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We’re just days away from Christmas and already in the heart of the holiday season. I wonder if it’s just me, but I’m feeling a particularly wonderful holiday spirit this year, and more than usual. I’m not sure why, but I’m feeling it from acquaintances, friends and strangers alike. The vibes are good, and people seem generally happy. That’s my perception anyway, and I’m gonna take that sleigh ride!

There are plenty of ways to experience the joys of the season like shopping, taking some rest and relaxation from work, getting together with family, traveling and putting in some spiritual time at our respective places of worship, but it also goes without saying… Christmas time is a fantastic time for food! That can be a really good thing, but if you’re like me, it can also cause some stress. That stress can come from the temptation of so many different and fun things to eat that we normally don’t indulge in during the rest of the year. And it’s not just the variety of foods; we’re also tempted by the abundance factor. Guilt also creeps in there when we allow ourselves to go overboard, and going overboard can have consequences such as upset stomachs, compromised immune systems and weight gain.

Speaking of weight gain, we’re in the midst of our most vulnerable time of year for putting on those unwanted extra pounds. If you want to look amazing and feel amazing, you certainly want to be aware of the potential pitfalls of the holiday abundance. Of course, you should also enjoy the season, so how do we manage both? Like most things in the life, the answer is balance.

PLAN AHEAD.

By planning ahead, you take control. Once you have a plan you will be able to allow yourself to let go, have fun, indulge in those wonderful treats that are synonymous with holiday joy, because you know in advance that you’ve set some reasonable limits. Just the simple act of creating a plan will help ease the stress that many of us face heading to a holiday party, letting you enjoy both the food and the company that much more. I call this a win-win. Now let’s get more specific and we’ll manage our holiday diets.

Don’t attend a party or a big festive meal while you’re ravenously hungry. With all those goodies, you’re setting yourself up to overeat. Before attending these events, have a salad, a piece of fruit, a handful of healthy nuts or seeds and a glass of water or two. This will go a long way toward hedging the that anxiously-dying-to-eat-everything-in-sight temptation.

What are the foods that will most contribute to weight gain, feeling bloated and uncomfortable?

1. Sugar:

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Sugary foods can be one of the toughest things to resist, especially this time of year. But we don’t have to deprive ourselves altogether, we just have to set some goals and stick with the plan we’ve committed to in advance. Here are some tips: pick the sweets you love most. If rum balls are your thing, go for it. Maybe it’s Christmas cookies or Aunt Katherine’s amazing pies and tarts, ok. Choose that holiday sweet or sweets that makes the holidays special for you… and set limits. Setting limits isn’t all that hard because you know yourself better than anyone and you know that for you, once you go beyond X number cookies, for example, you start to feel bad instead of good. So if you know this about yourself, decide ahead of time that you’re going to allow yourself to eat X amount of cookies and that includes one or two more than normal because these are the holidays after all. By giving yourself permission to indulge you’ll enjoy the treat even more and by setting reasonable limits you won’t feel guilty the next day.

2. Starches:

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Here’s another food group that can get you feeling puffy pretty quickly. Starches are everywhere at this time of year from stuffing to potatoes, breads, puddings cakes and crusts… they’re hard to avoid in holiday fare. But just like we discussed above, we can pinpoint the starches we simply must have to feel the holiday spirit, enjoy them while knowing in advance we’re setting limits… and voila!… the stress is gone, the joy is magnified, we’re feeling powerful and in control and we’re having the best Christmas time we’ve ever had!

3. Alcohol:

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For most of us, this wonderful indulgence is non-negotiable and the holidays offer so much variety. We’re certainly going to allow ourselves to partake a little extra here, but there are tricks to managing our drinking. First, be aware that alcohol is basically empty calories and once we get beyond a couple of drinks, we’re adding more calories than we want. Now that we know this, how about supplementing a healthy beverage or a glass of water in between those couple of drinks we’re going to have? Our thirst will be quenched while still allowing ourselves to indulge, but with a plan that we’re going to be more thoughtful than just drinking one after the other with no end in mind.

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The next part of the plan is to balance the extra indulgences with some delicious but healthy natural treats. The holidays are a great time to allow ourselves to stretch our budget and really get top quality foods. What I mean by that is to focus on the very best organic fruits and vegetables, the very best seasonal produce. For example, apples are still in season in many parts of the country and it’s been a particularly great year for this delicious and festive fruit. By stocking up on this and other fruits you’ll help keep a lid on your appetite without giving up flavor.

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Let’s carry this concept on to the vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, green beans… the list is huge in this category. If we plan to treat ourselves for the holidays by buying the very best produce we can find, it adds to the specialness of the menu and suddenly these healthy foods become festive. Have a salad or some raw vegetables before heading to that next holiday party and you’ll be less tempted to break your plan.

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And while we’re at it, how about planning some activities around the food? I personally don’t consider it Christmas without my traditional walk. I know after dinner I always love to get outside and walk through the neighborhood, say hello to fellow passersby, enjoy the decorated homes and breathe in some lovely fresh air. Looking forward to my walk keeps me from over indulging to the point where I feel bloated because I don’t want to miss out on this simple pleasure. How about engaging the whole family in this activity? “Hey everyone, let’s all go for a walk after dinner.. maybe sing a carole or two…” You just might have the Christmas time of your life. The exercise will be healthy, you’ll aid digestion and instead of feeling overly bloated and tired, you’ll feel invigorated, totally in the spirit of the season.

Now that the holiday festive eating is behind us, have you planned how to make up for the extra indulgence? Make this part of your plan so those extra pounds don't hang around. It’s as simple as this: prepare for a solid week or whatever timeline suits you, to plan on nothing but healthy meals, smaller meals, sticking to your workout regime, and maybe add an extra 15 minutes to your routine. You get the idea. Plan ahead knowing you’re not going to have to deal with any negatives due to some holiday joy!

However you manage your holiday diet, it all starts with a plan. By planning, you take control, you measure your actions and you attain your desired result. Looking and feeling amazing doesn’t occur by luck or by accident. It’s purposeful engagement… and you can do it. Please let me know if you try any of these tips and techniques. I’ve shared what has worked for me because I want you to have the very best Christmas, holiday season and New Year you’ve ever had.

Ho ho ho everyone… and happy returns!