Saturday, December 3, 2011

Your 10-Point Plan for Holiday Diet Success

By Steve Edwards

Woman Wearing Winter Hat and Woman Measuring Her Waist

Good ol' "holiday cheer" doesn't always leave you feeling cheerful, especially when you can't fit into your little black dress or fancy-occasion suit for your upcoming holiday parties, and especially for New Year's Eve. Here's a simple 10-step plan to help you enjoy all your holiday events while you begin planning how to make your coming New Year something to celebrate. Let's start with the big picture, then count down toward a healthy New Year.

  1. Visualize. This first step won't take long. In fact, do it right now, before reading step 9. Close your eyes for a moment and visualize yourself in a place you want to be sometime next year. This is a fantasy, so make it a good one. Imagine looking and feeling a way you've always dreamed of. Now hold on to that vision.
  2. 2012 FireworksTarget an event for next year. Think of something to focus on as a day for looking and/or feeling and/or performing your best. It can be anything from a class reunion to a triathlon to a trip to Cancun. Your goal is to find something to look forward to that will motivate you to improve between now and then.
  3. Plan a training program. Begin by finding a monthly calendar and figure out how much time you have until your event. Next, make a loose training program. You don't have to decide exactly what to do right now. Maybe start with progress you'd like to make each month leading to the event. Then pick an exercise program (or series of programs) that'll help you achieve your goals over that time. Be realistic. It might be difficult for you to focus on exercise and diet during the holidays, so you might want to schedule yourself a bit of flexibility for now. At this point, your aim is to plant a seed in your mind to keep you focused on a bigger goal as you go through the holidays. This little extra bit of motivation will help you keep your holidays from becoming one long binge.
  4. It's better to give than to receive. It's time to get busy. You've planted an image of success in your mind and on paper. Now you've got to get practical. Just how are you supposed to stick with an exercise program when temptation looms around every corner? Start by becoming proactive about this holiday season. Become a giver. Instead of letting the festivities come to you, where you'll have little control over them, plan them yourself. Organize your Thanksgiving dinner, help out with the company Christmas party, or plan your friends' New Year's get-together. If you're the organizer, you have a lot more control over the relative healthiness of the event. You must be reasonable, of course. You won't get the gig again if you turn Thanksgiving dinner into a tofu-and-broccoli Zen-fest, but being in charge allows you to make healthy options available. Plus you'll be busy, which'll leave you less time for indulging.
  5. SaladLearn to cook. The easiest way to eat healthily is to cook food yourself, because that way you know exactly what's in it. There's a wealth of information out there about healthy cooking. Once you start, you might find that it's easier than you ever imagined to cook decadently tasty yet healthy meals.
  6. Plan to snack. Let's face it, over the next month your workplace is going to be filled with temptation. Willpower alone might not be enough. Since the easiest way to avoid these things is to be full, plan to snack throughout your day. Head to the market and fill your cart with healthy snacking options like fruit and raw veggies. Okay, this probably sounds boring, but these foods are loaded with fiber and have very few calories, so they'll fill you up without filling you out. A large apple has about the same number of calories as a tiny square of chocolate. By munching on fruits and veggies all day, you'll keep your stomach full, which will help make you far less likely to dig into the Christmas cookies. And if or when you do choose to indulge a bit, it'll be far, far easier not to overdo it.
  7. Man Drinking WaterDrink water all day long. Another way to ensure that your stomach feels full when workplace temptations present themselves is to drink one glass of water every hour during your workday. This won't just help you resist treats—it'll also keep you hydrated, which will help reduce the effects of that aprés-work holiday "cheer," alcohol.
  8. Rise and shine! Begin each day with a few minutes devoted to yourself. Lie in bed, breathe, visualize, and contemplate your goals. By focusing each morning on something you really want, you'll get out of bed with a better outlook on the day. Then you'll be more apt to make positive choices throughout your day.
  9. How to eat your holiday meals. You're almost certainly going to overeat, but here are a few rules you can follow to stack the odds in favor of your figure:
    • Drink a large glass of water 30 minutes prior to the meal.
    • Begin with a salad. Go light on the dressing, and eat as much as you can. You probably see a pattern but, again, water and fiber are going to fill space in your stomach and make it much harder to overeat.
    • Don't be shy. These meals were meant to be social and the more you talk and listen, the less you'll eat. Have you ever had a meal where you've been so involved in a conversation that you've forgotten to eat? Try making this your goal.
  10. What to do if you blow it. Because at some point, we all do. And you know what? It just doesn't matter. If we were perfect, life would be boring, right? Anyway, one day isn't going to hurt you. What you need to avoid is one day turning into two, then three, and so on. So on those days when you've backslid, try this nighttime ritual that'll have those little gaps in your willpower filled in before you wake up:
    • Have a cup of herbal tea or drink a glass of water before bed. Herbal tea is great. It's both hydrating and calming. If you've been drinking alcohol and fear a hangover, take vitamins and drink some electrolytes. Don't worry about calories at this point. Offsetting the effects of alcohol is more important. The most common effects of a hangover result from dehydration and lack of sleep. You need nutrients and water to fight these off.
    • Stretch. A few minutes of slow and easy stretching will relax you and help you begin the process of recovering from the day's activities. A scant 2 minutes is a million times better than no minutes.
    • Relax and reflect. Lie in bed, focus on relaxed breathing, and take a minute to reflect on yourself and your future—then let it go. Don't think too much. You don't want to get excited, because you might lose your ability to sleep. You just want to center your thoughts and get them away from any negative associations with having "blown it." Tomorrow, as Scarlett O'Hara famously said, is another day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

8 Lower-Calorie Holiday Cocktails

By Stephanie S. Saunders

Who doesn't like a good cocktail during the holidays? Sure, spending 3 days straight with your extended family might have something to do with it, but beside that, nearly everyone likes to let loose at this time of year. And there are plenty of occasions to do so. From the office holiday party to the lighting of the menorah to the various eve and morning festivities, there's no shortage of celebrations that can involve libations.

Woman Blowing Snow Off Her Hand

Unfortunately, most holiday cocktails tend to give the double gift of too much fat and too many calories. One cup of eggnog has 343 calories and 19 grams of fat! It's a meal in a cup, with a ton of added fat and sugar. Then there are the hot chocolates, mulled ciders, and traditional grogs that chase away the winter chill but help you hang on to the pounds. And don't forget about all the themed mixed drinks that make parties a bit more fun while making your waistline a bit more full. So how do you enjoy the fun of the holiday season without having to hide behind bulky sweaters till July? Here are 8 fun drink ideas that are lower in fat, calories, and sugar than their original versions.

  1. Pumpkin Pie MartiniPumpkin Pie Martini. Yeah, I know. It's as good as it sounds. There are several pumpkin liqueurs on the market, which are convenient, but add a ton of calories. By using the actual squash, you get the flavor without the calories—and, believe it or not, a little fiber in your drink.
    • 6 oz. vanilla-flavored vodka
    • 6 oz. canned unsweetened pumpkin
    • 4 oz. fat-free condensed milk
    • 4 oz. unsweetened almond milk (or fat-free milk)
    • 4 Tbsp. pumpkin pie seasoning
    • Ice cubes
    • 6 crushed reduced-fat vanilla wafers
    Place vodka and pumpkin in a bowl, and stir until pumpkin has dissolved. Stir in condensed milk and almond milk. Add seasoning and stir well. Dip rims of glasses in crushed vanilla wafers. Pour liquid over ice into glass and enjoy. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
1051 g2 g6 g< 1 g< 1 g
  1. GrogGrog. Its rich history dates back 400 years, when it used to be rationed out to sailors at sea. The big babies wouldn't drink their scurvy-preventing dose of lemon juice straight, so the powers that be dressed it up with a little rum. Since the additional ingredients only serve to make it that much tastier, it stands to reason that being "three sheets to the wind" was fairly common.
    • Juice of 2 lemons
    • 1 whole lemon peel
    • 1 whole orange peel
    • 4 Tbsp. sugar
    • 4 whole cloves
    • 4 cinnamon sticks
    • 10 oz. water
    • 4 oz. golden rum
    Place lemon juice, lemon peel, orange peel, sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes, remove from heat, and slowly stir in rum. Pour though a fine strainer into mugs; place one of the cinnamon sticks in each mug as a garnish. Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
118< 1 g< 1 g14 g< 1 g< 1 g
  1. Gingerbread ToddyGingerbread Toddy. In cold weather, a hot drink can warm you up faster than a Snuggie® and an electric blanket. This hot toddy will make you feel warm while it makes you think you're eating gingerbread cookies. Yummy.
    • 1 oz. brandy
    • 1 oz. gingerbread liqueur
    • Juice from 1 lemon wedge
    • 8 oz. hot water
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    Pour first four ingredients into a preheated mug in the order listed. Garnish with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer. Makes 1 serving.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
155< 1 g< 1 g11 g< 1 g< 1 g
  1. Holiday Hot ChocolateHoliday Hot Chocolate. You can obviously buy no-sugar-added hot chocolate in packages and do this the easy way. But you're no slacker. You can make homemade hot chocolate instead, which makes your house smell amazing and impresses your friends and family.
    • 4 cups evaporated fat-free milk
    • 1 cup fat-free milk
    • 1/2 cup baking chocolate
    • 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup sugar (or use 1/3 cup agave)
    • 6 oz. Frangelico® liqueur
    • 6 miniature candy canes
    Combine evaporated milk, fat-free milk, chocolate, vanilla, and sugar in medium saucepan and heat on stove over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in Frangelico. Pour into mugs and garnish each with a small candy cane. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
34016 g2 g45 g6 g3 g
  1. Peppermint MartiniPeppermint Martini. This is perhaps the simplest and tastiest low-calorie cocktail out there. Just three ingredients and a bit of candy cane. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
    • 9 oz. vanilla vodka
    • 9 oz. peppermint schnapps
    • 3 oz. fat-free condensed milk
    • Ice
    • 6 miniature candy canes
    Place all liquids in a martini shaker with ice. Shake and pour into glasses. Garnish each with a candy cane. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving; not counting the candy canes):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
2321 g< 1 g13 g< 1 g< 1 g
  1. Mulled Apple CiderMulled Apple Cider. Nothing makes a house smell more like Christmas than some mulled apple cider—except maybe those overpriced candles constantly being advertised on TV. And this cider tastes better, so take that, Glade®!
    • 8 cups apple cider
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 10 whole cloves
    • 1 navel orange, peeled and sliced crosswise
    • 1 2-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, cut into 6 slices
    • 4 oz. light brandy
    In a large saucepan, combine cider, cinnamon stick, cloves, orange, and ginger and simmer mixture for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add brandy to pan. Stir, then strain mixture through a fine strainer into a heatproof pitcher. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
202< 1 g< 1 g37 g< 1 g< 1 g
  1. Blitzen's BlissBlitzen's Bliss. Given that Blitzen is the final reindeer in the lineup, he probably gets knocked around a fair bit by the sleigh over the course of Santa's travels on Christmas Eve. But once they're done circumnavigating the globe, Blitzen comes home and has a few of these, and it's all good. Not only does he feel better, but since they have just 130 calories apiece, he doesn't feel all bloated for his Christmas dinner the next day.
    • 2 cups pomegranate juice
    • Juice of 2 limes
    • 8 oz. vodka
    • 1 tsp. peppermint extract
    • 12 ice cubes
    • 4 Tbsp. chopped mint leaves
    • 6 miniature candy canes
    Place first four ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake and pour into individual glasses. Sprinkle each with mint and garnish with candy cane. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving; not counting the candy canes):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
130< 1 g< 1 g11 g< 1 g< 1 g
  1. SangriaSangria for Santa. Santa really appreciates the cookies and milk. But after hundreds of years, he's over it. Want to be on the "nice" list next year? Get a little naughty. Leave some sangria by the fireplace for Santa.
    • 10 green grapes, halved
    • 4 fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
    • 1 peach, pitted and sliced
    • 1 bottle white or red wine
    • 1-1/2 cups white grape juice
    • 1/2 cup brandy
    • 2 sprigs fresh mint
    Place fruit and wine in a large glass pitcher. Add juice and brandy and stir gently. Add mint and stir gently once more. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve straight or over ice. Makes 6 servings.
Nutritional Information (per serving):
CaloriesProteinFiberCarbsFat TotalSaturated Fat
1831 g1 g14 g< 1 g< 1 g

So you'd like to have a "cup of cheer" this holiday season, at least now you can enjoy it without having to wear your baggy Santa outfit for the entire month of January. Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

8 Tips for Avoiding the Holiday Pounds

8 Tips for Avoiding the Holiday Pounds

By Stephanie S. Saunders

It's that time of year. The leaves turn majestic hues of red and gold. The air becomes fresh and crisp. We can finally put an extra blanket on the bed and cuddle up with a cup of hot tea. Yes, it's fall. We just spent 8 months killing ourselves to get into that bathing suit, but now we've replaced it with a worn pair of jeans and a much more relaxed attitude towards food. After all, it's the holiday season, and no one'll notice a few extra pounds under layers of clothes. A little extra weight just gives us a New Year's resolution to focus on, right?

Woman Holding Up Jeans

Wrong. According to a study by researchers at Sweden's Linköping University, those 4 weeks of celebrating can actually lead to long-term weight gain.

Essentially, the researchers took a group of healthy young people, increased their caloric intake by 70 percent, and lowered their exercise levels. They also had a control group whose diets weren't altered. At 4 weeks, the participants in the test group had gained an average of 14 pounds. After 6 months, and no longer on an increased-calorie diet, only a third of these participants had returned to their original weight. After 1 year, the test group members were each still an average of 3.3 pounds heavier. After 2 and a half years, the "gluttonous" group continued to gain, while the control group still maintained a stable weight.

Snow Covered HouseNow, most of us don't increase our calories that drastically for 30 days straight. Sure, there's Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving leftovers, Hanukkah, the work Christmas party, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day, not to mention the extra sweets, cocktails, and (ahem) fruitcake. But according to the New England Journal of Medicine, the actual average weight gain over the holidays is only 1 pound. (They obviously didn't poll my family or friends.) So what's the big deal? The problem is, a year later, the vast majority of people have not removed that pound. Continue this pattern over 30 or 40 holiday seasons and the problem becomes—quite literally—huge.

So how are we supposed to get through the holidays without gaining weight? Here are eight effective ways to get yourself ready to beat the holiday bulge.

  1. Buy clothes that fit right now. This first tip might be a bit pricy, but it's a great motivational aid in staving off weight gain. A new addition to your wardrobe in a size that shows off your summer body can be all you need to prevent those extra pounds from creeping on. Imagine that beautiful holiday dress or great pair of pants, then imagine being unable to zip them up thanks to sugar cookies. Yeah, no one wants that. So before you begin the festivities, go buy yourself something perfect to wear to your parties and hang it someplace visible, so it serves as a constant reminder. Perhaps on that treadmill that might be starting to collect a little dust in the corner, or on your refrigerator door . . . that way, if it doesn't fit quite the same way the next time you try to slip into it, you know it's time to get back to work.
  2. Write it down. We try to write down everything we eat, right? We spend countless hours each month staring at a food diary, adding up our calories, and seeing if we got the correct balance of macronutrients. And then the holidays happen, and our little book ends up in the bottom drawer. It's almost like we're hoping that if we didn't write it down, it didn't happen. Unfortunately, the scale doesn't fit in that bottom drawer. The truth is, if we would write down the not-so-perfect meals and treats, we could find a way to compensate for them, at least a bit. For example, you have a peppermint brownie in the break room at work, which you know is carbohydrates and fat. Eat one less portion of carbohydrate and one less portion of fat for your dinner. It's not ideal, but it'll help. Or perhaps you couldn't resist Mom's homemade scones for breakfast. You could plan on an extra 20 or 30 minutes of your workout tonight. The point is, if we write it down, and do the math, we can lessen the damage. It isn't a good long-term plan, but to help compensate for a few slip-ups, it can help.
  3. Woman Running on TreadmillKeep exercising. Most fitness trainers will tell you the slowest point of their year is between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Sure, their clients schedule workouts with the best of intentions, but then they cancel them for parties and gift shopping. It's hard to remain balanced when you have a million things to do and gifts to buy. Yet the greatest gift you can give yourself is to stay focused on your fitness goals and get your workout in. Shopping getting in the way? Do it online and save some time. Parties getting in the way? Just show up later. Who cares if everyone else is a couple of cocktails ahead of you? You'll be healthier, and you won't have to worry about the embarrassing YouTube® videos in the morning. Just stay consistent, even if it's inconvenient. You'll be much less likely to look like Santa (both belly-wise and red-nose-wise) at the end of the month.
  4. Eat before parties. Most holiday parties don't focus on low-fat, low-calorie refreshments, so unless you're organizing the event, the best damage control is to show up with a full tummy. Make sure you eat your meals and snacks throughout the day, and try to eat a healthy meal before attending any party. If you're going straight from work, prepare a healthy and filling snack to eat on the way. You'll be a lot less likely to swim in mayonnaise dips and pigs in blankets if you're full.
  5. Get junk out of the house. The majority of people don't get into their car at midnight, drive to the store, buy the ingredients for cookies, bake them, and then stay up to eat them. But if those homemade cookies that Linda in accounting made for you are already on your kitchen counter, you better believe you'll find a way to justify it. Frankly, at 12:30 AM, after a rotten day, for most of us there's nothing like a few cookies to drown our sorrows. The secret is to get the garbage out of the house. Send it to work with your significant other, donate it to a bake sale, re-gift it to your 100-pound friend with the perfect metabolism, or just dump it in the trash. Linda will never know. If you have holiday dinner leftovers, box them up for your guests individually and send them home with them. If your family still sends you that Pepperidge Farm® cookie assortment, invite a bunch of people over for a pre-party party and serve 'em up before the drinks. Try not to be wasteful, but get the less-than-healthy temptations out of your reach.
  6. Fresh VegetablesOffer to prepare healthy fare. This suggestion won't be well received by those of us who'd rather spend Thanksgiving sitting around watching football than toiling in the kitchen, but if you do the cooking, you have the control. Your family could have a tasty and satisfying meal without ingesting thousands of calories and fat grams. The way the turkey is prepared, the type of stuffing, how vegetables are made, whether the cranberries are real, and countless other things can make or break the healthiness of a meal. There are tons of cookbooks out there that can help you out. Yes, it does require a bit of work. But you can do anything if you set your mind to it!
  7. Choose wisely and proportionally. Something occurs during a holiday meal. It's like a Las Vegas buffet—we feel like we have to eat some of everything. We feel almost like those foods will never exist again, and this is our last meal on the planet. This year, why not try to eat only your favorites, as in two or three items, and keep the portions to the size of your palm? If you're still hungry, try to fill up on veggies (preferably ones that aren't drowned in butter or cream-of-mushroom soup). If you want dessert, lean toward a small slice of pumpkin pie (220 calories) as opposed to pecan (a heftier 543), leaving out the hydrogenated nondairy whipped topping if possible. If you're going to have an alcoholic beverage, go with a flute of champagne (100 calories) as opposed to that rum-laced eggnog (with more than four times more calories, at 420). Just a few wise choices will save you a ton of calories, and probably a significant amount of heartburn as well.
  8. Don't beat yourself up. Quite possibly the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up over a bit of holiday indulgence. Yes, it does stink to backslide after working your tail off. But sometimes it doesn't stink as much as dealing with your mother when you turn down her brisket and potato pancakes. Sometimes, we don't have time to go to work, buy a Christmas tree, decorate it with our kids, make dinner, oversee homework, tuck kids in bed, and spend an hour doing a workout of choice. We can only do our very best. Mentally beating yourself up will only make you feel worse, which never helped anyone get back to their fitness program. So if you happen to gain that 1 extra pound this holiday season, be part of the rare group who actually follows through with their New Year's resolution and manages to shed it again. A week of hard work and a slight calorie deficit should do the trick. Resolutions don't come easier than that!

Couple Measuring Their WaistsA wise person once said, "The toughest part of a diet isn't watching what you eat. It's watching what other people eat." That really is the crux of the problem with dining out in public. When you're surrounded by people who are consuming the equivalent of their body weight in fat grams, it's really tough to stick to that chicken breast and steamed veggies. But if you have a game plan, you're more likely to walk out with both a satisfied tummy and a satisfied mind. So spend a few minutes on researching, on eating, and on exercising beforehand, and be strong when you get there. The effort will be worth it, and you might even be an inspiration to your dining partner. What greater reward is there than that? Oh, yeah—a six-pack.