Holiday eating strategies: 8 ways to maintain your figure over the holidays

The temperature is dropping and the parties are starting. This might just be why everyone starts to attempt to lose weight in January.

I managed to lose body fat over last fall and kept it off over the holidays. 6 major parties in December didn’t ruin my hard-earned work. Here are 8 holiday eating strategies I discovered that helped me keep it off.

1)   Control your insulin

I lost the weight with a low glycemic impact program, and it naturally stuck with me.

Here’s the catch: low glycemic impact diet is the least hormone-wrecking diet you can follow. If you have issues with insulin (an obvious sign is that you tend to accumulate fat around your tummy), it is wise to follow eat low glycemic impact to get your insulin in check.

It is more forgiving to have that gobble of fat when your insulin isn’t spiking, like when you just have that glass of coke.

One amusing aspect of low glycemic is that the actual glycemic impact of what you are eating depends on the content of your stomach. So, if you wind up eating a high glycemic impact item (e.g. cakes, rice, very ripe fruits, ice cream), it is wise to cut down the impact with some protein, fat and fiber. Never eat desserts or drink anything with sugar (juice included, even 100%) on empty stomach.

Oh, and remember one fact, dairy may spike your insulin at whatever state it is.

2)   Resistance training and high intensity interval training

When you do resistant training, a few things happen in your body that use energy in a not-so-obvious ways. That’s especially the case if you are a beginner.

Firstly, your nervous, structural and respiratory systems have to adapt. For example, you build more neuronal connections with your muscles. Secondly, you create energy deficit from destroying your muscles during your training sessions. Those processes are more energetically costly than those numbers you see on the elliptical machines. Last but not least, when you follow a well-planned, well-periodized program (and that doesn’t mean complicated) with proper recovery, you build and retain muscle mass.

Muscle burns more calories and they make you look smaller at the same weight. You will also be stronger and feel like a superhero.

Muscle makes more room for glycogen, reducing your odds of storing excess energy as fat. The 2 fold effects is that 1) when you eat a lot of food (especially carbs) after your workouts, your muscles look more full as opposed to your belly, or tummy, or thighs.

There are many breeds of resistant training, as I just learned. The best ones for this purpose is perhaps the high volume bodybuilding style training, density training and lactic acid training.

I would define HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) as cardio intervals so hard that you feel like your lungs would explode at the end of each interval. Repeat 10 times. Well, that’s how I do it. But I would warn you that you should not be working out that hard if you have never done it, are de-conditioned or have lots of risk factors for heard diseases.

The thing with HIIT is similar to weight lifting. You burn more calories by 1) creating energy debt by using anaerobic respiration during your exercise and 2) forcing your body to adapt to the torture, so you feel less like a torture next time you do the same thing.

Remember, adaptation takes calories, too.

And you don’t need lots of time, either. I was a cardio queen with extraordinary endurance. I swam 60 laps in the pool with no rest and biked 70 km/day. But boy, just one Tabata workout that took 4 min made my lungs feel like they would explode by the end of the 2nd minute.

3)   You may want to eat what you don’t normally eat, but don’t eat to the point of discomfort.

Your body has a natural barometer for measuring how much you should be eating. Try not to override it.

We evolved to eat natural, unprocessed foods from the wild, not chocolate cakes, stuffing and sausages.

So, it’s best to focus on the least processed foods or what you can recognize in its natural state. The rest of it, eat it only when it’s really worthwhile, make it a real treat.

And don’t eat to the point that makes you suffer. Who likes food coma, anyway?

4)   Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is the practice of stopping eating for a period of time, and then eating again. More and more fitness figures are practicing this.

It might sound kinda crazy, like, “whoa, aren’t you gonna lose your muscles?”

I have seen too many bodybuilders do this to worry about that.

A simple rationale is that, the morning after the party, I would usually not feel like any food if I had my good share of party foods. It feels gross. And the last thing I would feel like doing is to eat.

So when that happens, it’s the body telling you that it has enough foods in the system to last for a while, that you don’t need to eat right then. You may be tired because your body still takes energy to digest the food, deal with new food allergens in the body, or clear out the alcohol. It’s telling you that it has enough work to do with foods.

So what I do is, I skip a day of foods and maybe even workout before I eat again. I make sure the first meal after the fast is full of protein and veggies, with very little carbohydrates. Also, eating less than 3 square meals a day is perfectly fine if you are attending a dinner party that day.

5)   Supplements

I take my CORE supplement before carb-heavy or beer-heavy parties. It’s my security blanket with no side effects. It has the natural carbohydrate absorption inhibitor from white kidney bean, chromium that helps with insulin sensitivity, and leptin support herbs that reduce my appetite. This combination helps blunt the blow and reduce the odds of an endomorphic gal like me storing things as fat.

And if you happen to be eating lots of potatoes, breads, pasta and sweets, definitely supplement with chromium.

There are also things like fat blocker (ever heard of Alli?), which I have tried myself. The problem with these is that they make you run to the bathroom with no mercy, and caused bad abdominal cramps. I’m not sure, but it may be worth it if you are considering inhaling a whole wheel of double cream brie or boatloads of fried foods. While I’m a big fan of good fats, we all know that eating such amount of fats is a recipe to feeling like crap. So you decide.

6)   Find the basis behind your cravings

Cravings often have biological basis. It’s telling you something. Either you have a hormonal imbalance or a real dietary deficiency.

Believe it or not? You are often craving what you are allergic too. When you get hurt, your body secretes endorphins to reduce the pain. When you hurt yourself by eating things you are allergic to, you may become addicted to that endorphins. I know, I know. I crave chocolate, too and I am allergic to it. Do you know anyone who won’t part ways with breads, and pasta or dairy?

A chocolate craving is often a sign of mineral deficiency.

A salt craving is a sign of stress.

Carb cravings usually means that your body doesn’t handle carbs very well, and that you tend to store them as fat. It also means that you tend to get your blood sugar in extreme swings.

7)   Eat clean for the rest of the time

If you know you are going to party hard that day, it is wise to not show up ravenous or pre-stuffed with junk.

Make sure you eat lots of vegetables and lean protein sources consistently for the day, or better yet, for the week.

8)   Find out what your food sensitivities/allergies are and avoid them like plaque

It takes a bit of time, real patience and will power to go on a hypoallergenic diet before experiment with potential food allergens. You can do a lab test for food allergies, if you would like.

If you notice some symptoms such as rash, major changes in energy level, mucus, etc, associated with certain foods, it is a good idea to avoid that item.

Overloading your digestive system with what your body doesn’t like may sensitize your body to become more allergic to other things. It can also compromises the functions of your digestive system. So, if you are allergic to certain things, it’s best to not eat it, even if it’s the holidays.

9)   Know a few recipes of a side, a salad and a dessert that are “safe” for you nutrition-wise and food-sensitivity wise

If you really like some items and would rather have them in your life, it may be possible to invent a healthy version of it. I invented healthy chocolate cakes, mousse pies and cheesecakes that I have no shame in sharing with people or eating the whole thing by myself. Bring that to parties, impress people, and enjoy it!

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s also a good idea to bring a salad or a healthy dish with lots of veggies over so you can ensure that there is something that is consistent with your goals at the party.

10) Don’t get yourself into OCD mode.

Nobody is perfect, really.

Attempting to count foods or calories, or beating yourself up for eating party foods will drive you nuts.

You want to enjoy life. Keep it simple.

Go right back to eating clean and exercising, even if there’s still 1 or 3 next parties. Even if it’s not next year yet.

Move, as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be in the gym.

Lastly, don’t be that annoying person that’s always not easygoing and complaining how fat you get.

Let me know how you think about these tips, or if you have any questions, post below.

Are you always sick? How to get out of dead snail immune system?

I have always remembered myself as a snotty nose girl growing up. Being snotty had caused me to be a wallflower because, well, I was disgusting. Fast forward many years later, I became the girl who knew exactly when the pharmacy went on sale, so I would go straight to the Cough and Cold aisle and bought as many items as the discount would apply. It was so pathetically like “I’m gonna get sick and use all of these up anyways, might as well just stock up.”

When the cold got really bad sometimes, I would go from Benilin to Robitussin to Mucinex to Tylenol to Advil to Vicks and, as a final resort, to Buckley’s (because it tasted disgusting).

Despite exercising 3 – 4 times a week, and eating “well,” my immune system functioned like a dead snail. I caught a cold twice a month and each time lasted 2 – 3 weeks. Basically, I barely had a day in my life without cold/flu symptoms. The stress levels being in school didn’t help, either.

Being snotty nose and severe allergies run in my family, but we took it as a cold medication deficiency. Allergies, defined as the body’s immune responses to seemingly harmless substances, suck up the body’s resources to fight harmful things like germs. As a result, I walked around sniffling all the time.

“It’s genetics. It’s the card I was dealt with and I just have to live with it,” what what I believed.

Fast forward until 2013, I discovered an ancient object in my drawer at work that is a pack of expired Tylenol and Claritin. I haven’t needed any of these since 2 years ago.

It turned out my immune system had room for improvement after all.

Immune-System

Here are what I did:
1. Eat a diet that doesn’t send my blood sugar in constant rollercoaster.
High blood sugar sucks for the immune system. But controlling my blood sugar doesn’t only mean giving up sugar alone. Sugars are sneaky these days. I gave up all forms of fruit juice and added sugar, such as dextrose, glucose-fructose, high fructose corn syrup, etc, on food labels.

Starchy foods can throw your blood sugar out of whack, especially if you live on a bread, rice and pasta diet. I stopped eating a diet comprising mainly of bread, rice and pasta. Rather, I started composing my plates of a full serving of protein (meats or beans), lots of vegetables and sometimes a condiment-sized serving of rice, sweet potatoes or quinoa. Every meal had to contain a good amount of protein (at least 20 g) and fibers. I started eating more good fats like fish oil, nuts, butters, and avocadoes. Breakfast, too, had to be full of proteins, good fats and vegetables; and the so-called breakfast cereals should only be rarely eaten as treats. Just from these changes alone, I realized that I don’t have to be starving less than an hour after I eat (which was usually the case if I ate 2 – 3 slices of pizza or a large sandwich for lunch). I felt much more stable. My acne clears up, and my immune system works so much better.

2. Learn to sleep properly and take back my meditation practice
We all live in a constant “ON” state, while our bodies also need the “OFF” state to properly rest and repair. I’ll take it as common sense now that everyone knows it’s easier to get sick if you are super stressed out and don’t get enough restful sleep, but there’s a bit more to that.

The sleep hormone “melatonin” rises and fall in opposite direction as the stress or awake hormone “cortisol.” Melatonin helps increase antioxidants in the body, which in turn helps with the immune system. Also, we go through sleep in phases when the body undergoes different repairs. Hence, if your sleep time jumps around between weekend and weekdays, you will not have optimal immune system.

Excess stress suppresses the immune system, so it is important not only to manage stress, but to increase stress resilience. A marvelous (and inexpensive) way to do it is to participate in calming (parasympathetic) activities like meditation, restorative yoga, Qi gong.

3. Take a high dose probiotics supplement
Up to 80% of our immune system is in the gut, so a good gut flora is important for many aspects of health. Unfortunately, being exposed to multiple bouts of antibiotics as a child and by eating conventional meats destroy the gut flora. If poor immune system is an issue, you should supplement with good bacteria at least 50 – 100 billion CFUs (NOT when you are taking stomach acid blocker medications). Note that commercial yoghurts don’t have anywhere as much so they won’t work for that purpose.

4. Nutrients: Vitamin A (not Beta-carotene), C, Zinc, Selenium, D; but also everything else in a real, whole foods diet.
Deficiencies of these nutrients can cause poor immune function. So eat the foods, i.e. butter, cod liver oil, liver, pumpkin seeds, seafoods, brazil nuts.

Most of us don’t eat plant foods that are freshly harvested, so much of the vitamin C is destroyed in the shipping and preparation process. It may be important to supplement vitamin C just under bowel tolerance.

5. Introduced adaptogenic herbs
My life changed forever when I discovered this thing called Adaptogens. They are herbs that function to help our bodies adapt better to stress. Most of them have immune-boosting properties and some of them are also calming.

Herbs like astragalus can boost the immune system, although it’s not meant to be taken for more than a few months.

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A cold isn’t a Tylenol deficiency.

I was once the girl who knew exactly when the pharmacy went on sale, so I would go straight to the Cough and Cold aisle and bought as many items as the discount would apply. It was so pathetically like “I’m gonna get sick and use all of these up anyways, might as well just stock up.” I caught 1 – 2 colds a month and each time it lasted anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks.

First of all, if you get sick all the time like I did, it ain’t normal. Read this post on how to have a superhero immune system.

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If you have a cold right now, I know you just want to get rid off it and just get on with your life. Believe it or not, your body does, too. That’s why you are having the symptoms of snotty nose, headache, fatigue, fever, cough etc. Those symptoms show that your your body is fighting off the germs. Contrary to popular beliefs, cold medications do not kill the cold viruses. Rather, the medications suppress the symptoms to make them a little more bearable. In other words, if you are taking over the counter cold medications, you are making it harder for your body to fight off the germs. It is way better to support rather than impede your body in fighting the germs.

Here are how you may support your body in killing off the germs:

1. Get plenty of rest: your body heals best when you are sleeping.

2. Cut down in sugar and refined carbohydrates (white bread and pasta included): High blood sugar and poor blood sugar regulations compromise the immune system

3. Food is medicine – Eat a diet high in antioxidants i.e. colorful fruits and vegetables

Germ fighting nutrients: Zinc and Vitamin C are needed at much higher doses when you are fighting off germs. High doses of Vitamin A and D  are also anti-viral. Eat more of foods containing these nutrients such as ghee, cod liver oil, pumpkin seeds. It is a good idea to supplement high doses of Zinc (30 – 100 mg/day) and vitamin C (1 – 5 grams/day or more) just high enough that it doesn’t send you to the washroom. And, oh, juices are not good sources of vitamin C – get a source that doesn’t come with loads of sugar.

Foods that may make it worse: dairy (except for Ghee), citrus and bananas may make your mucus, phlegm or congestion worse.

Kitchen staples that can help with your cold
Garlic is a potent antiviral. It’s a good idea to eat raw crushed garlic, but you don’t have to eat just garlic, especially not on empty stomach. (Admittedly, I have done that and it doesn’t feel very good in my stomach.) Maybe you can have some very garlic-y salsa, avocadoes, salad dressing, soups, any dishes you can think of.
Ginger is always the thing that makes me feel better right away. Boil 1 – 2 inches of ginger in a pot of water and drink it, maybe sweetened with small amounts of raw honey as needed.
Onions and honey. Cut up onions and sandwich in between them with raw honey in a glass container. (The honey must be unpasteurized.) Leave the container in the fridge for several hours, and take the liquids that came out at the bottom as cough syrup.

4. Gently improve circulation help with improving circulation, clearing congestion, reducing pain
- Warming socks help improving circulation, help with fever and head congestion. Put on a pair of wet but wrung out cotton socks, then top that off with wool socks, then go to sleep. It’s actually pretty nice.

5. Be careful with harmful additives that come in medications or supplements. It is better to purchase quality vitamins from health food stores than from the pharmacy. For example, FD&C colors, hydrogenated oils, titanium dioxide are ingredients that you should definitely avoid.

6. If you can tolerate the symptoms, don’t take over the counter medications. If it gets worse, rest more. This post is not intended to be medical advice, but I’ve sought medical advice countless times when I got a cold, and they always sent me home and told me to rest (hence being unhelpful in most cases).

Let me know if you find this post helpful or if you have other tips for combatting a cold in the comments below. And please feel free to forward this to your friends and family who are combatting a cold.

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