The season with a love/hate relationship for many of us.
We love the decorations, the parties, the time with family and friends, the festive music and, of course, the sweet treats!
On the other hand, we aren’t so fond of the overindulging that we just can’t seem to resist and the extra pounds that inevitably show up when reality hits and we step on the scale.
And why do we overindulge year after year, even if we know the consequences?
We won’t get into all the neuroscience and the research studies, but there is plenty of evidence that sugar causes our brains' pleasure centers to go haywire. It can literally cause us to lose control with, believe it or not, addictive properties almost identical to that of cocaine. Our cravings get stronger, requiring even more sugar to satisfy those cravings. Unfortunately, this often happens without us even realizing it during the holiday season, when these sweet treats and other “junk foods” are absolutely everywhere.
So, what can we do?
Our first piece of advice...
...cut back on sweets (yes, to one or two small samples). But don't make these treats off-limits -- that's a hopeless strategy! While you may be able to avoid the temptation for a couple days (or even a couple weeks), you will break at some point, and then probably go overboard!
The next piece of advice...
...incorporate REAL food (like apples, dates and pumpkin), along with nutrient-rich natural sweeteners, instead of nutrient-lacking added sugars. Remember, natural sugars and added sugars are NOT the same!
Natural sugars are found in fruits, vegetables, dairy and other whole foods. For example, fruit contains naturally occurring fructose and milk contains naturally occurring lactose. These naturally occurring sugars come “packaged” with a variety of vitamins, minerals, water and (in the case of fruit and vegetables) fiber. The result is these sugars are released slowly into the bloodstream and are absorbed differently than added sugars.
Added sugars, on the other hand, especially when consumed in large portions, can turn to fat in the liver and prevent the liver from processing insulin properly. These added sugars provide no nutritional value and, even worse, create problems in our bodies. They contribute to a long list of issues including diabetes, inflammation, elevated cholesterol, depressed HDL (good cholesterol), hyperactivity, cancer, heart disease and tooth decay. This is likely part of the reason why heart disease deaths unfortunately increase during the holiday season. Check out our coaching tip for more on sugar!
You can make some absolutely delicious sweet treats using REAL ingredients! Here are just a few delicious ideas:
Dark Chocolate Bark - melt some dark chocolate, stir in chopped nuts, and spread it (about 1/4” thick) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Add toppings such as pomegranate seeds, sliced almonds, orange zest and coconut. Then, place in the refrigerator until set and break into pieces. Keep stored in the refrigerator (or freezer) and enjoy small pieces to satisfy your craving! Plus, put those mason jars to work -- this Dark Chocolate Bark with Pomegranates and Orange Zest and Homemade Apple Pie Granola make great gifts!
Coconut Cream Tiramisu - our favorite Italian dessert turned into a flavor-filled layered parfait cup. Coconut cream, coffee and chocolate chips help create the rich creamy deliciousness in this easy dessert!
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread - easy and delicious! Bananas and yogurt help keep this gluten-free bread moist, while chocolate chips and coconut add a scrumptious sweetness.
Simply whip it up in a food processor, bake and watch it disappear!
Other great options using REAL ingredients include:
Try these tips!
In addition to using REAL ingredients, here are some other tips to enjoy the season without overindulging:
Make a plan! If you are hosting or attending a celebration, know your strategy in advance. How many drinks will you have? How much food? Is there a special dessert like grandma’s pie that you absolutely must have? If so, plan on one less drink and enjoy a piece of that pie!
Bring your own! If you are attending a party, you can end up in front of a spread full of not-so-great options. Offer to bring one or two of your own dishes, such as a veggie tray, fruit spread, or seasonal salad, so you at least have those to fall back on. A few great suggestions that we have found to be great crowd-pleasers are the Christmas Quinoa Salad, Kale Sriracha Salad and Roasted Beet Hummus.
Don’t starve yourself! If you skip meals during the day to “save up” for the party, your willpower won’t be able to hold up. You will likely end up over-indulging. A better approach is to eat healthy, filling meals during the day, and then enjoy the best food the party has to offer in reasonable portions.
The 15-minute rule! After you enjoy your first round of food, wait at least 15 minutes before making a return trip. This will allow you to determine if you are truly still hungry or if it is that sugar addiction trying to take over.
High fiber! Eating high-fiber foods will help fill you up, decreasing cravings for the sweet treats. Veggies, fruits, beans and whole grains are great sources of fiber.
Be a sampler! Rather than a full portion of a “not-so-healthy” food, fill a small plate with bite-size portions of your favorites. Savor these bites and satisfy your cravings without overdoing it.
Stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water will not only keep you from overdoing it with the alcohol, but it will reduce your cravings for sweets and other junk foods. If you feel a craving coming on and know that you should not be hungry, grab a large glass of water (adding fresh fruit will make it even more satisfying), and then reassess whether you are truly hungry.
Be a food snob and eat mindfully! Do you really want to waste your calories on a store-bought cookie? Especially during the holidays, there are some amazing dishes that someone may only prepare once a year. Be selective and don’t waste the precious room in your stomach on food that hasn’t been prepared with love!
Don’t linger! We all know that, if you are standing by the food, you are eating the food. Our arms and hands simply aren’t strong enough to resist the message from our brain to reach out and grab the food that is right at our fingertips. Grab your glass of water (or other beverage) and step away from the food!
Of course, boring parties are a no-no, but we also don’t want to have regrets and wake up the next day saying, “I wish I hadn’t eaten all those sweets!”
We hope these strategies will help you enjoy all this holiday season has to offer!
Look for tips in next week's coaching tip on sugar replacers to use in your holiday baking and sweet treats!