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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010 11:59 am

5 tips for holiday health

Wow, it’s been months since I’ve updated this blog. To both people who read this, I’m sorry. (That’s the standard apology when a blogger comes back from a period of laziness: first comment on how long it’s been, then jokingly understate the number of people who read said blog. In reality, we actually have four readers. Hi, Mom and Dad!)

If I were a bear – and I’m almost hairy enough to pass for one – I would be preparing to hibernate right now. Winter makes me instinctually and perpetually hungry, and the advent of the holiday season means there are lots of deliciously rich and unhealthy foods available – all of which I want to devour with ravenous intensity. In fact, our bodies naturally tend to crave carbohydrates more in winter, but that doesn’t mean we need to dread the effect this season will have on our waist sizes. Here are some tips I’m following this year to avoid packing on the pounds.

1) Practice portion control. This is probably the single most helpful idea I’ve ever adopted. It’s simple: don’t eat too much. You can try the cheesecake if you want, but don’t eat the whole thing. In fact, you don’t even need to eat the whole slice. There’s no need to deprive yourself of flavor, but don’t feel as if you NEED to clean your plate. The approach here should be to simply sample the various dishes, not to gobble up anything you can find. And remember that portion sizes vary with different foods – an ounce of peanuts contains as many calories as a pound of broccoli – so eat a sensible amount of whatever you choose. That brings us to the next tip.

2) Hit the veggies first. Vegetables are low in calories and will fill you up faster than a lot of other foods. Have a handful of vegetables from the relish tray before you go for the richer foods. The Christmas tree cookies will still be there when you get to them.

3) Drink lots of water. Often times when we feel hungry, we’re really just thirsty. Have a glass or two of water before you start eating, and you may find that you have less desire to stuff your face.

4) Work it off. Exercise not only helps your body burn excess calories, but it also raises serotonin levels that tend to fall during the winter months. Serotonin is the hormone that tells your body when you’ve had enough to eat, along with regulating a lot of other important functions like mood. Multiple birds, one stone.

5) Prepare yourself. As with any type of battle, you must be aware of yourself and your surroundings when perusing a holiday feast. That means having a plan before you start eating and keeping that plan in mind the whole time. Don’t let those treacherous chocolate truffles talk you into gorging yourself. You can have one or two, and remember that these aren’t the last ones on Earth. Don’t feel like you need to eat all you can now because you’ll never taste them again.

I’m already practicing what I’m preaching: I just ate a small bowl of caramel corn from one of those big Christmas tins, and I realized I took more than I really should have, so I threw away about a third of it. Even now, that seems like a naughty thing to have done. My English grandma always used to say, “Wasting is wicked,” but my diet is ruled by a new mantra now: “Everything in moderation.”

Good luck out there, and Merry Christmas!

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