Nutrition

Holiday Dessert Survival Guide

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It’s that time of year again. A flood of delicious sugary treats waiting to be devoured will descend upon us. Christmas cookies, cinnamon rolls, candy canes, egg nog, hot chocolate, fudge, donuts, brownies, oh and pies…every type of pie you can imagine…blueberry, cherry, apple, pumpkin, rhubarb, strawberry…l love pie…and every other kind of mouthwatering delicacy that comes with the Christmas season. It is only a matter of time before I will lay incapacitated on the coach stuck in a sugar coma.  At least until I have managed to work up just enough energy to drag myself back to the kitchen so I can grab myself another piece of pie and maybe a sugar cookie or two. When I finally fully arise from my sugar induced daze, with crumbs on my cloths and blueberry filling still on the corner of my mouth an overwhelming feeling of the dreaded ‘holiday dessert regret’ will flood over me. I will feel gross physically and mentally for the next few days wishing I had only had one piece…why couldn’t I have stopped with one piece?

If you were raised in a family like mine, a family with many great cooks, this may sound familiar. I have fallen into this trap countless times and I have learned a few things along the way. Go into this holiday season with a plan. As Benjamin Franklin would say, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Here on my 5 tips on how to plan for the holiday season and avoid the ‘holiday desert regret’. Consider this your holiday dessert survival guide.

  1. Delay the first piece of dessert.

It is Christmas morning you wake up and do your family Christmas routine such as opening presents taking pictures and all those fun family activities. Now you’re hungry and its breakfast. You know there is a plate of cookies in the kitchen and you go to reach for one…STOP, put the cookies down! Once you open up the flood gates it will be so much harder to resist the sugary temptations later in the day. When sugar enters the body it lights up the pleasure center of the brain. It’s the same center that receives input from anything pleasurable. It is the same part of the brain that lights up when a person takes drugs such as cocaine. Sugar, similar to cocaine, is addictive and once we get some in our system our body will tell us to take more and more to repeat that initial pressure stimulus. However, the more we take in, the more resistance we build up, and as a result we consume more to try to repeat that initial stimulus. Now don’t get me wrong sugar is not cocaine and the addictive effect is not nearly the same. However, it is similar enough that we want to avoid it as much as we can. So instead of eating cookies for breakfast, igniting our body’s desire to consume more sugar, opt for a high protein breakfast with a source of good quality fats and little to no sugars and carbs. This type of breakfast won’t light up the same part of the brain as sugar and will keep you satiated throughout the day reducing cravings later on.  Less time to eat sweets throughout the day means fewer sweets consumed. Wait till after Christmas dinner to go in for the kill.

  1. Get in some physical activity before the big binge.

Working out in the morning, especially something involving heavy weight training will do a few things. It gets the metabolism working and hormones pumping, a good thing. Also, working out early in the morning before eating any carbohydrates will use up much of your glycogen stores. This means when you go in for the sugar laden pie later in the day much of that sugar will be stored as muscle and liver glycogen instead of stored in your fat cells. Plus let’s be honest after dealing with family, the relatives from out of town,  the three pounds of food you have eaten and an “adult beverage” or two you are going nowhere, especially the gym. So let’s stop kidding ourselves and get in a workout before the madness ensues, even if it’s just a run.

  1. “If it’s not hell yeah, its hell no!”

Let’s face it not all deserts are created equal. Often times I will find myself eating something and honestly it’s okay, but not great. Yet, for some reason I finish it. Big mistake. Make your choices count. Pick the things that you really…really like. If that is Grandmas apple pie with a cup of coffee go for that. Savor and enjoy every bite. Don’t just eat something to eat it or because we would feel guilty not eating it. We all have that family member who tries their best, but just doesn’t have that cooking mojo. If they offer you a piece don’t be a jerk, take a small piece or bite; sample it, fake a smile and say “it’s interesting” or whatever excuse is your favorite and move on to that apple pie. You don’t have to eat a giant piece of the “interesting” fruit cake. “If it’s not hell yeah, its hell no!”

  1. Eat dessert after your main meal not before

Desire for sweets is peaked during times of hunger. The brain exclusively uses glucose for energy, but is unable to store glucose. If we are in a fasted state our body’s craving for fast digesting carbohydrates, such as sugar, to make glucose quickly will be higher than normal. Eating a large well balanced meal will give us access to the energy we need reducing our cravings for sugary. Aim for the high protein foods with lots of veggies and maybe a dinner roll or two. Just make sure your holiday dinner isn’t twelve dinner rolls candied yams and bowl full of mashed potatoes, that is only going to fuel your cravings for more sugars.

  1. Enjoy it!

So far I have just given you tips on how to avoid the ‘holiday dessert regret’. There is one thing you have to keep in mind though. This time of year is short and only happens once a year. It is important to enjoy time with loved ones. Part of enjoying time with loved ones is enjoying the food they worked so hard to make. So don’t be a Grinch, eat a piece of grandma’s pie and enjoy every bite and don’t feel guilty. Heck, maybe even have two or three pieces. That doesn’t mean go eat the entire pie, plus a couple cookies and three glasses of hot chocolate.

Enjoy your time off…enjoy your time with your friends and family…enjoy the holiday season. Just be smart about it. Follow a these tips and you won’t have to live with ‘holiday dessert regret’ and all the unpleasant side effects following it.

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