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Archive for January 9th, 2012

Something happens in January that causes all of us to succumb to temporary insanity.  We do things we wouldn’t do the other 11 months of the year, like put walnuts in the Chex Mix (which tastes terrible, by the way), all in the name of being healthy.  (But walnuts are so good for you!  Surely they would taste better in Chex Mix, you might think.  But you would be wrong.  So very wrong.)  I made “Mock Garlic Mashed Potatoes” this week with cauliflower.  Why?  Because it’s January.  They did not taste at all like potatoes, although they certainly did “mock” me as I put my daughter’s serving on the floor for the dog to eat.

The average American decides somewhere around December 31, while gorging on the last of the Christmas goodies, that January is the time to start exercising and eating healthy (right after they finish that enormous brownie with 2 scoops of ice cream – it is a holiday month after all).  Stores take advantage of how guilty we all feel about our gluttonous ways, and bombard us with great deals on exercise equipment we’ll never use and exercise videos we’ll never watch.  (I have seven.)  We stock up on low-fat convenience foods that taste like cardboard, and promise ourselves that we’re really going to stick to our goals this year.  This lasts for about a week, and then reality sets in.  It’s January.

In case you snoozed during the lesson on seasons when you were a kid, let me just remind you that January is in the middle of winter.  Half the day is dark. Very few fresh fruits and vegetables are in season.  Therefore, few fruits and veggies are cheap or taste good.  Our bodies are not designed to eat salads and go for long walks when it is dark and 10 degrees outside.  We’re designed to store fat and hunker down for the winter, which is why diet and exercise resolutions in January fail.  We get all psyched up to do something that goes completely against nature in the middle of winter.  You don’t see bears sweatin’ to the oldies and munching on salads in January.  They take advantage of the dark for a long winter’s nap.

So why do we go against nature every January?  I think our resolutions to be healthy are primarily in response to the socially acceptable patterns of binging in December and purging, so to speak, in January.  We eat way more than we should for an entire month, reasoning that we’ll just make up for it by “being good” in January.  But extreme diet and exercise plans are doomed to fail this time of year because our bodies aren’t designed to fast in the winter.  And so continues the cycle of excess, resolutions, and failure.

So what’s the answer?  Obviously, we need to exercise more self control in December.  But what’s done is done, and here we are in January.  So what now?  There’s still hope for those New Year’s Resolutions, but I think it’s better to wait until March or April to launch a new diet and exercise plan.  Spring is a more logical time to change your eating habits, as more fresh fruits and veggies become available and affordable.  As the days get longer and warmer, we have more energy for exercise.  Spring is a natural time of renewal, so by waiting a few months to make any big changes you’ll have a higher chance of success while still having time to shed some pounds before swim suit season.

So what about January?  You can still resolve to be healthy by making small but permanent changes for better health.  Choose one from the list below to focus on each week for the next 5 weeks:

  • Drink a full glass of water before your morning coffee or breakfast, preferably with a little lemon juice added to flush out the toxins in your body first thing in the morning.  You can drink it hot or cold.  (I prefer cold tap water with no ice.)
  • Cut out sugary drinks.  Substitute water with lemon for pop, or try  unsweetened tea that’s naturally flavored (i.e. herb tea, black tea flavored with vanilla and cinnamon).  Instead of instant hot chocolate mixes that are loaded with sugar, add 2 tsp. sugar plus 1 -2 tsp. cocoa to 6 oz. warm milk (heated in the microwave for about 1 minute), and add a couple drops of peppermint extract or vanilla.  Instead of flavored creamers that contain mostly corn syrup solids, add half-and-half or vanilla sweetened almond milk to your coffee, if you don’t like drinking it black.
  • If you eat cereal or sugary breakfasts, switch to eggs and toast or hashbrowns for breakfast twice a week.  See if you have fewer carbohydrate and sugar cravings later in the day when you have a low sugar breakfast with some protein in it.  Gradually increase the number of days you eat low sugar breakfasts with protein, and add variety by incorporating turkey sausage, nitrate-free ham, fruit-filled pancakes (with butter but no syrup) or toaster waffles with peanut butter.
  • Swap a handful of nuts for your usual starchy snack (i.e. crackers, chips, granola bars).  I like Blue Diamond’s Low Sodium Almonds.  Walnuts are really good for you, but don’t put them in your Chex Mix!  They are good, however, mixed in with a little Kix cereal and some fresh blueberries (my kids’ new favorite snack).  If you’re allergic to nuts, try swapping a low-fat cheese stick instead.  The protein and fat will keep you full and keep your insulin level in check, which is the key to weight loss.
  • If you’re used to having dessert each night, swap popcorn or nuts for your dessert twice a week.  Or save the fruit that you would have with dinner and eat it during the time you would normally eat dessert.  Fresh pineapple is in season year round, so try making a fruit salad with pineapple, kiwi, bananas, and whatever fruit you can find that’s inexpensive right now.  If you like coconut, make a “snowy fruit salad” with a little shredded coconut on top!

Most of these changes are small and very easy.  Some only require a change for a couple days a week.  If you focus on just one item each week, and make those changes permanent, you may not need that major diet plan by March.  Just ask my husband who’s lost over 55 pounds from diet changes like these alone.  Through small but permanent changes in his diet – like eating mostly low sugar breakfasts with protein – he continues to lose weight effortlessly.  The key is to work with your body and not against it.  So trade that salad for a warm cup of soup, and say goodbye to failed resolutions.  You can be healthier in 2012, one small change at a time.

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