(Apologies at the start.  This is a very long post!)

The holiday season is upon us!! And while that means wonderful things like social gatherings, friends and family (ok, and gifts too!), it also can mean weight gain for many of us!  With so many temptations, how are we expected to be strong? 

In no way would I suggest that anyone forgo social interactions! These are much more important than a possible few pounds you may gain over the next month.  But is there a way to avoid gaining any pounds? Yes!! Absolutely!  And it doesn’t involve getting your jaw wired shut!  Here are some suggestions that could help:

When at home or work (in other words, not when at a social function):

Suggestion 1 – Live life on the fringe!

By this I mean the outer edge of the supermarket. While we can’t always control what is put before us when out socializing, we can control foods what we have in the house and what we pack for lunch at work! The outer aisles of supermarkets are where they have the “clean” foods. Clean foods are non-processed, whole foods. Meats, vegetables and fruits! While processed foods can be quicker and easier to prepare (pop something in the microwave for a couple minutes and voilà, your meal is ready), our bodies are able to process whole foods more effectively and efficiently. All those added chemicals, and added sugars just make the cells of your body cry!! Don’t be mean to your body!!

And yes, certain natural, whole foods are better than others. That will be addressed in another blog post, soon to come. 

It is unfortunate, but a lot of the whole, clean foods are actually more expensive than the processed junk foods. Think about the cost of a burger at McDonald’s compared to the cost of one at a steakhouse. But even if you are on a budget, still stick to the fringe of the market, and look for the fruits and vegetables that are in the middle of their peak season. This is when they will be least expensive. And spend the extra time it may take to look for those bargains. Check for the items that are on sale.  There will be another blog on saving money while not sacrificing quality. 

Suggestion 2 – Size does matter!

It isn’t only about what you eat, but it’s also how much you eat!  This means exercising portion control!! Put away those big dinner plates!! The amount of food that can fit on one of those is closer to 3 servings than 1! Your salad plates are your friends! If you MUST use that dinner plate, “draw” an imaginary 4-part pie chart on it. Fill 2 of those sections with raw or steamed veggies. The other 2 sections are for your protein and your other GOOD carbs like rice or quinoa!

Let’s all stop thinking of CARB as a four-letter word!  People have made carbs into the enemy.  Good carbohydrates from whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are needed for proper brain function!  But people seem to think that “carb” is synonymous with sugary and processed foods like sweets, breads and pastas.  Everyone needs to change that way of thinking right now!  Whole grains (oats, couscous, rice, quinoa), vegetables (sweet potatoes, cauliflower, kale, peppers), and legumes (beans, peas) are all carbs, but they are GOOD carbs that your body actually needs and that aren’t bad for you.  So don’t cut out carbs, just make sure you’re getting the ones that are good for you in your diet.

This suggestion of dividing up your plate is also helpful for when you are at a social gathering! 

Suggestion 3 – The best laid plans do not always go awry!

Plan your meals in advance! This one is actually a little difficult for me.  I am the type of person who likes to eat what I’m in the mood for eating at that moment in time.  But this is exactly why I should be using this system!  And you probably should use it too, right?!?!  As much as we may not want to plan our meals in advance, it is really helpful.  If you want to be a rock-star at this, on Sundays plan your meals for the entire week ahead.  An added benefit of this is that you can go shopping to get all you will need for these meals on the day you are planning them.  But, if planning your week of meals on a Sunday doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can plan out your meals for the following day, the night before.  Worst case scenario, at least plan what you will eat for the day in the morning of that day!  Even I can abide by that!  Use your app of choice (mine is MyFitnessPal) and log in the food you intend to eat for the day.   And then, stick to that plan!!  When you have it all written down, it is easier to stick to it.  Accountability makes it harder to cheat.  And seeing it all written down with the tally of what it all adds up to makes it easier to stay within your daily caloric allowance in order to not gain (or maybe to even lose) weight!

Suggestion 4 – Out of Sight, Out of Mind!

This one is pretty easy.  Don’t bring foods that aren’t healthy into your home! If you’re the type who can’t control yourself around chocolate chip cookies, then simple solution … DON’T BUY THEM!!  And if you can’t do that, or if you already have them in your home, and feel that throwing things out is very wasteful, then at the very least, store them where they are not in sight whenever you open the cabinets or refrigerator.  For items that don’t need to be in the refrigerator, store them on the very tippy top shelf, behind something that is not an item you often use.  If it is something that needs to be refrigerated, you can store it at the very back of the shelf, behind several other things.  Things you don’t use every day! This way, in order to eat the things that are bad for you, you will have to get on a step ladder, move a bunch of stuff out of the way … in other words, go to a lot of trouble! And it will take more time to get to.  And in that extra time, maybe you’ll be able to convince yourself that it’s not worth it!  Yes, you could still eat them, but how likely is it that you’d go through all that to just get something that is really not great for you to begin with?

Suggestion 5 – Shopping Lists!

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Don’t fail when it comes to shopping for healthy choices! One way to help yourself is to create a shopping list before you go to the market.  If it’s not on the list, you can’t buy it!  No exceptions!  No impulse buying!  Just don’t do what I do from time to time … create the list, and then accidentally leave it at home!  Oops!!

Suggestion 6 – It’s the old bait and switch trick!

Let’s say that you really do have a hankering for something sweet or something salty.  Well, you could go to the fridge and move all those items around to get to that bad choice or haul out the step ladder to reach the chips hidden behind the fancy dinnerware that only comes out when your Aunt Mildred comes over (since she gave you that set of dishes as a housewarming gift).  Or … you could make yourself a cup of tea!

I have gotten more into tea since a coworker turned me on to Teapigs teas!  The things I really like about these teas are that not only do they have an incredible array of flavors, but they have REAL natural ingredients!  They don’t have added ingredients that I definitely do NOT want to be consuming.  Most commercially made tea that you get at the supermarket contains soy lecithin!  For those of us who have dealt with breast cancer, this is a BIG no-no!  But honestly, even if you don’t have that concern, why would you want anything in your tea that is produced by using harsh chemicals?  Teapigs uses only natural ingredients!  So, they are a GREAT healthy substitute to having an unhealthy snack! 

In the mood for something sweet … choose Super Fruit or Apple and Cinnamon!  Want something more “savory”?  Spiced Winter Red Tea will be the perfect choice.  Not sure whether you’re in the mood for sweet or for savory, but know you want something … I’d suggest Spiced Pear Tea!  Honestly, probably one of my favorites!  But these are only just a sample of the bounty of flavors you will find there.  You do need to steep the tea a bit longer, but that’s because it hasn’t been processed down to a powder, like the teas you find in the supermarket.  But it’s worth it!  Remember, we’re trying to go back to natural, and avoid processed! 

So, the next time you are tempted to have a snack, have a snack of a yummy cup of tea!  (by the way, I also recommend that if you do want to add a sweetener to your tea, use Truvía®. It is made from the leaves of a plant (Stevia), so it is natural, not chemicals like those things you find in the pink and blue packets.  And it is very low calorie.  The packets themselves have “zero” calories, but that’s because they technically have less than 1 calorie per packet.  If you were to measure a half cup of the stuff, it would contain approximately 190 calories and be as sweet as approximately a cup of sugar.  But who would need that much sweetening in a cup of tea?!?!)

Suggestion 7 – Shake your groove thing, shake your groove thing, yeah, yeah!

Get moving!  While going to the gym, or a zumba class or a boxing class is probably the best thing to do to burn calories, when the weather outside gets frightful, it gets harder to motivate to exercise.  So, if you don’t feel like going to the gym or even taking a run or long walk, at the very least, turn on some fun music, and DANCE!  The average length of a song is between 3 and 6 minutes.  So, let’s compromise and say 4 minutes is around average.  If you boogie on down for 5 to 8 songs, you’ve exercised for 20 to 30 minutes!!  And you’ve had fun while doing it!  And, if you’re in your living room, and nobody is home, you can try out those crazy moves, without fear that you’ll look like Elaine from Seinfeld at the holiday party!  (This is also a great suggestion for social gatherings!! Not to look like Elaine, but to dance!  If you are moving around, rather than just standing around you will be burning calories.  And it is more difficult to be shoveling fattening foods and drinks into yourself while dancing!)

So, those are the suggestions for when you are at home or at work.  But what about when you are going to a social function?  How do you maintain and not gain at those events?  Well, here are a couple of suggestions (in addition to the ones above that work both at home and at parties)

Social Event Suggestion 1 – I said “Pre-Eat” not “Preheat”!

If you are going to a social gathering where you know there will probably be very fattening choices when it comes to food, have a healthy snack at home BEFORE you head out the door!  Some people may try the opposite of not eating much all day, because you know you will be indulging later that evening.  But that can backfire.  It is better to eat more of the healthy stuff you have at home than to starve yourself all day so that you can eat as much as you like that night.  First, if you didn’t eat earlier you will be hungrier and more likely to eat larger portions than you should (see “Size does matter” above). Second, if the foods at the social event are more fattening, you should be eating less of them anyway!  So, if you eat a small, but healthy meal before heading to the party, you can still have some of the yummy (but not so great on your waistline) offerings, and still keep it to smaller portions!

Social Event Suggestion 2 – Never arrive empty handed!

Most of us when invited to someone’s home for a party will bring a bottle of wine or maybe a dessert.  It is bad etiquette to not bring something or at the very least to not even offer to bring something.  So why not bring something healthy?  Not sure what to bring?  Google “healthy dishes to bring to a party”!  There are a TON of choices that won’t have you weighing a ton at the end of the social season!  Plus, bonus … now you know for sure that there will be something healthy and less fattening to choose from at the event!

Social Event Suggestion 3 – Switch it up!

Social gatherings often mean imbibing on alcoholic beverages.  As a suggestion, don’t be that person who is the “OMG, at the company holiday party a couple years ago, she drank so much that she [fill in the blank with something really embarrassing]” person!  Not only is it embarrassing and could possibly ruin your career, but it is not healthy for you and will definitely make you gain weight!  Sure, the company holiday party often means open bar.  But that bar also can serve you non-alcoholic alternatives.  I’m not saying you have to be a teetotaler.  Just switch between your favorite mixed drink and then one that is non-alcoholic and more likely low in calories.  A seltzer with a spritz of cranberry juice is very healthy, tastes good, and kinda looks like a mixed drink.  This way you will be consuming less calories and not risking being the one that everyone is whispering about at the office the next day!

Social Event Suggestion 4 – Choose your side!

At most events, there is a specific area where the food is set up.  It usually isn’t that there are tables brimming with food dishes at every turn (although, I have been to events where there were tables set up in every room, but not in every corner of every room).  Find people to chat and laugh and have a good time with who are not standing right next to that buffet table!  If it’s not within arms-reach, the less likely you are to unconsciously nibble at things.  And if you are in the middle of a fun, interesting conversation, you won’t be tempted to leave the fun to go to grab just another bite of that dish that you sampled earlier.  You don’t need to totally avoid that buffet table.  Just don’t make it your home base!

These are just some suggestions that you can use this holiday season and at any time of the year, to help you with avoiding weight gain.  I hope these are helpful.  And just remember, even if you slip up, you can always come back here and re-read this to get re-motivated!  Happy holidays to all and to all a good health!