I recently had a great conversation with Keri Glassman, nutrition expert, founder of NutritiousLife.com, and author of 4 books including her latest, The New You and Improved Diet: 8 Rules to Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever, being released on December 24, which helps readers lose weight and "get stronger, calmer, healthier, and more balanced." With the holidays already upon us, I thought this was a great opportunity to combine Keri's advice with practical tips on how to navigate through the temptations we face around the holidays. The season of eating may have begun for you a few weeks ago when co-workers brought bags of left-over Halloween candy to the office. This week, of course, preparation for the Thanksgiving feast is in full swing, and then the holiday parties will begin with all of the sweet indulgences (well, maybe just a half a drink more) that go with them. With everything going on, friends to see, places to go, gifts to buy, and treats to eat, you may find taking care of yourself slipping lower on the To-Do List. With our time squeezed, it's easy to skip yoga or our bike ride and have a piece of cake instead. Don't get me wrong. I love cake! At the same time, I know that if we don't approach this season with some consciousness and care, we'll be bringing a little bit more of ourselves into the new year. I also know that this season can be joyous fun and a great opportunity to learn new, healthy habits. If we can make healthy choices through the holidays, then maintaining a healthy lifestyle when things calm down in the new year will be a breeze!
A study was actually conducted in 2000 by the New England Journal of Medicine on how much people tend to gain during the holidays. While they found most people gain only an average of one pound, the important finding was that these people didn't lose that pound after the holidays (or even 9 months later). If a person was already overweight, they were more likely to experience a more weight gain of up to 5 pounds. That's significant. If you gain only 5 extra pounds each year, you may not think that's much. But, over time, let's say 10 years, you'll be 50 pounds over weight. Whoa!
So, two lessons seem to be pertinent here: (1) if you already have a few pounds to lose, you're more at risk of gaining weight over the holidays, and (2) weight gain insidiously accumulates from "just a few pounds" right into obesity.
Perimenopause and menopause already puts women at greater risk for weight gain especially in the abdominal area because of our changing hormone levels and slowing metabolism. Getting heavier is not an inevitable conclusion, and we are NOT helpless in the face of these challenges. We simply must develop the healthy habits of a healthful lifestyle.
My conversation with Keri was very insightful, so I decided the holidays are a perfect time to try out a few of her ideas. Each answer from Keri is followed by a few tips on how you can incorporate her advice into making healthy choices for yourself. Yes, even during this very stressful time of year. Maybe we can learn new habits that reduce some of the stress and allow us to create and receive more joy. Hmmmm …
1. What role does cortisol (and other important hormones) play and how do they interact to affect our health and well-being?
Production of sex hormones estrogen and progesterone decrease during menopause, and levels of cortisol increase. Cortisol also rises because of stress and is associated with increased abdominal fat, weight gain, and increased risk for cardiovascular heart disease. Studies show that regular, moderate exercise decreases cortisol levels, so keeping the weight off and maintaining a stable mood is a totally attainable goal-just be sure to keep moving!
Holiday Tip # 1: Keep your stress hormones in check with exercise! The holidays are stressful already, so if you also don't exercise, your stress hormones could go through the roof! Look at your schedule for the rest of the year. Decide what reasonable amount of exercise is going to be possible when considering everything else you have to do. You may have to shift a few priorities. Then, set a schedule that is sane enough to allow you to continue to be physically active through the holidays. Recruit your friends, set a few achievable fitness goals, and challenge/inspire each other to stay healthy during the holidays and into the new year.
2. Trouble sleeping, loss of energy…what strategies would you advise for a woman experiencing these symptoms?
Sleep is critical. Get plenty of it! Our bodies (and minds) love routine. Researchers at the National Sleep Institute suggest establishing regular sleep and wake times. Stick to a specific bedtime and bedtime rituals that help you to wind down, even on weekends. Read a little, meditate, take a warm bath, listen to relaxing music, or fix a cup of herbal tea-whatever works for you! Try darkness and quiet. Turn out the lights, close the curtains, and power down all those blinking, beeping electronics about 20 minutes before bedtime. Also remember to keep your bedroom free of distractions! A clean, uncluttered space without noise keeps your resting spot work-free and peaceful. Great bedding and a good book never hurt, either!
Holiday Tip # 2: Get your rest. Keri just gave us a lot of ideas for creating an environment that's conducive to sleep. I know, some homes are more "active" than others and creating peace and quiet may be a challenge. Maybe experiment with quiet hours, a time after which everyone in the household settles down and gets ready to rest.
3. I like to focus on the positives, the do's more than the don'ts. You mention pampering as important to a healthy lifestyle. I like the sound of this! Tell me more.
With busy lifestyles, we often don't realize we're close to the point of exhaustion and burnout. Often, we just need some "me-time" or a little indulgence: nonfood rewards that remind us what a great job we're doing, and how much we're juggling, can work wonders! Treating ourselves to something special has undeniable emotional and physical benefits. Small things, like a manicure, massage, or bubble bath help us to feel and look great. Research shows that good self-care skills improve the prognosis of people with everything from diabetes to cold sores to cancer. Women have a harder time than men do at taking a step back and addressing their stress and needs. I tell every client to schedule in some pampering at least once a week.
Holiday Tip # 3: I think it's time to go back to step 1 of my 5 Steps to Hormone Happiness. Make time for yourself, and put yourself on your own To-Do List.
4. I recently interviewed Dr. Diane Schneider, co-founder of 4bonehealth.org. She mentioned the ABCD's of bone health: Activity, Balance, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Estrogen. For bone health, is there anything you would add to this list?
Those ABCD's sound great to me! Exercise and lifestyle are critical for bone health, overall strength, and for mental wellbeing! Balance really speaks to the pampering we talked about. My Nutritious Life philosophy is all about balance. Balance means not only on proper nutrition and hydration, but also exercise, relaxation, sleep, sexual health and emotional wellness. Calcium and Vitamin D are crucial for bone health, and absorption of both decreases after menopause. Make sure to get lots of calcium-rich foods, like low-fat milk and yogurt, wild-caught ocean fish like salmon, dark leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds, and calcium-fortified whole grains. Ask your RD or doctor if you need a calcium supplement. And exercise outside occasionally to get a little sun! Your body needs sun exposure to produce Vitamin D.
Holiday Tip # 4: So, this one is a biggie. Seek out healthy food during the holidays. Look up new recipes that are delicious (good to you) and healthy (good for you). Skip the unhealthy indulgences as much as possible without feeling like you're depriving yourself. I truly believe that after you've developed healthy eating habits, you'll feel amazing and look great. You'll have more energy and less trouble fitting into your pants. Once you know what that feels like, those unhealthy options aren't nearly as tempting, even during the holidays.
Sure, have a peppermint martini at a friend's holiday gathering. But still go to your spin classes or whatever is your regular exercise routine. Go back for seconds of your favorite Thanksgiving dish, but return to normal portions when your family begins to eat your way through the leftover turkey. Healthy living is a habit. Long ago, Aristotle noted this nugget of wisdom, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
Have I just drawn a connection through the holidays, martinis, Aristotle, and healthy living? Wow. It must be the holidays for me to be this inspired! May you and the ones you love also experience the inspiration of this season. Stay on the path of a healthy lifestyle, and have a wonderful, warm, and delicious Thanksgiving!
Remember my motto: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence (even during the holidays) is OUT!
Tell me: What three words come to mind when you think of the holidays?
Indulge in a few of these:
- Holiday Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- How To Lose Weight In Menopause And Keep It Off, by Mache Seibel, MD, from HuffPost50.com.
- 7 Tips to Avoid the Dreaded Holiday Weight Gain from fyiLiving.com.
- The Benefits of Middle-Age Fitness from The New York Times' Well blog.