It seems to happen every holiday season: Somewhere between the punch bowls, crowded malls, and head-spinning schedules, your blood pressure becomes higher and your pants, tighter.
In fact, most people gain some poundage over the winter months, according to one New England Journal of Medicine study.
"The holidays (or as I affectionately call them, "the holiDAZE") become a perfect trifecta of issues that can result in compromised health and weight gain come January," says dietician Ashley Koff, RD, author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged and the voice behind Ashley Koff RD Approved. "There's a lot more to do (gifts to buy, cards to write, parties to plan and attend, outfits to put together, etc.)--and actually less time to do it in (the days are getting shorter and darker, signaling to our bodies that we should be going to bed earlier). Plus, during the holiDAZE, family, friends, and colleagues cause emotions to run high (and low), which can be a trigger for looking to food to do something other than provide nutrient support (emotional eating)."
If you think those sugary splurges affect only your waistline, it's time to also think about your noggin. Rich, fatty foods can physically alter your brain, according to one study in the International Journal of Obesity. Researchers from the University of Montreal found that high-fat diets cause chemical reactions in the brain in a similar way to illicit drugs, ultimately leading to physical changes in brain composition, an increase in stress hormones, and depression.
It doesn't have to be that way! Make your holidays a little less stressful--and sinful--this year with Koff's stress- and fat-fighting advice:
Plan Things Out
Are you Type A? You are going to love this. "Planning is probably your best ally during the holidays. Setting aside time for sleep, for exercise, and also planning out what your week will look like food-wise," Koff says. "Not every day can be a holiday and you will do better if you don't pair several days of indulging in a row but rather plan out your routine and have it include some indulgences."
Think Quality, Not Just Quantity
Health is about more than calories, says Koff, a proud Qualitarian. Her recommendation: Focus on eating quality foods. "Pass on the turkey if it's not antibiotic-free; skip the cookies if they are covered in artificial dyes, etc. But to avoid feeling deprived, make sure you have the better quality options available by a) bringing them (what host doesn't want you to contribute to the meal to lessen their workload?!) b) having something at home or at the office that you will look forward to if you make the better choice and skip the poor quality one c) think of non-food rewards (holiday massage!!)."
Party with Produce
"Fruits and vegetables are your body's cleanup crew," says Koff. They rid the body of free radicals that lead to inflammation, stress, and weight gain. So, especially during the holidays, make sure you get your antioxidants. One easy way: Drink water with lemon throughout the day. It'll give you a one-two punch of digestion-aiding nutrients and hydration.
Eat Happy Foods
Turn any frown upside down with foods rich in magnesium. The nutrient helps reduce cortisol levels and the effects of stress, such as sleeplessness, weight gain, and headaches. The best part: Cacao is one of the richest sources of magnesium around. Opt for bars with at least 70 percent cacao. You'll get more nutrients, less sugar--and chocolate. That's a win. Koff advises supplemental magnesium for most.
Budget Your Booze
"Alcohol tends to be involved--more often and more quantity--during the holidays, which impacts the quality of our sleep as well as the ability to make better quality and quantity food choices, and of course the alcohol itself adds calories," Koff says. Plus, according to research in Alcohol & Alcoholism, just three boozy bevvies can slash your body's level of the feel-full hormone leptin by 30 percent, making post-drink cravings pretty darn likely. Luckily, that doesn't mean you have to be a total teetotaler. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that moderate alcohol consumption (the key word being moderate, aka a glass a day in women) can lead to a longer life.
Balance Things Out
"Menopausal women need to really focus on nutrient balance (carbs, protein, fats, and vegetables) so not overdoing or forgetting any one nutrient. A good rule of thumb is about 15 grams of carb max per eating occasion (about every three hours)," says Koff, who also recommends supplementing your diet with hemp. Hemp seeds and oil pack GLA, an essential fatty acid that is vital to hormone balance, especially during menopause.
If you want to fight menopausal weight gain, the holidays are the perfect time to start! Not only will your scale stay on your good side, but you'll also slash stress and be able to enjoy the holidays' finer things: family, friends, and health! Happy holidays, indeed!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
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Ellen Dolgen is an outspoken women's health and wellness advocate, menopause awareness expert, author, and speaker.
After struggling through the silence that surrounds menopause, Ellen resolved to help women reach out and end the confusion, embarrassment, and less-than-lovely symptoms that come with "the change." Her passion to be a "sister" to all women fueled Ellen's book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of her women's wellness journey, and in response to the overwhelming thirst of her ever-expanding audience for empowering information, Ellen's weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM was born.
Menopause MondaysTM allows Ellen an expansive platform from which she broadens her discussion of menopause, women's health, and life as a menopausal (and fabulous!) woman. Her weekly Menopause News Flash provides a one-stop shop for the latest menopause and women's health news and research, allowing women the access and know-how needed to take charge of their health and happiness. In addition to Ellen's ever-growing social media presence, EllenDolgen.com has fast become "the place" on the web for informative and entertaining women's menopause and wellness engagement. Ellen is #1 on Dr. Oz Sharecare.com Top 10 Social HealthMakers on Menopause. In 2012 and 2013 EllenDolgen.com was named first on the list of the "Best Menopause Blogs" by Healthline. Ellen is also a regular contributor to over a dozen leading women's health blogs. Her motto is: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Ellen has appeared on the "TODAY Show," "NBC Nightly News", the "Rachael Ray Show," "The Doctors," Oprah Radio, Playboy Radio, NPR's "Tell Me More," Doctor Radio, and dozens of regional and national media outlets. In 2011 she appeared in a sold-out, San Diego production of "The Vagina Monologues." Ellen was one of the first regular contributors to debut on The Huffington Post's, Huff/Post50, which targets 116 million Americans over the age of 50.