twinge” can have larger issues associated with it. Lesson Learned: Ten less feet, or one week off?

Revolutionizing the Resolution…Set Health and Fitness Goals that Stick!

A Veggie + Chicken Stir-Fry Resolution

Image: Stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by Dwayne Brown, CSCS

The date is January 1st. Today is the day when most people are trying to put into action the resolutions that they hastily made on New Year’s Eve. Gyms across the nation will be bursting at the seams with new members and I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers’ business is always at its best right after the New Year. For the next couple of weeks people will make a valiant effort to keep those resolutions. Then after the New Year buzz wears off (pun intended), people usually fall back into the same old patterns that led them to make their New Years’ resolutions in the first place.

So how can we avoid resolution hangover (the disappointing feeling of not accomplishing goals)? The first step is to take a serious look at your resolution once you’ve left the New Year’s Eve party, preferably once you have had time to let your head clear. Look at them with a critical eye and decide whether they can be realistically attained and/or if you really want to attain them. For example, you and your significant other’s decision to become vegan this year might not seem as enticing when you open your refrigerator and find the parts of four different animals staring back at you saying “eat me”. A better resolution would be “I’m only going to eat red meat once a week”. This way it’s not such a shock, and once it becomes easy, you can progress it further.

The next step to keeping your resolutions is to get them on paper. Studies show that writing things down makes them more likely to actually happen. Once you write your resolutions down, make copies and put them in places where you’re sure to see them. So if you have a weak spot for cookies and you resolve to lose weight then tape that resolution to the cookie jar. You’ll quickly begin to realize that these kinds of reminders will either deter from doing the wrong things or encourage you to do the right things.

The final tip for keeping resolutions is to keep them everyday. What I mean is whatever the resolution is…do it every day. If you resolve to be more physically active, aim to move a little bit more everyday rather than just blasting yourself with one extra workout on the weekend. This means if you have the option of taking the stairs or the elevator, then there is no option. You’re taking the stairs. When it’s feasible take the extra time to walk to the store instead of driving.

These are just a few suggestions for avoiding the “I didn’t keep my resolutions” blues. Remember:

  • Make sure your resolutions are realistic and attainable.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in places that will motivate you to take action
  • Take steps towards achieving your resolutions every day…practice makes perfect!

Even though we only make New Years’ resolutions one day in the year, it takes 365 days (and more) to keep them.

How Thinking Like a Kid Can Improve Your Health and Fitness

Kid Playing Bball

Photo courtesy of: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have the pleasure of training some awesome clients at a boutique gym in Jersey City, Hamilton Health and Fitness (HHF), that has an on-site pool. Pools are coveted in urban areas, so there are a lot of swimming programs at HHF – including many for kids. As a result, these kids briefly walk near the training floor on their way to the pool. I’m always amused at how they look at all of the weights and machines in wonder. Sometimes they’ll just stare and other times they ask their parents, “What are those people doing?” We are, of course, training and exercising. And every so often a kid will start imitating a movement or climbing on a piece of exercise equipment (to the behest of their parents).

One time I watched a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, walk over to a 90 pound dumbbell, squat down (in perfect form, I might add) and try to pick it up. Unsurprisingly, the weight won. But still, I was intrigued at how this kid just saddled up to a huge weight most adults wouldn’t go near (and a weight that was definitely heavier than him) and just “give it a go.” While some may view this boy’s attempt as foolish or unrealistic, I found a few lessons to be learned that adults can use to improve their chances of success when making positive changes to their eating and physical activity habits:

Kids Explore Possibilities

As adults it’s way too easy to get stuck in a rut or routine. And sometimes that routine is what leads us to an unhealthy lifestyle. We need to break that status quo. Kids’ minds, on the other hand, are a blank slate looking to explore; they look at everything with wonder and curiosity. They seek to interact with and understand the world around them, regardless of whether they go to a new country on vacation or are adventuring in their friends’ backyards for the 1,000th time. They notice changes in their environment and come up with lots of ideas of what they can try in a particular situation (can I pick this up? can I go there? can I climb on that?). Similarly, you can take a curious approach to eating better or becoming more active.

See your “old” surroundings with “new” eyes and build awareness about ways to live healthier. You’ll start to notice things you never knew existed, but in fact may have been right under your nose the entire time, such as a new area to go for a run near your house or an area of a kids’ jungle gym that you can use for an outdoor workout space. Or you could decide to take a walk around your workplace or neighborhood and stumble across a new place to grab a healthy meal or snack. Maybe you’ll see a new fruit or vegetable in the produce aisle that you want to try.

Kids Are Optimistic

Kids don’t know no and can’t; they assume yes and success. They smile much more than they cry. They want to be baseball players and astronauts regardless of whether they can swing a bat or breathe in space. They imagine what could be and then work towards it, assuming they will achieve it. They don’t have “baggage” that negatively influences their future pursuits. Similarly, no matter what you’ve done or tried before, approach each new health or fitness opportunity with the belief: if I put in the effort, success is inevitable.

Unlike kids, however, you may have to deal with baggage from previous experiences. But remember, with experience comes wisdom. Consider what’s worked for you in similar situations in the past and learn from what hasn’t. As I always say, “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Take your wisdom and leave your baggage; it makes for a much lighter, and easier journey.

Kids Are Persistent

Kids experiment. That’s how we learn to ride a bike or play a sport/instrument. If a kid falls down (or misses a note or fly ball), they don’t just throw their hands up in the air in exasperation and say it’s impossible. They get back up and try, try, try again. And eventually, they get better at it. Eating better and becoming more active is no different.

To get the results you want, you will likely need to develop new skills such as running, lifting weights, cooking, reducing how often you indulge or ordering different menu items when you’re at restaurants. And if the skill is new, you’ll probably mess up a few times. But rather than just give up and stay down after one slip up (i.e. oh no I ate dessert tonight, my diet is ruined, I’ll just eat whatever I want the rest of the weekend), accept what happened, get back up, dust yourself and keep moving forward. Think of each mistake you make as a missed note when playing the piano; one or two off-notes rarely ruin the entire performance, especially if we get back on key as soon as we realize it. However running away from the piano after our first mistake will.

Successful businessman Marshall Thurber once said, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.” I agree, because living a healthy lifestyle is undoubtedly worth doing well.

Take Action & Respond: Live life and “think like a kid” for a week, or even a day – explore your surroundings, think like you can do anything and be persistent…then tell me what changed about your “usual” actions and habits.

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