Every year around the holidays, my social calendar fills up, and I’m tempted to eat and drink indiscriminately. How can I make healthier choices this season?
Zoltan Rona, MD
Few of us are immune to creeping stress levels and the desire to consume sweets, fatty foods and boozy beverages. It’s no surprise that, every year during the holidays, the average person gains one pound of weight that they aren’t likely to ever lose. Low brain levels of the hormone serotonin are partially to blame for this overconsumption. Serotonin drops with stress, lack of sleep and low exposure to sunlight. Levels tend to be lowest during the fall and winter.
Meanwhile, the holiday scramble may ramp up the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, which in high levels can cause weight gain, especially in the belly. Serotonin levels can be boosted by the chemical compound 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), available at health-food stores and drugstores, while high cortisol levels are lowered by Rhodiola, which can be taken in capsule form. Whey protein will also help curb appetite.
Finally, if you drink alcohol, protect your liver and other organs from damage by taking vitamin B complex, N-acetylcysteine, milk thistle and curcumin, all available in pill form from most health-food stores and some pharmacies.
Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist
It’s a great idea to establish a plan of attack before facing the holiday smorgasbord. Always have a light, fibre-filled snack (trail mix or an apple with nut butter are good options) a few hours before arriving at a party to avoid overindulgence. Sidestep fried finger foods, such as spring rolls, crispy won tons and potato chips, and reach for the fresh rice-paper spring rolls instead to save a third of the calories.
Other light options include roast beef roll-ups with mustard, olives, smoked salmon on cucumber, shrimp cocktail, vinegar-based coleslaw and raw veggies. Salsa is the leanest dip on the buffet table, and avocados will leave you feeling full, helping to prevent overeating. Trim 100 calories from a slice of quiche or pie by forgoing the crust. On the cocktail front, stretch one glass of wine to two by cutting it with carbonated water to make wine spritzers. And skip the pounding headache that often accompanies a hangover by hydrating with coconut water, juice with sparkling water or herbal iced tea.
Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor
One proven strategy to avoid overindulgence is to work out before a social function-you might feel less inclined to negate all your efforts with excessive snacking and imbibing. Another tactic: schedule a fitness class or personal training session for the morning after a party-and prepay for it. Regardless of when you exercise this season, be sure to keep at it. Experts say a month or more of inactivity can set your fitness level back exponentially. If your festive schedule leaves you tight on time, try to fit three 10-minute chunks of exercise into the day-it’s a decent alternative to a full half-hour workout. Research also shows that, for temporary periods, you can maintain current muscle strength with just one resistance-training workout a week (although adults over 60 might need more). Bottom line, staying active sets a precedent for making healthier choices all day.