This is not going to be your average holiday blog on how to make a healthy, low-calorie, festive feast. In fact, I tell my patients it’s perfectly fine to relax and enjoy a cookie or two this holiday season. While many of us are concerned with weight gain this time of year, the holiday meals are usually not the blame for those extra pounds. Weight gain is more related to our daily habits that we have surrounding the holiday festivities. Before you drastically cut calories and miss out on Nana’s famous apple pie, consider some of these unhealthy habits that could be affecting your metabolism.
#1 You’re skipping meals.
Missing a feeding (or going longer than 4 hours without eating) is a sure-fire way to slow down your metabolism. When you don’t feed your body often enough, it begins to feel deprived and starts working against you, rather than for you. I know it’s easy to skip meals for the sake of saving calories later on in the day, but unfortunately, this works at your disadvantage. Your body is more likely to store calories (both good and not-so-good calorie choices) with frequent meal skipping habits. For persons with pre-diabetes and diabetes, meal skipping actually worsens blood sugar control. Planning ahead is the best approach to assure you feed your body often enough. This is easily accomplished by packing your lunch the night before, throwing an extra protein bar in your purse or creating enough time in the morning routine to allow for a well-balanced breakfast. Don’t forget about the importance of eating regularly on the weekends and with traveling in addition to the routine of the workweek.
#2 Your breakfast is too high in carbs.
It’s no secret that America loves her carbs. In fact, when you walk down the “breakfast aisle” at the grocery store, carbohydrates are the only food source available: cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancake and waffle mixes, muffins, bagels, pastries, poptarts and granola. We even find ways to eat dessert for breakfast in the form of cinnamon rolls, donuts, coffee cakes, banana breads and believe it or not, most Greek yogurts have the same amount of sugar in them as a scoop of ice cream. Additional sources from carbohydrates in the AM can come from your juice, milk, fruit, syrup and jelly. Carbohydrates are not bad for you; however, consuming them in excessive amounts with your first meal tends to send your blood sugar and insulin levels on a rollercoaster ride for the remainder of the day. When your blood sugar and insulin levels hit a low point, your irritability tends to go up and guess what, you crave the very thing that will help those levels spike again…carbs and sugar.
#3 You drink too much caffeine.
Before you read any further, heed my advice that coffee is not bad for you! However, caffeine is a very powerful stimulant and can dull the body’s natural hunger cues. Suppressing one’s appetite with caffeine can lead to long periods of time without eating or even meal-skipping altogether. Finally, when you sit down to have a good meal in the evening, rather than use your food for fuel, your body is aggressively storing it as fat as a consequence to being deprived of nutrients throughout the day.
#4 Your snacks lack protein.
Some of the most common snack choices include crackers, chips, popcorn, granola bars, pretzels and desserts. While these foods may taste great, they offer little to no nutrient benefit once chewed and swallowed. They are all very poor sources of vitamins, minerals and protein. Their lack of protein specifically, will leave your hunger pains unsatisfied and not to mention, cause a sharp rise in your blood sugar and insulin levels from the excessive carbohydrate content. For more balanced snack choices, incorporate protein-rich foods such as eggs, meats, cheese, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butters or protein bars/shakes if desired.
#5. You’re skipping the weights at the gym.
Any form of exercise is better than no exercise, but strength-training specifically has the greatest potential for increasing one’s metabolism. Unlike cardio, lifting weights and even doing body weight exercises can stimulate both muscle retention and muscle growth. Your muscle is the wonderful calorie-burning blanket that wraps around your body. The higher your muscle mass percentage is, the more calories your body burns at rest.
Overindulging on food with family and friends on special occasions should not promote weeklong restrictive eating and guilt. It should be a time you look back and cherish with fond memories. I want you to be able to enjoy all the festivities this holiday season has to bring. Be consistent with your healthy habits and don’t be afraid to partake in some of the joyful delights this winter has to bring!