Did you know the average person gains 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? Who wants to start off a brand new year with a hangover and jeans that no longer fit? Don’t fall into that trap this year. I have some secrets for you. You can still enjoy your favorite foods with some modifications. There’s no magic pill, and yes, you’ll have to step away from the cookie jar. But listen up. By avoiding certain ingredients and eating the right foods, you may actually maintain or even *gasp* drop a few pounds this holiday season!
SECRET # 1: AVOID GLUTEN & DAIRY. Before you stop reading, listen up, because there’s a caveat. First off, up to 70 percent of folks are sensitive to gluten (protein in wheat, rye, barley) and dairy and don’t even know it. The most common symptoms are bloating, heartburn, gas, irregularity, or weight gain/inability to lose weight. Gluten causes inflammation, which sets off a cascade of undesirable symptoms, and causes the body to hold onto weight. Also causes bloating. So does dairy. If you suffer from congestion, sinus infections, or other allergy symptoms, avoid dairy and see your symptoms improve.
Here is your holiday strategy: avoid gluten & dairy during the holidays, save for your designated “cheat days.” Go ahead and splurge for Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas/Hanukkah, and New Year’s eve. But stay on the wagon the rest of the time. It’s funny, too. If you avoid these foods, when you eat them again, you may notice those bad symptoms cropping back up as your body tells you those foods don’t work for you. These foods can have a drug-like effect on people, causing them to lose control when consumed. If you are subject to binging or overeating, you especially need to avoid gluten and dairy. It will help your cravings and energy levels immensely, and you’ll see cravings disappear!
Substitute gluten free flours or almond flour (delicious in baked goods) for your desserts or other recipes. I’ll soon post my favorite sugar free gluten free dairy free holiday dessert. It’s delicious–really.
SECRET # 2: Watch the sugar. Sorry, but it’s just the truth. Sugar raises insulin levels and causes your body to store fat. Sugar makes you fat. Simple as that. It also makes you feel crappy when you crash. So your strategy is to stay away from mindless snacking when all those baked goods are in the conference room or at those parties you’re attending. Want to know how? Make sure you are having enough protein with each meal. This means a palm-sized portion of chicken, fish, turkey, or beef, or 3/4 cup lentils or beans, or a couple eggs. Protein helps stave off sugar cravings and helps to keep you full. Breakfast is key here. Always start off with enough protein at breakfast and eat every 3-4 hours to maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day. A smoothie with high quality whey protein powder works well here.
Be aware that once you have that one treat, if you are sugar sensitive (most of us are), you may not be able to stop. THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE OF WILLPOWER, so don’t beat yourself up. It is a physiological reaction wherein the sugar is setting off an endorphin rush similar to a powerful opiate drug. This reaction leaves you wanting more and more. So here again, devise a plan and stick to it. Save your sugary desserts for holiday meals and special occasions. Substitute out sugar for agave syrup, honey, or maple syrup in your baking.
Let’s talk booze for a minute. Booze is straight sugar and has the same effect I described above. Furthermore, it can cause you to eat with abandon and crave sugar. Have a drink with a protein-based meal or snack. Drink plenty of water. If you must drink, have an alcoholic beverage, then switch to a “mocktail:” sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate or cranberry juice with a twist. No one will be the wiser, and you won’t have to send that “I’m sorry for pole dancing at the office party last night” email in the morning. Avoid those sugary cocktails and stick to vodka-soda, beer, or a glass of wine.
This brings me to SECRET # 3: Take a milk thistle or Oregon Grape root-based tincture over the holidays. These two herbs are powerful liver cleansers and antioxidants that will counteract the effects of too much booze or fatty food. Remember, your liver is the first to suffer when you overindulge in food or drink, and when it’s unhappy, you’ll know it. It’s the reason you wake up puffy and sallow when you’re hung over and the reason you feel bloated and sluggish. When your liver is overwhelmed, toxins back up in your system, and the result is weight gain, bloating, headaches, and fatigue. So keep your liver happy. Find a liver tincture (tinctures work best because they are easily absorbed) at the natural foods store and take 3 droppers-full on an empty stomach first thing in the AM and right before you sleep.
SECRET # 4: Do your eating early in the day. Do NOT go to bed on a full stomach. Not only is your sleep affected, but you’ll wake up foggy and your digestion is compromised. This can also affect weight loss and cause weight gain. Don’t eat after 7pm.
SECRET # 5: Maintain your exercise and stress relief schedule. Keeping a regular schedule makes your body happy, so continue with your routine. If you don’t have one, make time at least for a 20-30 minute walk every day, or drop into a yoga class. Buy a yoga DVD and do it at home. Stress causes high cortisol, which causes weight gain and also causes us to make poor decisions (“oh, screw it, let’s go to happy hour and order potato skins and chicken wings”). So keep yours in check by de-stressing and finding some time to exercise.
If you totally fall off the wagon, don’t use it as an excuse to give up. Just pick yourself up and get back on track. Good luck out there.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.