Health Advice Paula Owens

The holiday season is upon us. Over the next few weeks, schedules will be filled with shopping, holiday parties, relatives, plenty of food and spirits and obligations. Socializing during the holidays can be stressful and challenging for some people, especially if your friends and family are not as health-conscious as you. The abundance of holiday treats and homemade goodies can be hard to resist. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to avoid holiday weight gain.

• Hydrate. Even though the temps are cooler, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Drink an 8- to 10-ounce glass of water upon waking. This simple tip is important for hydration after a long night and also helps cut daily food intake by 13 percent. Add the juice from a lemon or lime to the water to nourish liver function, increasing your body’s ability to cleanse itself of toxins that can aid in weight loss. When you’re hydrated, your body will no longer retain water, which makes you look puffy.

• Move your body. Physical activity helps relieve stress, regulate appetite, increase metabolism and boost your mood. Rev up your metabolism with a 30-minute metabolic workout incorporating five to six sets of multi-joint, big-bang exercises such as push-ups, dead lifts, lunges, squats, kettlebell swings and chin-ups performed with minimal rest between sets.

• Sleep. Don’t skimp on sleep. Get seven to nine hours of restful sleep every night. Sleeping less than seven hours per night disrupts hormones and increases your risk of added body fat. Research shows that those who fail to get enough restful sleep consume more calories, especially from unhealthy foods.

• Cooking and baking tips. The holiday season is filled with carb-laden treats and gluten-containing foods that can cause digestive distress and be a detriment 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 flour, buckwheat flour or grain-free and gluten-free options, fiber-rich coconut flour and almond meal. In addition, there are many dairy-free, casein-free options available as well.

• On the go. Avoid becoming famished when you’re away from home. Prepare ahead and pack healthy snacks in your purse or glove compartment. Some easy and healthy options include a protein shake, raw nuts or seeds with an apple, celery with almond butter, hardboiled eggs or beef jerky.

• Breakfast. You might be tempted to skip breakfast to reserve calories for an upcoming party, however, skipping breakfast is a sure backfire to overeating and eventually, weight gain. Consume a well-balanced breakfast with protein and fiber, which will provide you with a feeling of fullness, plus you’ll eat less later on in the day. Protein and fat help balance your hormones and energy, fuel your brain and prevent low blood sugar. What you choose to eat first thing will reflect how you think and feel the remainder of the day.

• Mid-morning buzz. Pass on the white chocolate peppermint mocha with whip cream, which is chock-full of artificial sweeteners, sugars and a whopping 700 calories. Instead, opt for organic drip coffee. Add a bit of heavy, organic cream and cinnamon for holiday flavor. Enjoy some green tea to increase mental alertness and energy. Research suggests the ECGC in green tea can boost fat burning.

• Lunch. Fill up on organic animal protein (chicken, turkey, grass-fed bison or beef or wild salmon). Add fiber from veggies or a dark leafy green salad mixed with plenty of olive oil plus lemon or apple cider vinegar.

• Afternoon energizer. Avoid starchy carbs, sugary snacks and sodas void of any nutritional value. Sure you’ll get a quick burst of energy, at the expense of creating an insulin spike. You’ll end up depleting yourself of energy, craving more carbs, creating hormonal havoc and eventually add inches to your waistline. Instead, focus on fat- and protein-based foods to stabilize your hormones, boost your energy and your mood, and provide a feeling of satiety.

• Party time. Before the party, snack on a handful of almonds and sip a cup of green tea. If you’re going to a party where healthy options will be limited, plan ahead to bring a healthy dish or appetizer of your own for all to enjoy. Once you’re at the party, graze on veggies and guacamole, shrimp with cocktail sauce, chicken skewers or nuts.

• Sweet tooth? Save it for after a balanced meal. Go for the dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content or strawberries dipped in dark chocolate versus 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. Remember that extra sugar and carbohydrates that aren’t being used by the body are generally stored in the liver as glycogen. If the liver is full, your body will make fat from the extra sugar and store it in existing fat deposits around your body, which is why there is such a direct link between sugar and weight gain.

• Limit alcohol intake. Remember, calories from alcohol tend to be stored in the mid-section contributing to a excess belly fat, muffin top and love handles. Most liquor is made from corn or wheat and spells trouble for those with hidden food sensitivities. Drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions causing you to indulge in excess eating and inhibits your body’s ability to produce fat burning hormones. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinking even as little as 1 ounce of vodka can slow your metabolism by as much as 73 percent.

If you’re 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 full or sugar and contain up to 500-800 calories per drink. Drink plenty 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 and the hangover.

• Be accountable. Keeping a food journal during the holidays is one of the best ways to keep the pounds off and make you accountable and aware of what and how much you’re actually eating. People who journal what they eat tend to lose twice as much weight and make much healthier food choices versus those who do not keep a journal.

Practice portion control. Graze — don’t gorge.


Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of two books, “The Power of 4” and “Fat Loss Revolution.” She is a nutritionist and fitness expert with more than 25 years of experience, and creator of “21 Days to a Leaner, Healthier You,” an online exercise and fat-loss program. Visit Paula at

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