Holiday Regret and a Resolution for the New Year

The last three months have been quite the food fest. Starting about the time the Halloween candy first appeared on store shelves, we've been gorging on sugar almost non-stop. Until about three hours after the New Year's Day brunch, it's been a constant feeding frenzy. And now here we sit at the dawn of a new year, Alka Seltzer in hand and pants undone wondering how we ever fit into our clothing anyway.

It's estimated that the average middle-class American puts on an extra 2-5 pounds over the holidays, and that very few of us manage to return to our pre-holiday weight. Some of us do lose some of it, but many of us lose none of it, only to add more the following year. It's no wonder that one of the most popular New Year's Resolutions is to lose weight.

The best way to do this is still to watch what you eat and take a bit of exercise regularly and consistently. Kirstie Ally proved this last year when she dropped an amazing 10 dress sizes during her stint with "Dancing With the Stars". None of us will be that active, or will have the benefit of a nutritionist and a personal trainer. But we can shed the extra baggage if we remember how to eat sensibly. Here are some quick starters that will not only help to restore your waistline, but will also improve your health. And, really, that's the most important reason to slim down.

1. Stop Eating Sugar
This is a no-brainer. Most of the extra weight we put on each year comes from sugar. Cookies and candy and cake and pie and punch and alcohol, etc. etc. All this stuff is like raw energy that most of us will not burn. And, that which is not burned is stored. By January 1, though, sweets have become a regular part of our diet. We've come to expect them and now have a fully developed sweet tooth to contend with.

I'm going to suggest what many a nutirtionist, diet expert, and fitness magazines have already told us. Swap out those sweets with a nice piece of fresh fruit. No, it's not the same. Yes, your body will rebel. Do it anyway. You do not have to go the spartan, low-glycemic route of Atkins. In fact, some of the sweeter fruits make the transition a little easier for me, especially in the beginning. The natural sugar combined with the fiber and nutrients in the fruit will help regulate your blood sugar and get that sweet tooth back in check. I like green grapes, watermelon, and Pink Lady apples.

2. This Includes Soda
I am constantly amazed at how many people drink soda all day, every day. This is a nutritional zero that breaks down both tooth enamel and stomach lining. Plus with a single serving bottle now twice the size it was in our youth, it's a lot of calories. Give it up. Replace it with something else.

3. Do Not Replace It with Diet Soda
Replace it with water. Really, the quickest 10 pounds I ever lost was when I finally ditched the diet soda. How can you tame a sugar craving if you keep consuming things that taste sweet? Also, we are 80% water, which we constantly expel through sweat, urine, tears, etc. Soda does not replace this lost water. Water does.

Which brings me to another dietary curiosity for me - people who do not like the taste of water. I don't remember hearing that before I moved out to Maryland (and many of the people I have heard it from have - with some exception -been overweight themselves). I admit that Baltimore tap water does taste (and smell) a little suspect.

Thank goodness there are so many varieties of bottled water. Usually stocked right near the sodas. Even in the vending machines. If you still don't like the taste, add something to it, like a spritz of lemon juice. Or an herbal tea bag. Or try sparkling water.

Why is this important? Because dehydration makes us tired, and when we are tired, we crave the quick energy of sugar. So we eat more of the wrong stuff. By reaching for a glass of water when you are thirsty, you are giving your body exactly what it is asking for. It will reward you by responding positively. You'll have more energy and will feel that sweet tooth start to abate.

4. While You're At It, Eat More Veggies
As long as you're shopping in the produce section for fresh fruit, you might as well load up that cart with vegetables. Most veggies make a nice side dish and are pretty easy to cook by either steaming or sauteing. Plus adding veggies to your plate leaves less room for the other quick energy item most likely to end up in deep storage (i.e. your ass) - starch. This means pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread. I'm not recommending cutting them out completely. I'm just suggesting that if your plate is already full of lean protein and fresh vegetables, your portion of starch should be pretty small - just enough to give you a couple of nice tastes.

If you fill up on veggies, you'll stay fuller longer. You'll also have a more consistent level of energy. You'll be getting more nutrition from your food rather than from processed nutritional supplements (most of us take them, but note that they're supplements, not replacements). Getting your vitamins from the food you eat means better absorption and improved health.

5. The Vitamin B Exception
If you are not taking a B complex, add it. The B vitamins aid in digestion and metabolizing food into energy, and then helping your body use that energy. Many B vitamins are difficult to absorb in pill form, and many of us shun the foods that are naturally rich in these vitamins. Think liver, kale, Brussel sprouts - and when was the last time you voluntarily ate them?

If your mind just went blank, you probably need a B supplement, preferably a liquid one. Most liquid B supplements are primarily B 12. They will also contain some folic acid and B 6. You should also check to see if your supplement contains niacin or niacinamide. This is important as niacin will cause your entire
body to flush bright red for about 15 minutes after you take it. Niacinamide has the same nutritional value but without the flush.

6. Take a Walk
This is the part where you take a bit of exercise. Get up during lunch and walk for about 30 minutes every day. This is generally regarded to be enough movement to remind your metabolism that you are indeed still alive. It will get your blood moving again at that mid-day point where many of us cubicle drones begin to feel like zombies. The fresh air will clear your head and will help you focus during the afternoon.

If you already exercise regularly, up your game: increase intensity, duration, frequency, all of the above. Try cross-training. My current favorite workout is 5 miles on the bike, 2000 meters of rowing (that's four intervals of 500 meters with a 1-minute recovery between each), and 1.3 miles on the treadmill. This routine provides a couple of breaks to catch my breath. Switching machines keeps things interesting so I remain fully engaged, both physically and mentally.

7. Seek Help If You Need It
If you're one of the many who has been stockpiling the annual holiday weight from one year into the next, you may need some help. I am a huge fan of Weight Watchers mostly because their Points system forces you to eat more fresh produce but also because they make an active effort to screen out crash dieters and potential bulimics. I have turned to them a couple of times when in serious need (that being once you reach a certain weight above and beyond what is considered healthy for your height) and have always succeeded just by following the plan like my life depended on it. When you consider the health consequences of being chronically over-weight, it kinda does. The weekly weigh ins and the food diary keep you honest, and the weekly support meetings keep you motivated.

That's all you need to do to get on the right track. You should begin to feel more like your normal self after the first week. Once you get your energy back and can fit into your clothing again, the next step is up to you.