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Surviving “T-DAY”

21 Nov

Enjoy time with friends and family

Well tomorrow is Thanksgiving and while many Americans are planning on gorging themselves on turkey and stuffing, I wanted to take a moment to tell you how to best survive “t-day”!  Thanksgiving at its core was never about seeing how many pieces of pie you could stuff down, but rather it was supposed to be about enjoying time with friends and family and joining together to give thanks for the many blessings in your life.  Somehow, it’s become all about food, football, and the Macy’s Parade.  Here are some tips to keep your health on track during this holiday weekend.


Get out and move with your family!

Now you don’t have to spend 5 hours in the gym, but make sure you continue to move throughout the day.  Maybe go for a family walk before or after dinner. Many local running clubs around the country have “Turkey Trots”, which typically range in many distances from a 1 mile fun run/walks all the way to half marathons.  Many Turkey Trots raise money/food for local food banks to help feed hungry families.  Get a group of family and friends together to enjoy the crisp autumn air, get some heart pumping exercise, and help the needy!

If a Turkey Trot isn’t your thing, gather the gang and head outside for some touch football or any sport of your choosing.  You’ll bond a lot more over good-natured competition, than watching the competition on the tube.

If watching the parade is a family tradition, then create a new tradition as well this Thanksgiving.  Select an activity as a family and then during every commercial break execute that activity.  Some examples could be: do 10 jumping jacks, run/walk 5 flights of stairs, or, if you’re of the competitive spirit, race around the outside of the house and first one back in gets some sort of prize.

The key here is to get up and move throughout the day!


Now here’s where things get tougher, socially-accepted convention is that Thanksgiving is the day of no judgment, where you can stuff yourself to the point where you enter a massive food coma that lasts until the midnight snack of turkey legs and stuffing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I will be enjoying the feast as much as the next, but with a twist.

First, fill half your plate with veggies! The first thing I do is reach for the veggies and load up half my plate, the fiber will fill you up faster and since they are the lowest in caloric value at the dinner table (but drop that creamed spinach please!).  Now I love mashed potatoes as much as the next, but when made with whole milk and globs of butter, they take a nutrient-rich food and turn it into a fatty mess.  Try using fat free milk and less butter, or if you’re feeling particularly healthy, halve the amount of potatoes and swap in steamed cauliflower, which will reduce the caloric density while increasing the micronutrients!  Also don’t drown your potatoes in gravy; a little goes a long way!

Mouth-watering turkey and stuffing!

Stuffing is delicious, but incredibly fattening.  Use less breadcrumbs (and switch to whole wheat!) and swap in a higher ratio of chopped veggies (I especially like butternut squash, YUM!).  Reduce the amount of butter you use (typically half will do the trick) and use a smaller ratio of meats to cut down on saturated fats.  I promise that making these small changes to your stuffing will reward you on the scale the next morning and you won’t see a huge difference in flavor.

When you’re selecting your turkey, dark or white is fine, however, you should only have a few bites of dark meat and have the rest of your turkey as the white variety.  Regardless of dark vs. white, you should NEVER eat the skin, it’s not good for you and frankly I don’t think it adds much in terms of flavor.

Cranberry sauce is another staple of the holiday table, but steer clear of the canned variety and try to make it yourself or buy cranberry sauce that actually has cranberries in it! The store-bought variety typically is full of needless sugar and artificial flavors. Here’s a great homemade recipe!

Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum; enjoy a good glass of wine with your meal, but after that stick to tea, coffee, and flat or sparkling water.  You really don’t need to heap on extra empty calories do you?

Finally, pass on the bread; you’re getting enough carbs already.  The only exception I’d make is if they’re your grandmother’s rolls that she makes from scratch only for Thanksgiving, then take just one and really enjoy it.

I almost forgot dessert!  If it’s store bought, I say skip it, but if it’s homemade, I say savor it!  Use the three bite rule on dessert and if you want to try more than one, make those bites really small.  You just want to get the flavor and enjoy it, rather than wolfing it down and concluding with a good plate lickin’!

Make sure to fill half your plate with veggies!

Now all of the above information is irrelevant if you’re going back for third and fourth servings.  First, fill half your plate with a variety of the veggie dishes. Then try little portions of all the other available dishes.  Remember the first three bites taste the best, so focus in on those first three bites of each dish. Chew slowly and savor the wonderful flavors that are bursting in your mouth.  Make sure you’re evaluating it and if you decide that “eh, the stuffing isn’t really that good this year (for whatever reason)”, then don’t feel compelled to finish all the stuffing on your plate, there’s no point in consuming empty calories just because it’s there.  If and when you’re finished your first round (ignoring whatever is left on your plate, because you weren’t feeling it), sit back and wait a while.

Sip water, use the restroom, and most importantly, enjoy the conversation and company.  It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to yell up to your brain “hey I’m full!”  After a while, if you’re still feeling the need to eat some more, go ahead and repeat the food selection process, starting with veggies and only selecting the food that you enjoyed the most (2-3 items).  This time, put smaller quantities on your plate than in your first round.  Repeat this process over again, each time with smaller quantities, until your brain signals you’re full.  Frankly, you should be full after your first or second helping.

Now some people hold to the rule of not eating anything all day, so that they “have room” or are “saving calories” for the main event. I would strongly advise against that method of thinking.  Starving all day slows your metabolism, and your body is more likely to store the “main event” as fat as opposed to energy.  Make sure you eat a small, but protein rich breakfast and a small lunch if you don’t eat Thanksgiving till later in the day.  If you eat around 3, then it may be okay to skip lunch, but go by what your stomach is saying.

Moderation is key here, just like every other day. Enjoy your time with friends and family and don’t just make the day all about the food.  Get your metabolism going with a little exercise and breakfast in the morning and enjoy in moderation and you should be able to avoid the dreaded food coma.  Also, make sure you go back to your usual exercise and eating routine on Black Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Get Some ZZZZZZZ’s

3 May

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.  You need sleep, whether your a growing kid or just a kid at heart, sleep is vital to your health.  It does your body a lot of good, but more importantly it’s what lack of sleep can affect because you just had to stay up for those late night shows (sorry Jay!).  It can be difficult to prioritize sleep when your boss is breathing down your neck or you’re out having a good time with your pals at the latest night club, but in this crazy 24/7 lifestyle, a sleep when your dead mentality could truly put you in the grave sooner than you’d like.

Sleep Cycles

In order to understand how sleep helps you, it’s important to first understand the sleep/wake cycle and the stages of sleep.  You have an internal 24-hour sleep vs wake cycle which is referred to as your biological clock or circadian rhythm.  Whatever you want to call it, it is regulated by processes in your brain that respond to how long you’ve been awake or asleep and the changes in light.  When it gets dark out your body produces melatonin, which is a hormone that makes you sleepy.  When it’s light out the “sunlight’ triggers the brain to inhibit the production of melatonin and you feel alert and awake.

This sleep-wake cycle can be disrupted by factors such as traveling, irregular sleeping patterns, or night-shift work, leaving you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy when you should be awake. On the flip side, sleep-cycle interruptions can cause you to be wide awake when you should be fast asleep.

There are two main pieces of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of Stages 1 through 4.  During sleep, the body cycles between NREM and REM sleep. Typically, people begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep (we are talking 10 minutes here people). REM is where your dreams occur.  We are not going to focus on the 4 stages of NREM, just think of it as a progression of light sleep to deep sleep followed by the REM cycle then back to stage 2 (stage 1 only occurs during the first cycle after falling asleep)

Benefits of Sleep

During the deep stages of NREM is when the body repairs tissue damage, builds bone and muscle.  It is also shown to improve the immune system.  There are equally important benefits of REM sleep, this is the time that your brain processes emotions and issues from the day. It prepares your mind to handle the emotions, stresses and issues that are bound to arise the next day.  So when you’re cranky and snappy the next day, it’s probably from lack of good REM sleep.  There are also some studies that show that REM sleep helps our minds learn new skills.

Consequences of Not Enough Sleep

Beyond the obvious, like being cranky and kind of an A$$ the next day, lack of sleep does have some bad health consequences, worse than previously imagined.  On the surface, lack of sleep causes you to perform worse on the job, lose focus easily, and get fatigued and lethargic. You can difficulty making decisions and have a hard time remember things. On a more serious level, you could harm yourself or others!  You will have an increased risk of accidents and impaired motor skills.  One study showed that sleep deprived drivers are just as bad of drivers as their drunk counterparts.  You’re much more prone to weight gain and a suppressed immune system.  Nobody’s going to want to be around you when you’re moody and irritable.  The most recent discovery and possibly the most frightening, is that sleep deprived people have an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems than their well-rested counter-parts.

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

An infant will sleep about 16 hours a day, a teenager really does need 10 hours a day, but an adult?  Adults pretty much need 7.5-9 hours of sleep a day.  So the best bet is to start experimenting within that span, find out which amount leaves you feeling refreshed and well-rested.

How to get on a Regular Schedule

This part is really simple.  After figuring out the magic number that works for you start backwards from when you need to get up for work (or to work out!).  Once you’ve figured that out then subtract that magic number, then voila you have the time you need to go to bed!  Let me give you an example. I need to be up by 6am to get to the gym for my workout before getting ready for work.  I find that 8 hours of rest gives me the energy I need for a good day, so I need to be lights out and head of the pillow by or before 10pm.  It takes me about an hour to get ready to bed and unwind, I like to read before going to sleep, so I need to turn off the TV by 9pm.  Why you ask?  Because TV acts like light and inhibits your body’s ability to produce melatonin.

Now do I follow this routine religiously? No, I haven’t met anyone who could follow such a strict regimen (unless you’re in the military maybe).  But this gives me a game plan to strive towards.  Sometimes I do watch TV until I fall asleep and sometimes I don’t fall into bed until after midnight, but they key here is to try to stick to a routine as much as possible.

So my advice is to work yourself onto some semblance of a routine is to start going to bed every night a half hour earlier than you did the night before.  Continue this until you reach you ideal bedtime.  I can’t stress this enough: USE AN ALARM every day of the week. This will keep you on track, if I don’t use some form of an alarm and it’s dark in my room I think I could sleep right through the day sometimes.

And for those inevitable nights where you stay out with friends till 3 am? Well I’m not suggesting you only get 3 hours of sleep, because the deprivation is not a good idea, but try to get up somewhere along normal lines.  Try 8am instead of 6am.  Push through the day and go to sleep at your normal time. This will help keep you on a normal schedule. Yes that day will suck, but at least it means you’ll have no trouble going to bed.  But try, try, try to get to bed before the wee hours of the morning here people. Whatever your reason, stress or alcohol, neither are good for you!!!!!

What about Weekends?

Some people think “oh I’ll just make up for it this weekend” (GUILTY!) That doesn’t really help all that much. it helps some, but you’re better off not sleeping in all weekend. Just extend your sleep an extra hour tops. This allows you to stay on a more regular schedule.

How to Sleep Better Tonight!

Start unwinding about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This means dimming the lights, turning off all electronics, and keep your seat belt fastened low and tight across your lap…oh wait this isn’t United! HA  But seriously, start destressing from your day and relax.  I drink a calming cup of tea, take a hot shower/bath and curl up in bed with a good book.  Stop drinking caffeine after 2pm and limit your alcohol intake to one glass.  Both of these substances inhibit your ability to get quality, deep sleep.

Enjoy your zzzzz‘s!

What helps you fall asleep fast? Post them below!

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