Will you sail through the holidays this year at optimal performance with energy to spare? Or will you struggle through feeling tired, stressed, cranky and burdened by extra pounds?
Just a few simple daily habits could make the difference.
Welcome to week four of the Holiday Challenge. The goal of our annual challenge is simply to maintain your current weight from Thanksgiving to New Year's. And it's never too late to join. If you're just starting this week, get on the scale today -- yes, you, and yes, today -- and aim to keep your weight steady from now until Jan. 1.
Holidays inevitably involve doing too many things in too little time. The trick is to keep your energy high without stuffing yourself with cookies, lattes and that can of whipped topping in the fridge. Here is what a few experts recommend:
Eat at regular intervals. Skipping meals leads to a roller coaster ride of energy peaks and valleys. Without food, blood sugar levels drop very low. The body responds by boosting production of insulin. That, in turn, makes you feel hungry. If it's been too long since your last meal, it could mean an overactive appetite. How frequent should meals be?About every three hours, advises registered dietitian Raquel Malo, director of nutrition and executive training at LGE Performance in Orlando.
Engage in strategic eating. Those frequent meals need to be about 300 to 500 calories each, with a mix of protein (nuts, eggs, low-fat or non-fat dairy products, beans, fish, lean meat, soy or poultry without the skin), fruit and vegetables and whole grains to keep insulin and blood sugar levels even.
Boost protein. Most Americans get about 10 to 15 percent of their daily calories from protein. (If you have kidney problems, be sure to check with your doctor before making diet changes.) The National Academy of Sciences sets 30 percent as the safe limit for protein consumption. How does eating a little more protein help to maintain weight? Protein seems to boost satiety more than carbohydrates or fat because it takes more energy for the body to digest and store protein. Studies also show that eating protein helps preserve muscle.That, in turn, makes weight maintenance a little easier because muscle burns more calories than fat.
Develop a pressure plan. Use it on the days when you feel like Scrooge and are tempted to eat anything -- and everything -- available. Raquel Malo encourages her clients to post on the fridge a list of eating goals as well as healthy alternatives to eating. Some possibilities: Eat only from a plate. Limit eating to one place at your home, perhaps sitting at the kitchen table rather than in front of the television or standing in front of the fridge. Eat measured portions of food, rather than mindless noshing. Even better, consider alternatives to eating: Call a friend. Play some favorite music. Address holiday cards. Wrap presents. Climb the stairs. Take a walk around the block. You get the idea.
Eat wisely at the food court. Sure, it's important to refuel while you're going the distance at the mall. But there are smart choices and choices that can undercut your efforts. So at Cinnabon, choose the apple Minibon (just 285 calories and 5 grams of fat) instead of a Caramel Pecanbon (1,100 calories, 56 grams of fat and 10 grams of saturated fat). For a caffeine jolt at Starbucks, sip a venti cappuccino with skim milk (130 calories, 0 fat) instead of a venti white chocolate mocha (630 calories; 29 grams fat; 19 grams saturated fat.) At Wendy's, the Ultimate Grilled Chicken with a side salad, reduced-fat ranch dressing and a diet soda (370 calories, 7 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat) is a better choice than a Classic Double Burger with Cheese (670 calories, 37 grams fat and 16 grams saturated fat before the fries and drink).
Give yourself an early gift. In addition to staying active throughout the day, make the time at least once this week for at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular activity that will get your heart rate and breathing really going. It's one of the activities mentioned in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Committee Report. Cardiovascular activities such as brisk walking, dancing, bike riding, jogging, shooting hoops, step aerobics, walking on a treadmill, etc. help keep your metabolism revved afterward, helps cut stress, improves mood and sleep, and, yes, may even help boost energy.
Besides, when you're moving, you're probably not eating. So go ahead, speed walk through the mall to hit a store before it closes. That counts, too.
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