Ho Ho Holy Moly That's A Lot of Food

A holiday message from Coach Tonda...

Yup, it’s Christmas time again, and there goes most exercise programs, and eating regimens until a new resolution is made January 1, with the possibility of sticking to it, or not...


Here’s a novel idea – what if we don’t treat holiday seasons as an anomaly, and just enjoy it!  There is no rule that says we have to skip exercise and eat way too much of everything just because it’s the end of the calendar year!


Okay, I get it, going to the gym versus going to a Christmas party; well party’s going to win every time.  So what?  Find another time to go to the gym, or at least go as often as your schedule permits.  If you have been going regularly, it probably won’t mean missing a whole bunch, or maybe do something a little different for the month of December, like group fitness classes (yes, gentlemen, there are fitness classes that would challenge you as well – it’s not all just for ladies).  Consider body-pump style classes for resistance and interval cardio classes (no more than twice a week!) for fat burning instead of your regular routine.  They are, at least, efficient! And remember, we can do 1/3 of our regular exercise and still maintain our current fitness level. One month of a change in activity won't change or undo all your hard work.


But the big thing is – FOOD!!  And lots of it!!  Okay, I get that too.  But here’s a funny thing – just because it’s Christmas (or any holiday, for that matter) it doesn’t mean that food suddenly has some different value or quality.  Turkey is still an excellent source of protein, vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, yams, salad are all still highly nutritious fibrous vegetables.  Potatoes are still an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for replenishing used up energy in your muscles.  Gravy is, well, really freaking yummy!!  See what I did there?  If you don’t see what I did there, let me fill you in: I’m an 80/20 nutritionist.  That means that as long as what you do 80% of the time is a better or best choice, the other 20% can be for some other less adult reason – like fun; or holidays.


Here’s an example: Turkey, veggies, salad, potatoes, yams are all good food.  80% of your plate can be those things.  Dressing and dessert can be 20% of that meal.  Get this: that is one-fifth of that meal!!


Let’s expand that a bit, because, yeah, chocolates, cookies, yada yada, Christmas.  So we can look at the 80/20 being over the course of the day instead of just one meal.  Have a quality breakfast, like maybe an omelet with some veggies in it.  I like green onions, peppers, mushrooms and a little bit of grated raw cheese.  About cheese – it doesn’t have to be a ton – think of it as an herb; just enough to change the taste or texture.  Or, a protein smoothie with some fruit and/or veggies like kale or spinach, ground flax or hemp seed could be a good choice with the prerequisite protein, carbs, fat and fibre.  I’m a huge fan of porridge, I just add some chopped nuts or some seeds like sunflower or pumpkin to it before I eat it for complete protein.


One advantage to having a decent breakfast is it will help to control your hunger over the course of the day.  So when you go to the afternoon Christmas social or the boss brought chocolates and cookies to work for everyone to share, you won’t be attacking the plate like some starving rabid wild person threatening to bite the arm off anyone who gets in your way.  Likewise lunch – maybe a nice salad or a veggie wrap with some chicken, salmon, or tuna as a choice so whatever else you run into that day gets to be fun!!


If you are hosting a party, in addition to the usual Christmas fare, ensure there are some healthier options such as a veggie tray, legume or quinoa salad side dishes, fresh fruit tray, etc.  If you are attending a party, ask the host if there is anything you can bring and suggest it be something like a bean salad or the others mentioned above.  I come back to the bean salads because legumes have a unique property when eating with foods high in saturated fats, their fibre soaks up much of that fat in the gut and will carry it out with the waste instead of allowing it to absorb into the blood stream and, from there, the fat cells.


Let’s pause for a sec and talk about that, because that is probably the biggest concern over the holidays – fat.  While we need fat in our bodies, an over-abundance particularly of saturated fats is the culprit for increasing the size of the fat cells on our bodies.  Fat cells are storage tanks for fat (go figure!) and they are really good at doing that!  They have a 93% efficiency rate at storing fat.  They see saturated fat and just suck it right up, no effort at all!!  Regular chocolate products and cookies are made with quite large amounts of saturated fat – palm oil in chocolate and butter in cookies.  Not that saturated fat is terrible in smaller amounts, but, hey, it’s Christmas – nothing happens in small amounts, right?  So part of it is watching the amount we consume, portions are important in this case, and eating foods that minimize the impact, such as vegetables, certain fruits, and legumes.


I know, I know, carbs yada yada, Christmas.  Well, here’s the trick.  Intermediate carbs such as starches (you know, pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, crackers, all the fun stuff) are not readily stored as fat.  Whaaaat??? No, really, fat cells are lazy and that’s the last thing they want to have to do – put out a ton of energy converting a non-fat source of calories to fat.  These carbs are stored within the muscle cells as glycogen so that you will have ready energy for activity.  Now here’s the incentive: if you continue at least some semblance of your exercise program, you will empty those glycogen storage tanks regularly.  The starches you eat will then mostly be used to replenish glycogen stores both in the muscles and in the liver.  It’s only when we aren’t active that starch will tend to store as fat because there is no room left in the glycogen tanks – they might still have pasta and garlic bread from September sitting in there!  There’s nowhere else for it to go!


Desserts.   There I said it!  No way is there going to be Christmas dinner without dessert.   So consider some less-impactful options.  Fruit pie is a better option than cream pie, but there is a fair bit of sugar, so again, portion.  Possibly find healthier dessert choices, like fresh fruit (with whipped cream or ice cream of course – it can’t be ALL good!  It’s the holidays for goodness sake!)  For the sugar, if you are making your own pie, use an alternative like honey, maple syrup, guava or berry-sugar fructose instead of table sugar (sucrose).  They are sweeter than sugar, so less can be used to achieve the same effect.


And while some folks love to vilify fruit, there are some real benefits to including certain fruit to meals in general.  I come from a European background, German for the most part, and I just recently came to understand why fruit was included with some proteins.  With turkey we serve cranberries, with pork we serve applesauce, peaches, or pineapple.  And there was plum pudding!  These fruits, mainly tree fruits and berries, contain a similar fibre to legumes in the sense that they absorb saturated fat from the meal and minimize the impact of them on the body, especially when we consume large amounts (ie more than we would actually need).  Pineapple is unique in that it contains an enzyme called bromelain which helps digest proteins and fats more efficiently.  If you’re having a Christmas ham, those pineapple rings and clove buds are a natural and tasty addition!!  Include pineapple in your fresh fruit tray – just sayin’.  Papaya has a similar enzyme called papain and is really good in a fresh salsa – more on that in a couple of paragraphs.


Making sure that you get your balance, protein, carbs, fat, and fibre during the meals you can control will help to reduce the overall amount or at least effect that holiday foods will have on your body.  Protein, fibre and fat slow the release of food from the stomach so you feel full longer and are less likely to overeat when faced with the holiday fare.  Even if you are eating at a restaurant, you can ask for alterations on the meal to make way for the dessert if necessary.  Maybe have extra veggies or salad with the meal to prepare for the cookies you might have as your starch after – I’m not kidding!!


Snack foods at parties are often chips and dip, chocolate, etc.  Possibly instead of the chips, maybe a baked Chex mix, or pretzels (you can still dip ‘em), baked crackers with a healthier topping like lox, bison sausage, turkey pepperoni and some veggie – asparagus, celery, cauliflower, etc.  I found some AMAZING bison kielbasa at the Crossroads Flea Market in Calgary recently!!  Instead of all creamy dips, have some salsa as well – all veggie (sometimes fruit)!!  It can be a cooked salsa or a raw pico de gallo a.k.a. salsa fresco.  The uncooked are way easier, you just need a food processor.


Salsas are pretty easy to make, try allrecipes.com for some ideas.  It’s a great website to find variations of the bean and/or quinoa salads mentioned earlier, too!  Or, if that’s too much work, just buy ‘em!  Costco has a decent bean salad and Planet Organic makes a beautiful quinoa, hazelnut and cranberry salad – kind of Christmassy!


And that reminds me – this mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes as a ‘low carb’ side dish?  CAULIFLOWER IS STILL CARBS!  Yes, it’s more fibrous less starchy, I’ll give you that, but that’s where the salad and Brussels sprouts etc. come in.  Have the dang potatoes – can’t guarantee what gravy tastes like on cauliflower…

To all of you!  “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!” (The Night Before Christmas)


-Contact Coach Tonda at naturality@shaw.ca with your comments or questions. 


Andrea ThatcherComment