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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Healthy Holiday Eating: The Practical Way

GettyImages-495329828The holidays are HERE! We all know what happens around the holidays. I see two extremes in my practice as a Registered Dietitian:

  • The vicious cycle of dieting all year to lose the “holiday weight” or to get bloodwork back to normal after all the holiday meals. People accomplish their goals just in time for the holidays to start again—and gain back the weight and drive our doctors nuts with outrageous bloodwork again.
  • The person who is terrified to “lose all their progress,” brings their own “healthy” meal to the gathering, and completely avoids the yummy meal—even at the cost of social, mental, and emotional health. Let’s be honest: that behavior distances people socially, and not having Grandma’s famous pie is just sad. 

Honestly, both are unhealthy approaches and they are, frankly, unnecessary. Let me be real clear: what we do consistently over time is what has the greatest impact on our health, not what we do on one day, two days, or a couple holidays. We can break these cycles! You don’t have to gain weight or ruin your bloodwork over the holidays. You also do not have to bring your own “healthy” meal, avoid Grandma’s cooking, and face a socially awkward and sad situation.

There is a way to enjoy the holiday food with family and friends all while pursuing your health goals. Here are the action steps.

Be Active

Get up and moving. This can be as simple as taking a walk with family, going on a morning stroll before the gathering, walking the dog, or playing a game that has you up and moving (such as Wii, tag, Twister, or Simon says). You can also get in a quick 20–30-minute workout before all the festivities start that day, or wake up early to get in a full lifting session. Don’t overthink this; a short 20–30-minute workout with high intensity is very effective! (Here are some workouts you can do when traveling.)

Follow Your Eating Routine

Forget the “don’t eat anything to save calories for all the food tonight” method. That leads to a very hungry person, which makes overeating at the gathering much easier. Go about your morning as you normally would. Eat breakfast (if you eat breakfast). Have your typical snack and lunch. Fill up on fiber-rich sources, such as fruit and veggies, along with lean proteins. All these options will help fill you up and nourish your body. You will walk into the gathering satisfied and ready to eat your Grandma’s holiday meal.

Hydrate 

Be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of non-caloric fluids (mainly water) the days before, the day of, and the days after holiday gatherings. Liquids take up room in your stomach, meaning staying hydrated contributes to proper regulation of hunger/satiety cues. Again, this helps reduce overeating. Additionally, holiday foods tend to be high in sodium. You will want plenty of water to offset the negative effects that a high sodium intake has on your hydration status. Trust me, you will feel much better if you stay hydrated.

Eat the Holiday Meal

For heaven’s sake, do not bring your own meal, measuring cups, or scales to the gathering! Eat the holiday meal. Fill up your first plate with all your favorites—the ones that grandma and momma only cook once or twice a year. Be mindful of portion sizes. Then, if you want, go back for a second plate. For that plate, pick two or three more things that you want some more of. Take a portion of each and enjoy it.

Enjoy the Meal

Sit down with each plate. Take a nice deep breath. Start eating. Chew each bite thoroughly. Slow down your eating. Be present at each bite, soaking in all the yummy goodness of that home cooking. Don’t be afraid to pause between bites and converse with family around the table. This not only helps you enjoy family around you and to be present in that moment, but it also gives your body time to send you satiety cues. When we eat super-fast, we do not allow our body enough time to signal “I AM FULL.” Be present and listen to what your body is telling you.

Have a Conversation

During the meal, talk with your family and friends, even if you are the one having to initiate conversation. DO IT! Think about one of the true reasons for the season. Hint: it is not food and gifts. Sure, food is a huge part of it. But we gather to be with family and friends to celebrate our blessings, our year, and our religion, and to give thanks. Conversing really embraces what holidays are all about and shifts your focus to more than just the heap of food in front of you.

Eat Dessert

Find your favorite deserts and eat a serving. I promise, eating dessert will not derail your health goals. I’d argue this action will actually help your health goals because Grandma’s famous pie sure does positively contribute to mental and emotional health.

Get Right Back to Your Typical Regimen the Next Day

Wake up the next day and get back to your typical routine. Exercise as you normally would. Eat your normal meals and snacks. Honor your physical health with nutritious options. Sleep. Do this on the days you are not at a holiday gathering. Back to the idea of consistency, there are more non-holiday days than there are holiday days and gatherings. Be on your game and remain consistent during those weeks and days, knowing that another gathering full of food and fun is right around the corner. Repeat steps 1–7 during the next gathering.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating snacks holidays breakfast hydration Thanksgiving christmas meals emotional blood sugar dinner

Melatonin and Metabolism: How Sleep Affects Your Health

GettyImages-681814096One of the most critical things we do for our health is sleep. Without sufficient sleep, we risk impairing cognitive function, developing chronic diseases and mental disorders, and even an early death.

There’s a lot about sleep that remains a mystery to science, but what is known is that it plays a major role in consolidating memories, cleaning metabolites from the brain, and allowing the nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems to repair themselves. Good sleep is essential for our bodies to thrive, but 30 percent of employed adults have reported 6 or less hours of sleep per night, when the recommended amount is between 7 and 9 hours. Hormones directly involved in the sleep cycle also play a critical role in health, so it’s important to maintain a steady sleep schedule to prevent these hormones from becoming imbalanced. One of the hormones that plays a role in sleep is melatonin, and this blog will focus on its effects on sleep as well as metabolism.

The Physiology of Melatonin

The physiology of melatonin is a complex subject, and research to discover its mechanisms and effects is ongoing. However, I will explain some of the things we know to be true about melatonin and why it may be important for you.

Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland when it gets dark outside. When melatonin levels increase in the bloodstream, you begin to feel less alert and more sleepy. Although a major function of melatonin is to encourage sleep, it has a huge impact on metabolism. Some of the functions are these:

  • Regulates energy expenditure.
  • Potentiates various actions of insulin.
  • Regulates glycemia (blood glucose) and lipidemia (blood lipids).
  • Manages circadian synchronization of insulin secretion, synthesis, and action; hepatic (liver) metabolism; white adipose tissue metabolism; and skeletal muscle metabolism.
  • Regulates energy flow to and from storages.

That’s a lot of responsibility for one hormone. Whereas a lot of these functions are significant, what’s most important to understand is that melatonin balances energy expenditure by controlling the flow between energy stores. It has a direct impact on the browning of white adipose tissue, which is a way for the body to regulate body weight. This works because the function of brown adipose tissue is heat production by burning large amounts of calories. It also plays a major role in regulating glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. When melatonin levels are normal, all of these essential functions can be carried out.

Chronodisruption

Chronodisruption is what occurs when melatonin production is impaired. This can be due to illumination such as lights turned on inside when it’s nighttime, working the night shift, or aging. All of the functions listed above become disrupted and no longer work efficiently. This disorganization can lead to metabolic diseases and obesity.

The best thing to do if you think you may be experiencing chronodisruption is to talk to a doctor. They may encourage you to try melatonin-replacement therapy, because there have been some successes in various research studies, or help you find a healthier sleeping routine.

Top Takeaways About Sleep and Weight Management

Melatonin is a huge contributor to overall health and metabolism. If disrupted, your whole body can feel the consequences. It might seem like the most important thing to do for your health is healthy eating and exercise, but sleep may be at the top of the list. Without adequate sleep, our hormones lose balance, our mental capacity is reduced, and our overall health is negatively impacted.

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This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: metabolism weight management sleep obesity blood sugar hormones

Back Away from the Sugar: Making Better Nutrition Choices

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 5.16.05 PMEaster might be over, but the candy lingers. There is no escaping the colors of the sugary candy that is around every corner. From jelly beans to chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs, the temptations are endless and the calories are empty.

Too Much Sugar Is Harmful

Sugars are caloric, sweet-tasting compounds that occur widely in nature, including in fruits, vegetables, honey, and human and dairy milk. We are born with the desire or preference for sweet taste. The presence of lactose in breast milk helps ensure that this primary source of nutrition for infants is palatable and acceptable. Chemically and with respect to food, sugars are monosaccharide or disaccharide carbohydrates, which impact sweet taste. Most foods contain some of each.

Monosaccharide is a single molecular unit that is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. The most common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, galactose, and mannose.

Disaccharide is sugar containing two monosaccharides that are linked together, and which are broken down in the body into single sugars. The most common disaccharide is sucrose, which is also known as table sugar.

What Happens When You Eat Sugary Candy

When you consume Easter candy, you are getting a large dose of sugar. Whether it’s in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, it slams into your system like a bowling ball, and the effects are disastrous. Within the first 20 minutes or so, your blood-sugar level spikes as the sugar enters your bloodstream. It arrives there in the form of glucose, which is your body’s main source of energy. This sudden rise in blood glucose stimulates your pancreas to start pumping out large amounts of insulin, which is the hormone that helps your cells take in the available glucose. Some of this glucose is used instantly for energy, but the rest is stored as fat by insulin, to be used later.

Sugar is ok in moderation just be mindful, especially around the holidays when sugar is so easily accessible.

But the holidays alone aren’t the only times that we can allow these choices to creep in. Daily your efforts to eat well may be sidetracked by busy schedules, business dinners, birthday parties, evenings out with your friends, fundraising banquets, breakfast meetings, church dinners…the list goes on.

Alternatives for Healthy Eating and Celebrating

Here are some healthier alternatives. Don’t forget that you also have the option to meet with our Registered Dietitians on staff to help you get on the right path.

Let’s look at ways to enjoy Easter and not feel like you have to munch on carrots and lettuce the whole day. Alternatives to candy:

  • Very dark chocolate (choose some with very little sugar)
  • Nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole-grain crackers and pretzels
  • Cheeses
  • Popcorn

And start thinking about next Easter with these non-food ideas for kids’ Easter baskets:

  • Play dough
  • Balls
  • Jump ropes
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Crayons
  • Garden starter set
  • Butterfly habitat
  • Beading supplies
  • Swimming toys
  • Card games

The possibilities are honestly endless. It’s just a matter of taking the time to think healthier and smarter next Easter!

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss snacks holidays diabetes sugar blood sugar