Monday, November 28, 2011

Conquering Holiday Food Demons

Tempting holiday treats are about to ambush you. You may have made it past Thanksgiving, but soon you will be confronted by catered parties, goodie plates from well-meaning neighbors, and grocery store promotions, including chocolates, eggnog, little sausages, piles of nuts and candies galore.

Luckily, it's not a battle of willpower, for that is a no-win conflict. Rather, actual physiological changes will help you beat the food bandits. Try the following 5 strategies to keep you on track in your healthy lifestyle through the New Year:
  • EXERCISE! Dr. Neil Barnard explains in Breaking the Food Seduction, that the brain has stations called "opiate receptors" where hormones that activate our pleasure centers attach. When we exercise, natural endorphins fill these receptors. But leave out physical activity, and the receptors are empty. Nature hates a vacuum and will try to fill this void with some other euphoria-producing substance so that we feel happy. Sugar is one such pleasure-producing compound. In other words, without exercise, cravings will sky-rocket! But just 30 minutes a day of physical activity will produce enough endorphins to tame the drive for sweets and other comfort foods.
  • EAT! Our bodies need a certain amount of nutrients and a given level of energy to function. When we "cut back" to keep from overeating and gaining weight, we deprive ourselves of essential requirements. That's when urges take over and willpower goes down the drain. So fuel yourself correctly to stave off unhealthy binges. Be sure to get lots of fiber, plant protein, and phytochemicals. Eating breakfast sets the tone for the entire day. Grabbing a nutritarian salad before a party diminishes your desire for junk food. Bringing a nourishing dish to a potluck insures that you have a wholesome option to eat. Focus on low-glycemic foods to keep your blood sugars stable, and you will not find empty-calorie options so seductive.
  • REST! Dr. Barnard notes that fatigue fuels cravings. Like most people, I am susceptible to energy-boosting sweets when I am overtired, thinking they will give me the recharge I need to keep going. It would be better to nap. In addition, regular exercise helps regulate our rhythms so we feel ready to sleep at bedtime. Caffeine, alcohol and animal protein foods disrupt our ability to repose. (Protein interferes with the production of serotonin that calms us.) Complex carbohydrates are a good choice for an evening meal.
  • RESET! Cycles influence all of us. For those who live in northern climates, the coming of winter signals not only darkness and cold, but a bio-rhythmic slowing of life. We feel more sluggish and tend to turn to heavier foods. Knowing this pattern for diminished activity and weight gain can help combat it. Instead of turning to greasy, meaty food for warmth, we can generate body heat through exercise. We can intentionally increase our exposure to light, and we can eat more plant proteins to prevent that slothful feeling. We can identify and avoid situations that trigger emotional eating by changing our routines and setting new traditions that foster loving and serving instead of eating.
  • SOCIALIZE! Most celebrations center on food. With a little paradigm shift, you can insure that your focus is the people, not the parfait. Enjoy your associations. Make it a point to nourish friends and family emotionally. If food is a remedy for loneliness, then reaching out is a better option than stuffing your face.
If you can follow these steps for 21 days, you can make it through the Christmas season, for we have an appetite memory of 3 weeks, according to Dr. Barnard. That means a food that was alluring to you will continue to be enticing until you have passed the 3-week mark. That's why most diets are broken in the first month. People who are able to go off sugar or animal products for an entire month are usually able to make a habit for life. For nutritarians, this is good news. Vegetables that seem unappealing at first will soon become pleasurable if they continue to appear on the menu for 21 days. Our food-memory will adjust in just a few short weeks.

To a healthy and happy holiday,

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