Season's Eatings

Ann WheatonAs the year end approaches, so do all of the holidays we love, bringing with them the decorations, music, get-togethers, and of course the food and drinks we love to indulge (and sometimes overindulge) in. I am generally a healthy eater and try to exercise frequently, but all of the tasty treats available this time of year do make it a challenge. As much fun as the holidays are, they can also be a bit stressful, which makes choosing healthy food options even more difficult.

I have weighed the same my entire adult life, but over this past year, I put on five pounds for no reason. I saw my doctor about it and discovered that my estrogen levels had dropped slightly, causing my metabolism to slow. I made some minor changes to my diet, like getting more protein early in the day to give me energy and stave off afternoon snack cravings. I also avoid foods that boost my blood sugar, which causes a fluctuation in metabolism. I stopped eating oatmeal, cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit in the morning. Instead, I start my day with a glass of unsweetened almond milk mixed with a low-sugar, plant-based protein powder (easy to digest) and have some cooked egg whites (less fat and cholesterol than whole eggs) or an egg white omelet with some veggies in it. I downloaded an app to my phone so I could track everything I consumed and how much I exercised. It showed me how many calories were in foods and drinks (which I had never paid attention to before) and helped me make better choices to reach the nutrition and daily calorie goals needed to drop those five pounds. I now have more energy and fewer cravings, and I sleep much better. I don't feel like I'm missing out on things I love — I'm just making better choices. And while it wasn't my intention, these choices will also help get me through the holidays.

Holiday parties tend to be the biggest calorie/sugar/carb-consuming time for me. I enjoy everything pumpkin, gingerbread, chocolate, and candy-coated just as much as the next person — but I physically feel awful if I have too much. So I strategize. If I know dinner won't be served at a party, I make sure to eat a good meal of lean protein and veggies ahead of time so I'm not starving when I arrive. I drink tons of water before and during the party to stay hydrated and help with digestion. I have only one alcohol-based drink (avoiding drinks with sugary mixers) — any more than one and I tend to over-snack. I also avoid anything fried or with sauces (HUGE calorie waste) and have just one of each of the tasty items I choose. Just because the plate is full of cookies doesn't mean I have to eat them all!

But treats aren't the only pitfall of the holidays. Stress can also negatively affect our bodies. It increases cortisol (the stress hormone), which makes our bodies store food energy as fat. So this time of year, I like to leave for events 10 minutes earlier than I normally would to allow for traffic or other delays, and I put on my patience pants if I know I'm going to a crowded place. I also make sure I have healthy snacks and water with me to keep my belly and brain happy. Exercise helps me with stress, too, so I park farther away from stores to give me a few extra steps, and I take the stairs whenever possible.

I know some days are going to be more difficult than others. If I occasionally eat a few more chocolates or have a second glass of wine, I don't beat myself up over it. I will just get a little more exercise and make better food choices the next day! Taking it one day at a time is the best way for me to stay healthy during the holidays and throughout the year.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.