Enjoy Holiday Feasting without Letting Yourself Go

Tonight you might be scarfing down swedish meatballs and several helpings of Auntie Mae’s special brownies, but come January 1st you’re getting a membership and losing 10 pounds. Afterall “Tomorrow is another day.”

So yes, at every party you’re going to help yourself to another glass of eggnog with an extra helping of sugar cookies. Already you’ve committed to a gym membership, a carb-free diet and a guaranteed horrible time working out to strip the extra holiday weight from your body. Isn’t that how every American starts their new year?

Maybe most of us succumb to gaining weight every Christmas more than we have to.  ‘Tis the season. But before facing the holidays feeling totally powerless to maintain some kind of restraint, or healthy mindset rather, when faced with a never-ending Christmas smorgasbord, here are a few suggestions to approaching Christmas and New Years celebrations without completely losing yourself.... (or gaining another self, rather.)

1.Eat when you’re hungry -

I know - groundbreaking. While it sounds like a obvious idea, those who actually eat 3 meals a day or more (snacks don’t hurt) are probably the minority. By eating before you’re famished you’re more likely to savor, choose wisely and actually enjoy your meals.

Some of us girls like to micro-manage the way we eat and for most guys it’s just convenient to skip a meal if you know there’s going to be free food in 3 hours. Overall there’s this idea that by skimping on breakfast or keeping lunch to a minimum of a bowl of salad, we’re somehow leaving room for a third helping of pecan pie later tonight. Trouble there is, you can’t really outsmart your gut. So try listening to it. Eat when you’re hungry, which is probably more often than not. Stop when you’re satisfied. Simple.

2. Don’t save the gym for Jan. 1st.

An effective workout doesn’t have to be a P90x sweat session with Tony Horton everyday (thank God!)You don’t need a trainer or gym membership to stay active through the next week. In 20 minutes you can get a decent workout at home on days when you’re crunched for time, though 30 - 60 is always ideal. Recently I’ve enjoyed short cardio circuit sessions by James Duigan. Wait til you get to the “burpee” on the link below and 20 minutes will be more than enough.

Here are some ideas for simple & quick workouts -

3. Forget about deprivation & diets

I can’t count the number of holidays I’ve faced thinking, “Ok, after vacation I’ll nix this and that and feel better.” I’ve done the whole no sugar, dairy, processed foods cleanse thing a handful of times and while there are endless benefits to this, the aftermath of supressing every urge for chocolate or cookies can get you in more of a mess than where you first began. You don’t have to be a certified nutritionist to grasp the idea of  healthy eating. Just keep it simple. Plenty of greens, lean proteins, fruits, whole grains, nuts and learn to moderate sweets and processed foods. Enjoy a variety. Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be.

Why is it that Americans revel in the extremes of holiday weight gain? The reason most of us continually fail or backtrack during these weeks is more connected with our train of thought than anything else. You can enjoy the holidays, those special brownies and a healthy lifestyle. Give yourself a Merry Christmas and don't give yourself up so easily this year.

On sweets and such...

Nearly every day I eat something sweet. Whether it be homemade cookies, Newman’s oreos or ghirradelli 60% chocolate chips straight from the bag (mmmm so good) - I enjoy my sweets. Granted anyone that knows me knows I don’t eat birthday cake every time it’s offered. I’ve got a sweet tooth, but it’s a picky sweet tooth for sure. I like real dark chocolate, organic cookies and only certain desserts that I know can’t be missed - like my mom’s homemade hot fudge sundaes or cran-apple pie.

In college I was that weird girl who decided I would only eat sweets on certain days. It worked for a while, I stayed on track eating healthy throughout my week and getting plenty of sleep and looked forward to sugar-loaded weekends. But this odd habit certainly didn’t end well. Needless to say my ravenous cravings got the best of me. I kinda forgot what nourishment felt like cause I was so focused on keeping room for dessert. It was a ridiculous cycle, hopping from salads and bland meals to nightly snacks or basically a bowlful of sugar, that eventually did me in. Maybe it was just my own distorted view of health, but for some reason in our American culture depravity equals discipline (at least where food is concerned.) If it's bad for you, it must taste good. If it’s good for you, it must taste bad. While I can’t nail down why we correlate being healthy with being deprived it for sure messed with my head for many years.

For some time I considered myself disciplined. I was rigid and painfully structured in what I ate. This may sound contorted. That's because it was.  My self-inflicted deprivation soon became a downward spiral of hunger and overindulgence. Habits like veganism, sugar-free diets, or forgoing bread & dairy may all be lofty goals. If it's due to personal convictions that's commendable, but if it’s for the sake of weight-loss or perfection it just doesn't end well. I don’t condone healthy habits, I certainly have some that I stick with because otherwise I know I’ll feel like crap. But sometimes we become so rigid in these mindsets of “discipline” we think the more we deplete ourselves of the less we’ll struggle with. It’s funny to me how America tries to improve everything. All the enhanced, enriched and fortified foods in our groceries can be just as counterproductive as deprivation.

We all try way too hard. I didn’t understand this until after two enlightening moments concerning my health. The first I will completely changed my view of food. It was the summer after ending college I found a book called Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too by chef Melissa Kelly. The book came out shortly after Mireilli Guiliano’s French Women Don’t get Fat became a bestseller. Melissa Kelly, a naturally thin Italian chef (and a James Beard Foundation Award Winner) enlightened me with her sensible approach to food. This book awakened an unanticipated passion for cooking. It was my own food revolution. I fell in love with herbs and spices I didn’t even know existed. I discovered greek yogurt, realizing I never knew what real yogurt tasted like. Dishes like Caponata (a roasted vegetable dish) , seared salmon, bruschetta with fresh mozzarella and real fresh homemade hummus awakened my tasted buds. Real food. I didn’t know it could be so satisfying. Melissa Kelly’s idea of small meals throughout the day, savoring like a true european gave me a new perspective of mindful eating. I ran with the love for cooking and definitely have further developed an understanding of healthy eating since. Certainly I’ve stumbled off track here and there. Sometimes due to relationships, which consisted of frozen pizzas and late nights at Chili’s, that I’m happy to say are behind me. Now the world full of healthy foodies is an encouragement that I’m not the only weirdo who loves a cookie so nutritious you could eat it for breakfast. Melissa Kelly’s book is the first of many cookbooks I gawk over, yet some of her recipes remain staples in my kitchen. One that is a special recipe is her Almond biscotti that I make for my dad every Christmas, and for everyone else that steals them from the cookie jar. The holidays may be over but I’ll bake it for him anyhow. In my opinion my Dad deserves Christmas ever day.

Fig and Almond Biscotti

recipe adapted from chef Melissa Kelly
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
3 eggs
3 egg yolks (reserve egg whites)
1 teaspoon almond extract
7 ounces whole almonds
1/2 cup of  chopped dried figs
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and orange zest. In another  large bowl mix the eggs, egg yolks and almond extract together. Mix with a fork or whisk and then stir in the almonds and chopped figs.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir in with a wooden spoon until the dough forms. Make sure not to overmix.
On a large baking sheet for 2 loaves of dough, approximately 4 x 10 inches. Bake for 20 minutes or lightly golden on top. Let the loaves cool and then slice the loaves into 1/2 inch slices.
Bring the temperature down to 300 degrees F. Lay the slices with the sides up, back onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until crispy golden and dry. Or until it's as hard as a rock like I'll be baking them - how my dad prefers them.
Great for dipping in coffee.
Caution when biting - teeth may break. Good thing my Dad's teeth are hard as rocks.