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The Lean Plate Club: Sally Squires

Stressing the Alternatives

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, December 14, 2004; Page HE01

To help control stress-eating this holiday season, reach into the cookie jar.

Yes, you read that right.

Reaching Into the Cookie Jar: To help control stress-eating this holiday season, reach into the cookie jar. Just make sure that the jar is filled with...slips of paper with alternatives to eating.

Just make sure that the jar is filled with . . . slips of paper with alternatives to eating.

"In the heat of the moment, all you can usually think of is food," said registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall, director of Nutrition and Eating Behavior Programs at the Green Mountain spa in Ludlow, Vt. "These little slips of paper give you other paths to travel."

Write on each slip of paper an activity that can be done in place of eating. Hudnall suggests taking a 10-minute relaxation session or snooze, straightening out a drawer or closet, walking around the block or even taking a bubble bath. "The important thing is that people make these [activity choices] meaningful to them," she said.

Welcome to Week Five of the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge, the time when the season's parties, revelry and hectic schedules kick into even higher gear. Our goal is to help you maintain your weight during the holiday season. Both the fun and the stress of the weeks ahead prompt many to turn to food for celebration and comfort.

So the mission this week is to control stress-induced eating. And since we've already addressed the cookie-jar problem, here are some other ideas:

Be smart and sweet. Studies show that stress increases craving for sweets. So satisfy your sweet tooth with healthier alternatives. Good lower-impact choices that will still let in some holiday cheer include hot chocolate with a few marshmallows (hold the whipped cream), candy canes, meringues, ginger or ribbon candy or a cappuccino with some cocoa or cinnamon on top and a small biscotti.

Get a mouth workout. Sometimes it's not really the 10th Christmas cookie that you crave, but the pleasure of chomping. So go for texture: crunchy veggies with salsa or bean dip; pears with peanut butter; salty (unbuttered) popcorn; flavored rice cakes.

Take a break. Couple a small indulgence with a five-minute breather. "If you're just gobbling your way through another stressful task, you might as well just drink water because [eating] really won't help reduce stress levels," said Judith Wurtman, director of a women's health program at MIT and director of a small weight loss clinic in Boston. Step away from the stressful task by taking a brief quiet respite, flip through a magazine, listen to music or walk around the block. Anything that will help clear your head.

Boost fruit and veggies. They're healthy carbohydrates that not only have flavor but are low in calories and rich in fiber and water, which help keep you full. Try a Green Mountain specialty: "ants on a stick," a celery stalk filled with peanut or almond butter topped with a few raisins (or your favorite dried fruit).

Get enough rest. Skipping sleep not only decreases energy, which is already in short supply this time of year, but can also result in consumption of extra calories, according to several studies conducted at the University of Chicago by Eve Van Cauter and her colleagues. In one study of healthy, twenty-something men and women of normal weight, Van Cauter found that missing just one hour of sleep per night produced blood sugar and hormone levels of adults decades older. (Levels returned to normal with sleep.) In this month's Annals of Internal Medicine, the team reports that just two days of shortened sleep significantly increased appetite and hunger in a group of young, healthy-weight men.

Indulge in at least two servings of seafood this week. Seafood is loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart, your brain and your joints. Emerging research suggests that omega-3 fats may also help with mood, which certainly couldn't hurt your efforts to battle seasonal stress. Besides seafood, good sources include flaxseed, many types of beans, cantaloupe and nuts. Check out Page F2 for the latest report on fish oil supplements from Consumerlab.com.

Keep moving. Even if you can't carve out time for a regular workout this week, look for ways to incorporate lifestyle exercises (taking the stairs, walking to errands, doing housework, etc.). Research suggests that people who remain active throughout the day are more likely to maintain their weight than those who don't.

By the way, wrapping presents doesn't count as an aerobic activity, but a 140-pound person burns about 16 calories per 10 minutes doing it, according to the Web site www.caloriesperhour.com. Every little bit helps. •

Share Your Tips or ask questions about healthy nutrition and activity when Sally Squires hosts the Lean Plate Club online chat, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. today, on www.washingtonpost.com. Can't join live? E-mail leanplateclub@washpost.com anytime. On 11 a.m. Friday, join a special edition Lean Plate Club live audio web chat at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveonline/callins/squires/squires_audio.htm. To subscribe to the free LPC e-mail newsletter, visit www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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