Chronic Fat and Why It Keeps Coming Back

For some people, it seems like fat just melts off and losing weight is a matter of deciding that they want to. For many others, unfortunately, it’s not such an easy process. Many feel like they struggle their entire lives in a constant battle to lose the fat and keep it off.

In fact, chronic obesity affects the lives of about 500 million adults and 43 million children younger than age five. Recent research has shed light on why it can be more difficult for these people to control their weight and what can be done about it.

The Study

A joint effort between the University of Michigan and the Argentina-based National Scientific and Technological Research Council (CONICET) led the study that was eventually published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Throughout the study, researchers controlled the genetic “switch” that controls hunger signals in the brain on mice. They also controlled the diet of the mice.

When the switch was activated to limit their appetite after the mice had completed weaning, they didn’t overeat and never became obese. Similarly, even if that switch was never turned on and their appetite was left un-manipulated, the mice maintained a healthy weight into adulthood, as long as their diet was controlled when they were pups.

The true revelation came, however, when the researchers overfed the pups. These mice never completely returned to a normal weight, even once the switch was flipped on, their diet was restricted and they were put on an exercise regimen.

The researchers concluded that, at some point in development, the metabolism of the overfed mice adapted to being obese and that simply became their new normal. Although no comparable studies have been conducted on humans, the basic principle remains the same.

What This Means For You

Statistics show that obese children are at a much higher risk of becoming obese adults and developing related health problems than children of a healthy weight. This could be a result of learned behaviors or the same metabolic reprogramming that was seen in the mice, or a combination of the two. More research is needed, however,to fully explain how this works and how it translates to the human metabolism.

Is It Hopeless?

So, if like many Americans, you ate a poor diet full of fast food and candy during your childhood, are you doomed to a lifetime of obesity?

No, you’re not. The struggle may be more difficult for you, but it is possible to reprogram your metabolism to a normal, healthy one capable of burning fat rather than storing it.

Diet and Exercise

The American Council on Exercise also recommends an occasional fast lasting about 24 hours to help restart your metabolism.  This time can be used to perform a sort of audit on your diet and help cleanse your system of unhealthy food. Just make sure that when you start eating again you go back to healthy foods and not junk out of desperation.

When it comes to exercise, incorporate moderate intensity interval training into your routine. Try running for 20 seconds and walking for 40 seconds. Do this for 10 minutes either as a stand alone workout or as part of a larger program. This type of exercise will force your body to burn fat for fuel, while not overloading your system by working out for too long.

Have you been able to reprogram your metabolism and control your weight? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Secrets of Centenarians

In the ongoing fight against aging, researchers have focused in on so-called “Blue Zones,” where people live — and live well — deep into their 90s and 100s. These places, scattered from Costa Rica to Japan, have become a sort of Mecca for longevity for researchers who seek desperately to understand the common denominator. This examination has exposed several constants that define life in each of these diverse regions,  whether it be a suburb of Los Angeles populated by Seventh Day Adventists or a rural Greek island, and provides clues as to what helps a person live wellpast the average lifeexpectancy.

What’s most surprising — and encouraging — is the simplicity that characterizes these keys to longevity. The research suggests that by making small changes in your lifestyle and mindset, you could potentially add years to your life.

How They Eat

Although these Blue Zones are found all over the world, with different cultures and diverse diets, there are several key habits that may play a profound role in longevity.

Moderation is one of them. In Okinawa, Japan, which has some of the longest-living women in the world, people recite an old Confucian mantra, “hara hachi bu,” which reminds them to eat only until they are 80 percent full.

These small meals are seen throughout the Blue Zones, with the smallest and last meal of the day taking place sometime in the late afternoon or early evening.

Across the board, Blue Zoners eat a largely vegetarian diet focussed on vegetables and beans. On average, they only eat meat about five times per month and, even then, in small three- to four-ounce servings.

In most cases, the food comes from personal or family gardens and goes straight to the tables.

For everyone but the Seventh Day Adventists, wine is also an important part of the diet. Wine is enjoyed moderately and regularly, around one to two glasses a day, with food and friends.

How They Work

Researchers have found that in Blue Zones, interestingly, exercise seems to take a backseat to everyday activity. People work around their houses, in the gardens or on their trades. In every case, their lifestyle and their environment push them to be active throughout the day. For instance, many people in Blue Zones walk or use their bicycles for transportation.

Author Dan Buettner, who coined the term “Blue Zones” in his book of the same name, discussed meeting one noteworthy man in Sardinia, Italy with NPR. The man, Giovanni Sannai, was 104 years old when Buettner met him and was chopping wood at 9 a.m. Sannai started his day with a glass of wine and spent the rest of his time doing chores around his house.

But Buettner also noticed something fascinating about Sannai’s lifestyle that was a trend throughout the Blue Zones.

How They Live

As Sannai went about his day, people came seeking his advice as a respected member of the community. This strong sense of respect for the elderly, giving them a purpose, was a cornerstone of the Blue Zone lifestyle.

People who live in Blue Zones enjoy frequent, informal visits with their friends and family. Everyone has a place and a purpose in the community, even as they age.  In Okanawa, this way of life is called “ikigai,” or “sense of purpose.” In Costa Rica it’s “plan de vida.” Throughout all Blue Zones, the idea that you are still relevant, useful, even respected as you age, permeate.

Despite an ethic of hard work and an emphasis on purposeful living, all Blue Zone cultures enjoyed a balance of work and relaxation most Americans can only admire from afar. In Ikaria, people take their time, pay little attention to the clock and take naps every afternoon. Although it takes different forms, including naps, prayer and meditation, each Blue Zone society has a sort of institutionalized relaxation that helps them to slow down and refocus.

It is true that genetics play a major role in life expectancy, but that’s not the whole story, as a diverse Blue Zone community of  Seventh Day Adventists in Southern California attests.

Do you employ any of these Blue Zone lifestyle habits? Please share your experiences with us in the comments.


Staying Healthy on Vacation

Vacation can be a welcome break from the routines of everyday life. Unfortunately, it often also means a break from the beneficial routines of diet and exercise that you’ve worked hard to build. The desire to take it easy may make exercise seem unappealing, or it could just be difficult to fit it into your schedule with all of the other things you want to see and do. Similarly, your inclination while vacationing may be to indulge in foods you’d never eat at home.

With all these pressures working against you, how can you maintain a healthy lifestyle and still enjoy your vacation?

Plan Ahead

When it comes to keeping up your fitness routine on vacation, a little planning can go a long way. Will your hotel have a gym or does it offer access to a local health club? A quick search online will also help you find parks with walking or hiking trails so you can still enjoy the scenery while staying on the move.

If you won’t be able to get to a gym and want to work in some strength training, consider bringing lightweight equipment like resistance bands with you. With some creativity, you may also be able to use the hotel furniture for body weight exercises like tricep dips.

Keep It Positive

Your mindset toward exercise will also have a powerful impact on your activity level while on vacation. Try to think of that morning run as a way to kickstart your day and enjoy the area, rather than an interruption to your vacation.

If you find that you just don’t have the motivation for formal exercise while on vacation, it may help you to think in terms of activity rather than exercise. Take a bike tour around the local city or hike through the local parks.

Bringing a pedometer with you will help give you an added sense of accomplishment, while still allowing you to enjoy your time off. Shoot for the 10,000 steps per day recommended by the American Heart Association over the course of your daily activities.

Everything In Moderation

There’s something about eating out at a restaurant that fills us with the impulse to gorge ourselves. Resist that impulse and try to focus on making healthy decisions when it comes to both the size and content of your meal.

It is important, though, that you order healthy foods that are genuinely appetizing and not just out of a sense of duty. This will stop you from feeling as though you’re depriving yourself and being ultimately unhappy with your otherwise healthy decisions.

An unfortunate part of the vacation mindset is the idea that you should celebrate by eating at every opportunity. Eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re comfortable rather than stuffed to the brim.

Don’t feel like this means that you can’t treat yourself, but keep in mind the need for moderation. Allow yourself one decent treat per day and sample these foods rather than feasting on them.

What tips have helped you stay healthy on vacation? Please share them in the comments.


Random Acts of Kindness are Good For Your Health

The dreary days of winter can start to affect not only how you feel, but how you treat those around you. Extend the spirit of the holiday season into the New Year by being generous, thankful and kind to others. Everyone knows it “feels good” to do good, but did you also know that doing so is actually beneficial for both your physical and mental health?

We’ve seen a boost in random acts of kindness as people around the globe have recently been inspired by the New York City police officer who bought a pair of boots and warm socks for a shivering homeless man. When the cop’s good deed was caught on camera and went viral on the Internet, it inspired good deeds among others.

Aviator Amelia Earhart explained the phenomenon: “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” Doing good often gets paid forward and thus many can benefit from a single act.

In his book Meaning & Medicine (Bantam Books, 1991), Dr. Larry Dossey tells us, “Altruism behaves like a miracle drug … It has beneficial effects on the person doing the helping…; it benefits the person to whom the help is directed; and it can stimulate healthy responses in persons at a distance who may view it only obliquely.”

Scientific studies demonstrate the positive effects of kindness on health, including an increase in energy and longevity, stress and pain reduction, a healthier cardiovascular system, plus inner peace and overall happiness. So in other words, when you do something kind for someone, you and everyone around you reap the rewards. Here are some ways we benefit:

Get “High” From Helping

Researcher Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a “helper’s high” that can lower stress and help you live a longer, healthier life. My mother used to volunteer at a thrift shop and she got such joy by rescuing perfectly fine coats that were headed for the garbage and leaving them on the steps of a nearby church that had a soup kitchen. Her real “high” however came from tucking a pair of warm mittens or a scarf into the pockets of someone in need as a little extra treat.

Giving Feels Better than Taking

Researcher Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia found that those who spend money on others reported much greater happiness than those who spend it on themselves. Who doesn’t love finding just the right present for someone special in their lives knowing what joy it will bring them?

Do Your Heart Good

David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., a chemist who left a career developing cardiac and cancer drugs to do research on the health benefits of kindness and happiness, says that performing a kind act releases oxytocin — the same brain chemical that surges when you snuggle your baby. Oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart by temporarily lowering blood pressure. So, he says, “Kindness is literally good for your heart.” I love the idea of paying the toll for the person behind you or picking up the tab for a nearby diner … how surprised will they be!?

Doing something kind doesn’t have to be big or expensive. I leave my copies of Woman’s Day and People magazines in my doctor’s office when I’m there because their selection is so poor. I feel good when I see someone pick one up because I know it will make the waiting time go much faster for them. Now I know that my act of kindness is actually helping me, too.

Remember, kindness is contagious. What kindness are you doing this season and how will it make you feel?  Tell us about it.


Home Remedies for the Common Cold: Do They Work?

With more than one billion cases in the U.S each year, it’s obvious why they call it the common cold. Sadly, with that kind of prevalence, it’s extremely likely that you or your children will have to deal with the coughing, congestion and aches that come along with the cold. With so many people suffering from this minor virus, it’s also to be expected that many remedies would appear. Some of these treatments have existed for generations, others are based on new theories. But do these remedies really work?


This herb, a relative of the daisy that is native to midwestern North America, has been a stable of traditional and folk medicine for years and is one of the most popular cold remedies. Proponents of echinacea claim that it may both prevent the cold and shorten the duration of cold symptoms.

Studies, however, are mixed. An analysis of all available quality research was conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, but found no conclusive evidence for either side of the debate over whether echinacea is effective or not. According to the researchers, this inconclusiveness could be caused by the huge variety of formulas used in echinacea supplements. These preparations may contain different parts of the plant or even different species of echinacea or any mixture thereof, making it difficult to judge the effectiveness of the plant itself.

In light of this uncertainty, Mayo Clinic advises that if you have an otherwise healthy immune system and are not taking any prescription medications, echinacea is unlikely to have serious side effects.

In other words, feel free to try it. It can’t hurt, and it may indeed help.

Chicken Soup

Once again, it seems like generations of mothers and grandmothers were on to something when they pushed chicken soup for the cold.

A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that the ingredients in the classic chicken soup recipe has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce symptoms of the cold. The soup may also increase mucus movement, flushing the virus out of your system more quickly.

In addition to this activity, the vitamins and minerals contained in the soup may have an immune-boosting effect. Of course, there is also the possibility of a psychosomatic calm induced by the steam and the positive emotional effects of a warm bowl of soup being served to you by your mother.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a star player in countless over-the-counter cold treatments and is usually included in massive mega-doses in these products, well over the Federal Drug Administration’s recommend amounts of 60 mg.

Like many alternative treatments, vitamin supplementation has had mixed results in the research. The Mayo Clinic reports that, for the average person, vitamin C won’t be of any real benefit in preventing the cold, but for people who are at a constant risk of exposure to the virus it could be useful. Specifically, the Mayo Clinic lists school-aged children among those who could benefit from vitamin C supplements.

It is also possible that taking vitamin C before the cold actually begins could shorten the duration of the illness. This is hard to prove, however, since the virus reacts differently in everyone depending on many individual factors.

In light of the inconclusive findings, the Mayo Clinic classifies vitamin C as something that “probably doesn’t hurt” as a potential treatment for the cold.


Zinc has had a tumultuous history as a possible cold treatment, surrounded by flawed studies and controversial results. Most of the high quality studies on zinc have produced negative results but even the few that showed potential required that zinc be taken in a small window, within 24 hours, before the onset of cold symptoms.

Unlike vitamin C, which may be worth a try, the risks of zinc supplementation outweigh the benefits. Not only can zinc leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and nausea, but even the standard dosage found in over-the-counter nasal sprays can cause a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell. For this reason, the FDA warns against the use of zinc-based nasal sprays.

Warnings and Considerations

It’s true that some of the traditional cold remedies have shown promise in trials, you should always consult a doctor before beginning any self-treatment. Rest and plenty of water are still some of the best ways to care for a cold.

Have you experienced the benefits of any home remedies for the cold? Please share your experience in the comments.


Could A High-fat Diet Save Your Health?

Fat gets a bad rap. We work hard to burn it off our bodies, keep it off and rid our diets of it. Regardless of this social stigma, fat is an essential nutrient that is vitally important to a healthy lifestyle.

True, there is an important distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats. Still, the very word “fat” remains a vulgarity in fitness circles. Understanding exactly why we need fat and what sort of fat we should be taking in will help restore this misunderstood nutrient to a healthy place in your diet.

What Fat Does

Primarily, fat is a source of fuel (calories) along with proteins and carbohydrates. Fat, though, provides 9 calories per gram while protein and carbs only offer 4 calories per gram, making fat a much richer source of biological fuel.

Carbohydrates are burned for fuel first during exercise but your body doesn’t store many carbs and typically runs out after about 20 minutes of activity, at which point it begins to use fat. For prolonged exercise, there needs to be fat present in your body.

But fat does a lot more than just keep you moving. Dietary fats carry linoleic and linolenic acids, which cannot be made by your body and must come from your food. These essential acids control inflammation, blood clotting and contribute to healthy brain development. Fat is also necessary for the proper absorption and movement of the vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which keep your hair and skin healthy.

Of course, the form of fat that gets the most attention and causes the most grief is the form that gets deposited around our bodies. This is the body’s method for storing excess calories from all sources, whether it be protein, carbs or dietary fat. This means that dietary fat isn’t solely to blame for fat deposits.

Remember, too, that this is where that fuel comes from when you’ve exhausted your carbohydrate supplies. The trick, then, is eating the right amount of calories to fuel your goals and focusing on the right types of fat.

Good Fat vs Bad Fat

There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. These two types can be divided down even further.

Unsaturated fats are the celebrated “good” fats, and include poly- and mono-unsaturated fats. Both of these fats may help to improve overall heart health by lowering your cholesterol and slowing the formation of plaque on the walls of your arteries. Olives, nuts and fish are all excellent sources of these good fats, including omega-3 fatty acids.

Saturated fats are the ones you really have to look out for, and the American Heart Association recommends keeping them below seven percent of your total daily caloric intake. Not only are saturated fats connected with heart disease and increased cholesterol, but there is evidence that they may also increase the risk of colon and prostate cancers. This group also encompasses the infamous trans fats which are frequently used in fried and baked foods. Saturated fats are found in red meat, poultry, coconut and dairy products.

Eat Fat to Lose Weight?

So while the evidence suggests that small amounts of healthy dietary fat, accounting for about 25 percent to 30 percent of your daily calories, may be good for your heart, those numbers have been called into question. Some recent diets champion much higher levels of fat –closer to 50 percent — and recent research hints at merit in this approach.

The study was conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was designed to test the impact that meal timing has on body composition. During the 18-week-long study, a group of mice was feed a high-fat diet on a strict schedule so that they received the food at the same time and were given a limited time to eat their meal. These results were compared to three control groups: one ate a low-fat, scheduled diet, one with an unscheduled, low-fat diet, and another with an unscheduled, high-fat diet.

At the end of the study the scheduled, high-fat mice weighed less than the other groups and had also entered a unique metabolic state where their dietary fat wasn’t stored but was immediately burned for fuel.

Before you take this information and switch to a high-fat diet, remember that no human studies have shown the same effects. Also, the study does not detail the source of fat that the mice received.

The study does suggest, however, that a properly controlled diet that includes rather than excludes fat could aid in weight loss. These findings go a long way to clear the name of fats.

Have you tried a diet high in healthy-fats? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


10 Tricks to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

scale with tape measureHappy New Year! If you’re like many Americans, you’ll resolve to lose weight, hit the gym every day, drink less alcohol or kick your cigarette habit. Unfortunately, few New Year’s resolutions last past January. But that doesn’t mean you should give up hope and enter the New Year without a resolution.

Redefining Resolution

A resolution often involves forming a new habit. It’s difficult to create new habits, which is why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. Experts say it often takes about six months to form a habit. After the first six months, the new behavior — whether it be going for a walk each day or drinking more water — will be easier to do.

However, getting through the first six months is challenging. It’s common to fall off the wagon, get disappointed and give up. With some careful planning, realistic goals and determination, you can stick with your resolution throughout the whole year.

10 Tricks to Make Resolutions Stick

Follow these 10 tips to turn your resolutions into lasting habits:

1. Be realistic. Create a plan that works for your lifestyle. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to work out at 5 a.m., instead plan to exercise after work.

2. Think baby steps. Do not go cold turkey. If you’re trying to cut out caffeine, start by first switching from caffeinated coffee to half caff. Changes are sometimes easier to make if you modify behavior gradually instead of going all or nothing.

3. Track your progress. Write your plan down and post it in a visible place, like on the fridge or your desk. As you meet small goals, check off a box. Seeing what you have already accomplished can encourage you to keep going.

4. Make one change at a time. If you want to revamp your diet, start slowly. Do not eliminate soda, fried foods and sweets from your diet in one fell swoop. Changes are usually easier to make if they’re small. Cut down on the soft drinks first and once you’re used to that, try to eliminate French fries.

5. Focus on the process. Saying you want to lose 50 pounds is a vague goal. How are you going to get there? Focus on the process of getting to your goal instead of on the end result. Say you will start keeping portion sizes in check and counting calories.

6. Set up an incentive program. Once you have started modifying your behavior and habits, reward yourself for your success. For every two weeks you go without a cigarette, treat yourself to a movie or a massage.

7. Be flexible. Some days are harder than others. If you can’t make your afternoon cycling class because you have a dentist appointment, make adjustments. Go on a walk first thing in the morning or during your lunch break.

8. Seek support. Share your goals with your loved ones so they can cheer you on. Or find a friend with the same goal as you. Then you can share tips and support one another throughout the process.

9. Have a plan for obstacles. You may have the best intention of avoiding the snacks offered at your morning meeting, but if you’re hungry, you won’t be able to turn them down. To resist temptation, make sure you eat breakfast and bring an apple or other nutritious snack with you so you have something to munch on.

10. Anticipate setbacks. Falling off the wagon now and again is normal. Know that minor slip ups happen and it’s not a reason to give up. Remember how far you’ve come and don’t dwell on the setback.

Have you ever made a successful New Year’s Resolution? How did you do it?


The Many Benefits of the Humble Dandelion


Of all the weeds that can overtake our yards and ruin our gardens, the dandelion reigns supreme. However, despite its invasive nature, nutritionists and herbalists have long understood the value of the misunderstood dandelion.

In fact, both American and Chinese traditional medicines have used all parts of the dandelion to treat a variety of ailments for hundreds of years. Modern bodybuilders still make use of dandelion root tea and the plant can have wide nutritional benefits for anyone.

So instead of just disposing of all those annoying little yellow flowers when they cover your lawn next spring, consider cleaning them up and putting them to use.


According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, dandelions are a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C and D. The plant also offers several minerals including iron, potassium and zinc. This is all in addition to the complex collection of plant chemicals that help the dandelion ward of bacterial and fungal infections.

Dandelions also contain a small amount of protein, carbohydrates and fiber, and are fat-free. The high fiber content means that dandelions will make you feel full quickly and, since dandelions have only about 25 calories per cup, the chances of you gaining weight from eating them are very slim, so to speak.

Other Uses and Benefits

The high levels of iron in the leaves and roots of the dandelion have contributed to its use as a liver tonic in many cultures. Although there is primary research to support that dandelions can help to improve both liver and gallbladder health, the studies were poorly designed and could not be replicated by other researchers.

Dandelion root is an effective and time-tested diuretic, however. Bodybuilders commonly use a tea made of dandelion root to quickly lose water weight and attain a more chiseled

look before a competition. The root tea is also thought to soothe an upset stomach and improve digestion, but these uses are generally based on anecdotal evidence. The dandelion root tea is conveniently available at many health food stores if you aren’t up to harvesting and preparing your own.

Animal studies have also shown that dandelions may help maintain healthy blood sugar, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. These results haven’t been reproduced, though, and human studies are needed to understand the full potential of this application.

How to Enjoy Them

All these factors considered, dandelions are pretty appealing from a nutritional standpoint. The flavor, though, can be a little off-putting. The greens are bitter and the roots are woody. The flowers do have a slightly sweet flavor but separating enough of them can be a difficult process.

Properly prepared, however, dandelions can be a tasty addition to any meal. The leaves can be tossed into a salad, steamed or even sauteed.

Recipes that call for bitter greens like arugula can easily be modified to include dandelion. The roots should be sauteed until soft and can be added to dishes for a nutty flavor.

If you decide to go foraging, pick a clean area, free from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Use a short but sharp knife to cut the plant free, leaving the top of the root intact to hold the leaves together. If you plan on using the roots, simply dig the plants up. Stick to leaves that are small and young, since larger leaves will be more bitter. Make sure to wash the plants thoroughly in warm water.

Have you used dandelion in your diet before? Please tell us about it in the comments.


The Skinny on Holiday Dieting

weight scaleStaying on your diet during the holidays can be a real challenge, so much so that many people simply opt to call all of December a giant “cheat day.” This can lead to discouragement and destructive crash dieting come January.

Instead, try any (or all) of these 20 basic tips to keep yourself on the straight and narrow in the face of holiday temptations and feasts.

1. Hold activity-centric, not food-centric, holiday gatherings. Bonus points for making it something active in its own right, like a long family walk, ice-skating, or caroling.

2. Switch to a diet that includes weekly “cheat days,” and schedule those cheat days to coincide with the most tempting feasts and parties.

3. Make diet-friendly menu decisions whenever you host a party, such as a platter of fruits and veggies instead of a bunch of holiday cookies.

4. Load up with low-cal snacks, like fruits, veggies and some lean protein, before going to holiday parties, so you’re less tempted to munch.

5. Drink only water throughout the month, eliminating those “invisible calories” that come in punches, soft drinks and hot toddies.

6. Allow yourself just three bites (or just one) of any can’t-resist holiday treat. This gives you the pleasure of the taste without adding too many calories.

7. Wait five to 10 minutes before getting a second helping, or even a first helping of a sweet treat. This will help you determine whether you’re hungry, or just craving.

8. Eat slowly and mindfully. Chew each bite thoroughly, and take time to talk with guests between each bite.

9. Don’t eat anything while packing up leftovers. If necessary, make that somebody else’s job.

10. Commit to eating nothing while standing in front of the refrigerator from Black Friday to New Year’s.

11. Volunteer to be the designated driver. Alcohol is high in calories, and even being a little drunk will reduce your inhibitions.

12. Plan your routes at work to avoid the “snack table” that seems to magically appear as Christmas approaches.

13. Remember you’re only human. If you have a rough night that could undermine your weight loss, forgive yourself and do better for the rest of the month. Don’t just give up and call off your diet for the duration.

14. Favor lean proteins and vegetables when dishing up your plate. These are the best choices for filling up faster and avoiding snack cravings later.

15. Use a point-counting system like Weight Watchers, the Atkins diet or simple calorie counting . You don’t have to whip out a slide rule and graph, but these programs can help you keep better track of what you eat throughout each day. Even keeping a basic food journal logging each meal will help you stay accountable for your dietary choices.

16. Take steps to reduce holiday stress, since stress-eating can throw you off track.

17. Fix low-calorie dishes, like a salad, whenever you’re in control of the menu or when bringing a contribution to a holiday potluck. Add dried fruit, nuts and goat cheese for indulgent flavors without the guilt and drizzle with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

18. Arrive a bit late to parties to reduce the amount of time you’re tempted by sweets and snacks. Plus, other guests may unknowingly help your cause by eating all the bacon-wrapped treats you can’t seem to give up before you get there.

19. Eat frequent small meals at home, so you’re not tempted to overdo it at the calorie-rich, treat-heavy holiday feasts.

20. Get a friend or relative who’ll be with you often on board with your goals, somebody who can help you stay accountable to yourself.

Readers, what are some other ideas you have for staying the course on your holiday diet? Tell us your ideas, successes and tales of woe in the comments. 

6 Holiday Stress-Busters

As much fun as the holiday season can be, it’s also notorious for stress. You have parties to plan, family politics to navigate, children to please and an increasingly challenging schedule to somehow work your way through. A fortunate few thrive in this environment, letting the extra pressure energize them. For the rest of us, that stress can mean consequences ranging from having less fun to getting ill.

To make the most of this holiday season, consider trying one of these proven stress-busters.

1. Breathing Vacation

Give yourself five minutes of alone time to simply sit and breathe. This can act as a “reset button” for your emotions and stress. Sit down and breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, thinking only of the rhythm and timing of your breaths, for 10 to 20 cycles.

2. 10-Minute Sweat

Mild to moderate exercise not only helps reduce stress, it also gives you energy for the rest of the day. Get up early if you have to and take just 10 minutes for running, cycling or calisthenics. You’ll get your best results from something you can do without gear in your home. If even this small break gets too time-consuming, find some “micro-workouts” by parking at the far end of the lot, or walking a few blocks to the neighborhood holiday party.

3. Practice Saying “No”

Saying “no” to something during the holiday season is really just saying “yes” to something more important. It’s easy to get overbooked, then double-booked, then triple-booked during the holidays. Do yourself a favor and say “no” to everything that’s not A-list important. If this means promising to visit with friends in January, that’s okay. It clears a piece of their holiday calendar, too.

4. Carry Healthy Snacks

People stress-eat. So do you. If you rely on what’s in the environment around you, you’ll be noshing on cookies, candies and mall court fast food. That means gaining weight, losing energy and even compromising your immune system. Instead, go forth into the world armed with a zipper bag of veggie sticks, a piece of fruit and a low-sugar protein bar.

5. Learn to Delegate

You don’t have to do it all yourself. Say it with me now: “I don’t have to do it all myself.” Although most people understand this concept in theory, it’s surprising how few apply it during the holiday madness. Remember — half the stress you’ll be experiencing will come from the number of people you’ll be around all season. Use some of them. They’ll be happy to help.

6. Smile

Here’s the thing about smiling. When you’re happy and relaxed, you smile, but the opposite is also true. When you smile, that physical motion triggers hormone release in your brain that helps you become happy and relaxed. We’re not talking about the “plastic happy face” smile, here, but a genuine toothy grin. If you’re worried or stressed out, think of something that brings a smile to your face.

Any other holiday stress help you’ve heard of or used? Tell us about it — or just vent over last night’s party — in the comments below. 


“Getting Things Done,” David Allen