Ho, ho, ho. Tis the season of sugar-sprinkled cookies, cheesy hors d'ouevres, and butter-rich stuffing. Parties galore, and a schedule so jam-packed there's no time to cook healthy meals. We can take some heart from a recent study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that shows a mere one-pound average weight gain over the holidays. Better still to be armed with an eating plan to lose weight naturally, one that can help you maintain not gain, or even drop a few pounds in the holiday season.
For a foolproof program, we went to Pam Peeke, MD, a long-time authority on healthy weight mainenance and the author of The Hunger Fix. "For people who overeat and feel addicted to certain foods, holidays are particularly challenging," Peeke says. "New food addiction research shows that it's the cue to eat that gets you going, rather than the actual eating. With continuous exposure to the substance, whether it's cocaine or crème brulee, the reward system in your brain is getting overstimulated too often." When your brain is overstimulated 24/7, the number of dopamine receptors decreases and the reward center begins to need more stimulation for the same effect. Suddenly, one cupcake isn't enough; you'd really like to eat nine!
"The cruelty of the holiday system is that you're surrounded by cues. Everywhere you look there are candy canes, chocolate in store windows, you name it." The best strategy is to have a plan.
Fire Up Your Prefrontal Cortex. This is the area of the brain that governs impulse behavior. You want it sleek and strong. You get it that way with regular physical activity and meditation. "You can do yoga, or mind-body work, or begin doing short, simple meditation."
Clean-Sweep Your Shelves. "You have to cleanse your house of bad foods. Talk to whoever else lives there and make them pledge to go along with your plan."
Create a Simple Eating Plan. "The right foods give you a natural high. You want tasty food that is pleasurable. No hyperpalatables – the sugary, starchy, salty foods that trigger you."
Travel Prepared. Preparation means you carry your own food wherever you go, or make certain to go places that have good food where you won't be overly tempted.
Deep-Six the People, Places and Things That Enable Overeating. "There's a whole lifestyle that you have inadvertently become addicted to. Don't hang out with people who enable this. You have to go out of your way to change this. Tell people that you must be taken seriously. For an alcoholic, there are no holidays. "Watch out for the justs — it's just a cupcake, just a slice of pie. You know they'll lead to a bender."
Don't Take a Holiday From Healthy Eating. On Christma Day, come up with an eating plan that works for you. Instead of fattening desserts, reward yourself with fresh figs, strawberries, Turkish apricots. That's an eating plan to lose weight naturally.
Wondering where you stand among overeaters? Take Peeke's pop quiz, "Are you addicted to food?"