The holiday season is upon us. Schedules are filled with shopping, work deadlines, holiday parties, relatives, and obligations. Socializing during the holidays can be challenging, especially if your friends and family are not as health-conscious as you. Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to avoid holiday weight gain and stay healthy, happy and fit.
Even though the temperatures are cooler, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Drink a glass of water upon waking; it's not only important for hydration after a long night, but it also cuts 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, which can aid in weight loss.
When you're hydrated, your body will no longer retain water, which makes you look puffy. And, if you plan to indulge in spirits when attending holiday parties, always sip on water to avoid overindulging in alcohol and to prevent dehydration.
Physical activity helps relieve stress, regulate appetite, burn up extra calories, and boost your mood. Research suggests that exercise, specifically weight training, increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the release of growth hormone, a powerful fat burner. The options are endless: ride your bike, walk your dog, join a fitness class, hike with friends, hire a fitness expert, or practice yoga.
The holiday season is filled with carb-laden treats and gluten-filled foods that can cause digestive distress, and be a detriment to your mood and your waist line. 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 my favorite, grain-free and gluten-free options, fiber-rich coconut flour, and almond meal. In addition, there are many dairy-free and casein-free options available.
On the go
Avoid becoming famished when you're away from home. Pack healthy snacks in your purse or glove compartment. Some healthy options include a protein shake, protein bars (void of soy and hydrogenated fats, of course), raw nuts, or seeds with an apple.
You may be tempted to skip breakfast to reserve calories for an upcoming party, however, skipping breakfast is a sure backfire to weight gain. Consume a well-balanced breakfast with protein, 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 energy, fuel your brain, and prevent low blood sugar. The first 40 grams of protein you eat every day goes to rebuild your immune system. If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you'll have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry to be happy and think straight.
Opt for a buffalo burger with salsa, a handful of nuts, and a side of blueberries; or eggs with spinach and avocado. One of my quick, energizing on-the-go breakfast favorites is juicing kale, watercress, parsley, cucumber, green apple, ginger and lime, adding protein powder and coconut oil for a balanced meal.
Pass on the white chocolate peppermint mocha with whip cream, which is full of artificial sweeteners, sugars, and a whopping 700 calories. Instead, opt for drip coffee.
Add cinnamon and a bit of heavy, organic cream for holiday flavor, which will help stabilize the insulin spike. Enjoy some green tea to increase mental alertness and energy. Research suggests the ECGC in green tea can boost fat burning.
Fill up on protein, chicken, or wild salmon, and fiber from veggies, or dark leafy greens; mix with plenty of olive oil plus lemon, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinaigrette.
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 and, over time, add inches to your waist line.
Instead, focus on fat- and protein-based foods to boost your energy, and your mood. Examples of an ideal afternoon snack include a protein smoothie with a scoop of greens and coconut milk; avocado with some gluten-free crackers; celery with almond butter; hummus with chopped red bell pepper, or a handful of walnuts with an apple. Apples contain a natural fiber called pectin, which helps control blood sugar and gives a feeling of fullness for hours.
Before the party, snack on a handful of almonds and sip a cup of green tea. The fat and fiber from the almonds will reduce your appetite.
The caffeine from the green tea will help keep you energized and increase mental alertness. If you're going to a party where healthy options will be limited, bring a healthy dish of your own for all to enjoy.
A great natural appetite suppressant and blood sugar stabilizer is apple cider vinegar taken with a small amount of water before meals. 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, and opt for some dark chocolate with at least 60 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.
Practice portion control, graze - don't gorge, chew your food thoroughly, and remember to take your digestive enzymes!
Limit alcohol intake. Remember, calories from booze tend to be stored in the abdomen. Alcohol, in excess, is a toxin to the body. It's metabolized before food in order to rid it from the body. 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 of sugar and contain up to 500-800 calories per drink. Dance at the party to burn some extra calories. Drink a glass 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, the boozing and the hangover.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at www.PaulaOwens.com.