Party (Mindfully) On!

I want you to party in style this holiday season, but we have to remember, not to party party! If we go overboard—and many people feel that the holidays are an excuse to do so—we can easily wreak havoc on our gut, immune system, cognitive function, blood sugars and waistline. So here are a few tips of the trade to hopefully help you make it through without the fuzzy brain feeling this December.

Tip #1 Choose only one of the 3 “C’s”

Cake, carbohydrate or cocktails.

Don’t choose all of them, but one of them. And cocktails don’t just include a mixed drink, but beer and wine as well.

Tip #2 Contribute a dish

Remember, if it’s there, you will eat it—and if it isn’t, you can’t. So bring a dish that you know is better for you to fill your plate with. I highly recommend some kind of non-starchy vegetable. In the winter, we typically prefer our non-starchy vegetables cooked, but they don’t have to be.

Tip #3 Practice mindful eating

Set your intention to feel better when you’re done than you did when you started, then eat with attention to your food and your body.

Think about how you want to enjoy the holiday. Then take yourself mentally through the food event. Imagine yourself enjoying the food and walking away when you are satisfied and not stuffed. It is quite miserable when you are stuffed: You don’t seem to enjoy the company or atmosphere as much. Plus, you typically end up falling asleep and not spending time with loved ones.

Tip #4 Use the Amazing Space Trick

As you fill your plate, maintain a little border of space between each food item, just enough so you can see some plate.

To test this, we made two plates with turkey, dressing, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and green beans. One was portioned how the average person in the United States plates their food, the other, according to the space trick. Guess how many calories were saved with the same types of food, but with space in between each food item: about 700 calories!

Tip #5 Have a response plan

Food is complicated, however the common ingredient in every person’s favorite comfort food is love. It’s the truth. There’s no substitute for thought and love and care. Not even time. So, when you eat a person’s food, they feel loved and so many times this can hinder your health goals.

As they say, “Why don’t you have more,” “There is plenty left” or “One bite isn’t going to hurt you”: Well, one bite or the second helping can. So be prepared with a few responses, such as “This is delicious, but I’m full” or “I’d love to take some leftovers” (they don’t have to know what you will do with the leftovers when you get home) or “No, thank you”—even if you have to repeat it.

Tip #6 Find something besides food to enjoy with family

One thing to remember is that children are no different from adults when it comes to overindulging during the holidays. Unlike adults, most children don’t have the understanding of how choosing a sugar cookie over broccoli can lead to weight gain. So, my personal goal for my family around the holidays is to get us out of the kitchen and enjoy other traditions together besides food.

Some other ideas may be to watch a holiday movie together, play board or card games, sing with a karaoke machine, play on a gaming system, moving around (soccer, a walk through the neighborhood, ice skating or a family tournament of Just Dance) or volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. Activities like this can make more lasting memories than a boat of gravy.

The bottom line is:

If you are practicing the healthful, mindful eating throughout the year and being physically active, then the holidays will simply be a celebration. Once the celebration is over, it’s back to the same routine. Have a safe and healthy holiday season!


Dealing with Holiday Grief

For many people, the holidays are a season of happiness, celebration, and family gatherings.  For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times. How can we celebrate a holiday while also mourning the loss of someone close to us?  Here are some tips for getting through the season for facing grief during the holiday season.

For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times.


Plan ahead:

Typically during the holidays, we can predict the days that will be most difficult for us.  Do your best to plan ahead; set aside some time alone if necessary or schedule your trip to the cemetery.  If you know certain parts of the holiday won’t be the same, create new traditions or incorporate times of remembrance.

Externalize your grief: has some positive ideas about how to mark the loss of a loved one.  Some of these ideas include lighting a candle or saying a prayer for the loved one before the holiday meal.  You may also choose to include others by having everyone share a positive memory or funny story about the person.

Take a break: also suggests cancelling the holiday.  The beauty of holidays is that they come back every year, so if you decide you need a year off from hosting Thanksgiving dinner or you are just not up for traveling this December, take some time off.  It is important to remember that any feeling shouldn’t remain stored up inside.  Choosing to cancel or postpone a holiday celebration is not selfish but rather a positive form of self-care.

It is important to remember that the holidays are a time of celebration but can also be a time of difficulty.  Be aware of your own feelings and also the feelings of others.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one who may be struggling this holiday season and be sure to take care of yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Brian Gazdziak, LCSW




Figge’s Favorite Things 2014 (Part 1)

Can you believe it is that time of year again? This is the first year that I did not participate in Black Friday shopping. I decided last year was going to be the last after seeing four car accidents on my short 10-mile drive to the mall; plus, shopping online was way more convenient and less stressful! Hopefully, you have already gotten a jump-start on your Christmas and holiday shopping, but in case you are still looking, here is a list full of gifts that will inspire health and wellness for 2015!

Figge’s Favorite Things 2014

  1. Spiralizer. This is one of the simplest ways to cut out processed foods from your diet. With a Spiralizer, you create fresh, low-carb and more nutritious dishes such as making noodles from zucchini or butternut squash instead of using pasta. The Spiralizer will help create fun textures that can jazz up old, boring dishes. For example, try Spiralizing some carrots and beets to add on top of salads.
  2. TRX Bands. Don’t have a gym membership or want to avoid the New Year’s gym crowds? You can create total body workouts that improve balance, core strength and challenge your muscles in ways you never have before. Traveling with them is super easy since they fold up tightly into a small cinch pouch.
  3. Emulsion Blender. This was one of my favorite gifts I received last year. With it, I make homemade salad dressings, mayonnaise and sauces. You can also use it to puree vegetables to add to sauces to increase nutritional value.
  4. Pocket Dietitian smartphone application. This app can help make day to day dietary decisions much easier for individuals with a combination of diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease (CKD). When someone has both diabetes and CKD, many dietary recommendations will contradict one another. Using the app will help guide individuals in their food choices and even provide recommended products that are suitable for their conditions.
  5. Banana Grams and Game of Things. These are by far two of my favorite games to play. Too often when we socialize, we do it around food and usually at a restaurant. Next time you want to gather the family or friends together, offer to host a game night where healthy treats can be prepared and abdominal workouts will occur from all the belly-laughs you’ll be having.

Figge’s Favorite Things PART ONE

Stay tuned next week to see 5 more of my favorite things! Happy shopping!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Many of us have Thanksgiving traditions that we look forward to year after year. Whether your traditions are football, telling stories or going to a movie as a family, I hope this Thanksgiving brings you good tidings, friendship, love and laughter! One of my family’s traditions is that we always play card games after our big meal and often go out to a movie.

I do not expect anyone to eat perfectly on Thanksgiving; that’s why I always try to promote some fun, physical activity to balance out some of those oh-so-good calories that we consume with our big meal. Here’s a fun playlist that you can create to participate in your favorite exercise. Whether it’s walking at a large store, on the treadmill, at the gym or dancing around your living room, this playlist will keep you motivated to keep moving every minute.

To go along with my family’s “game and movie theme,” each song is from a movie soundtrack;  TAKE THE QUIZ and see how many can you get right?

  1. “It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right” by Rob Base and DJ Easy Rock
  2. “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News
  3. “Jai Ho” by Pussycat Dolls
  4. “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
  5. “Dude Looks Like a Lady” Aerosmith
  6. “What is Love” by Haddaway
  7. “Old Time Rock n Roll” by Bob Seger
  8. “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley vs JXL (remix)
  9. “Do You Love Me” by The Contours
  10. “What I’ve Done” by Linkin Park
  11. “Right Round” by Flo Rida
  12. “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins
  13. “King of Wishful Thinking” by Go West
  14. “Send Me on My Way” by Rusted Root



Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

One of the most common questions I hear this time of year is “How do I prevent weight gain over the holidays?” The “weight gain season” is typically associated with the time period from Thanksgiving—New Year’s. The answer is rather simple but for many, difficult to achieve. You must better balance the calories you consume with the calories you burn. This misbalance of calories occurs year after year for several reasons.Holiday weight gain

1) During the colder months, people tend to become less active. Weight gain can occur if you are not burning extra calories through exercise yet continue to eat the same amount of calories as before.

2) People also tend to consume more calories, primarily from rich, high-calorie and high-carbohydrate menu items that are associated with the winter months and holidays such as casseroles, spaghetti, mashed potatoes, dressing and sweets.

3) With the holiday season comes increased social interactions and more opportunities for non-homeostatic eating to occur. What this basically means is that we are more likely to eat in the absence of hunger in social settings. Think about the last party you went to and how much grazing on appetizers and desserts occurred while deep in conversation with friends or family.

Year after year, this pattern of decreased activity and increased caloric intake can attribute to weight gain over the lifetime. In fact, many studies have shown that more weight is gained over the holiday season (mid-November through mid-January) over any other time during the year. Researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 52% of annual weight gain occurs over the holiday 6-week period (just 12% of the year).

The next most common question I hear is, “What are some low-fat or low-calorie desserts I can make?” Yes, I completely agree that desserts are a source of unneeded calories, but this is where I side differently than other health professionals in my field. As a sugar-aholic myself, I don’t like my desserts to be messed with; I love them for all their high-sugar, high-calorie glory! Thanksgiving is the one time every year that I get my Aunt’s apple pie. But this is where I understand my habits are different than others; I do have the discipline to turn down some desserts and then allow myself to indulge in others. Plus, I do not believe that replacing more natural ingredients with chemicals (mainly sugar-substitutes) makes a dessert any healthier for you (other than the fact that it may be lower in calories than the original version). This sets the tone of why my holiday eating advice targets balancing calories better rather than finding low-calorie substitutes for holiday favorites.*

  • Don’t skip meals. Many of us will often skip a meal or two in efforts to balance out calories consumed at a holiday meal/social gathering. Skipping meals can trigger your metabolism to slow down and can throw off your hunger/satiety hormones. This can lead to excessive eating and eating beyond the point of actually feeling full.
  • Do choose lower calorie menu items more often. For breakfast on days I know I will be going to a holiday party, I make a big veggie omelet. The protein and fat from the eggs help keep me full between my meals and the veggies help fill me up without adding a ton of calories.
  • Put your appetizers on a plate. Often we converse around the appetizer and dessert displays. When you’re lost in conversation you often mindlessly munch on the food in front of you and may find yourself thinking, “is this my 5th or 9th chocolate covered pretzel I’ve consumed?” Putting your food on a small plate can help you better track how much you have munched on.
  • Make exercise a priority. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often sacrifice our workouts for shopping and social occasions. If you don’t have a gym membership, purchasing some home equipment is a great investment in your health. If this is out of your budget, then take advantage of walking at the mall or large department stores such as Menards, Lowe’s or even Walmart.
  • Focus on quality. Have you ever consumed a menu item or dessert that really didn’t taste that good but you finished it anyway? To avoid feelings of guilt after eating poor-tasting foods, focus on the flavors of your food. This happens a lot with desserts for me. If after one bite, the flavors just aren’t working out for you, then immediately throw the rest away or cover with a small napkin if you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

*These tips are geared toward the general population. For individuals with specific conditions, it is medically necessary to control sugar and nutrient intake with holiday selections.

For more detailed information on overeating check out this video by Dr. Stephan Guyenet: 



Turning New Year’s Resolutions into Habits

photo  (c) simon battensbyWhen cleaning out my Mom’s basement, I came across some old arts and crafts that I had made over the years. One particular project caught my eye and immediately brought back some humorous memories of myself. It was my 6th grade New Year’s resolution project. It was a picture of a top hat that read: Amanda Novy, Age 12. New Year’s Resolution: I want a six-pack.

My dedication to my goal lasted about 6 weeks. Three times a week, I would do Denise Austin’s Hit the Spot Abs. Frustrated with my hard work and less than desirable results, I put the videos away where they most likely haven’t been viewed since.

There were several reasons why my resolution did not stick:

1) One cannot spot treat a specific muscle group and expect dramatic results. I used to teach a 30 minute abs class 2x/week in college and even then, did not achieve the desired six-pack. A stronger core is developed by performing a variety of core stabilization and strength exercises that require core activation such as the plank, push-up and squat varieties. Your stomach region is also greatly influenced by diet.

2) My goal was not specific enough. Having too broad of a goal or setting a goal too far away can lead to a quick burnout. For example, it is much better to set a goal of losing 4 pounds every month versus a goal of losing 50 pounds in one year.

3) I threw in the towel too soon. Sometimes, our first method to achieve our goal may not have been the best. One’s current habits can also influence the time frame it takes to achieve a goal. For example, it is much easier for someone who has been sedentary for the past year to lose 5 pounds than it is for the avid 5-day-a-week gym goer.

And I’ll also point out that this was a pretty ridiculous goal for a 12-year-old to have in the first place.

Year 4~Day 216 +187/365 AND Day 1312: Working ...In order to form a good habit or break a bad one, you need to allow enough time to adjust to your new routine. Most habits can stick as a lifestyle when it has been repeated for 21-28 days.

When my husband and I decided that we were going to go to the 6am Crossfit class, it took a little while to get use to that early alarm clock. There were many mornings where I wanted to just snooze my alarm and fall back asleep, but I had my husband there to help me hold myself accountable. After two-three weeks of our early morning routine, my sleep schedule had adjusted quite nicely. Never in a million years did I see both my husband and myself working out side by side before sunrise.

We cheer each other on, witness one another achieve strength gains and personal records and have formed a great health habit that we can do together. Having a partner or a “buddy system” is another great tool one can have when needing help sticking to a healthier lifestyle habit.