FIT Talk With Tania  

12 tips to thrive when eating your way through Christmas

Christmas eating tips

Snow or no snow, December marks the official start of Christmas celebrations.

With it comes holiday parties, dinners out, family gatherings and of course food. There's no getting around it, we are just wired to include food with any and all celebrations. In fact, I challenge you to find any culture that celebrates an occasion where they don't have a special dish that goes with.

Memories are made around the table so it's important to be able to partake in these gatherings and enjoy them, guilt free and without sabotaging your health and weight goals. To that end, here are 12 tips I share with my clients to help lower the stress, increase enjoyment and avoid adding to your middle while navigating this season of food.

1. Plan your celebration meal. It's the holidays and you know there will be occasions to eat out and/or partake in things you wouldn't normally eat. The best way to keep those one-offs from gaining momentum and sabotaging all the good you've done so far, is to plan. Mark those celebration meals on your calendar. Planning not only gives you something to look forward to, you're more likely to stay focused and eat clean leading up to it.

2. Pick your favourite. Let’s face it, treats are everywhere! And swearing them all off will only make you want them all the more. But instead of just giving up and mindlessly munching and sampling through the entire season, be discerning. Next time you’re at a holiday dinner or party and surrounded by foods you know could sabotage you, pick your favourite and eat it guilt free. Studies show that when you have something you've really been looking forward to, you're satisfied with a smaller portion and avoid the guilt that comes with the mindless munching.

3. Don’t starve yourself. Skipping lunch, or not eating for an entire day in order to “save up” those calories in the hope of balancing them later, actually works in reverse, causing your body to store fat.

4. Never arrive hungry. Having a snack with protein and healthy fat before heading out means you'll arrive with stable blood sugar and balanced hormones. Which means you'll be able to choose what you eat rather than wondering how you ended up mindlessly eating an entire bowl of Ruffles by yourself.

5. Offer to bring a dish. Bringing one of your favourites to share not only helps the host, it will ensure that no matter what is served, you'll always have something you'll feel good about eating and that works with your health and weight goals.

6. Every three hours is another opportunity to do it better. We all know that during the holidays treats and celebration meals are not an "if", they're a “when”. Food fuels your body, but it also fuels your soul and we need both. So when you do indulge in those soul-filling foods, remember that in just three hours, it's an opportunity to choose cleaner options and fuel your body.

7. Stay off the scale. Anytime soul-filling foods and celebration meals are involved, know that if you step on the scale it will show an increase. Also know that it's not real weight, it's bloat and inflated weight caused by excess salt, sugar, gluten, etc. Clean eating and lots of water and it will disappear in about three to four days.

8. Pack snacks. As you're out and about shopping, etc, losing track of time is just a thing. Having snacks with protein in your car, backpack or purse means you can keep your body fuelled, blood sugar stable and avoid the urge to grab fast/processed foods while you're out.

9. Drink more water. Water flushes out waste, toxins and supports all your body's organs and systems. It also helps flush out bloat faster from extra salt, sugar and alcohol.

10. Pair alcohol with food. Having alcohol with, or after a meal that includes clean protein and good fat helps to minimize the blood sugar spike and subsequent fat storage caused by alcohol. If you know there will be a drink before dinner, have a protein-rich snack before you arrive.

11. Get outside and move. This is especially helpful about 20 minutes following a meal where you may have over indulged just a bit. The movement gets the blood flowing and works to help keep blood sugar stable.

12. Eat the cookie. Christmas comes once a year. And it's really only one meal. Focusing your time on avoiding foods only causes disordered eating and a poor relationship with food. If there's treat you love to enjoy at Christmas, have it, savour it, and do it guilt free.

For more information on how to use food to create hormonal balance and stabilize blood sugar, watch Tania's free video here.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The power of sleep for weight loss

Sleeping the pounds off

In the quest for weight loss, we often focus on diets and/or hitting the gym, overlooking a crucial element: sleep.

That's right, sleep it's one of the six “plates” we need to keep up in the air and spinning for optimal health. The quality and quantity of your slumber can be a game-changer in your mission to shed those extra pounds.

To understand the intricate relationship between sleep and metabolism, it's essential to grasp the basics of how your body manages the energy it receives. Think of your metabolism as a finely-tuned symphony. Just as there are many instruments required to play in harmony to make beautiful music, your body is composed of numerous biochemical processes that occur within us, all of which need to play their part.

It can be broken down into two main phases—catabolism (the breakdown of molecules for energy) and anabolism (the synthesis of molecules for growth and repair). These two phases need to work in perfect harmony for your body to function optimally.

Hormones are like the conductor to this metabolic symphony, particularly those related to appetite and metabolism. Among these hormones, two stars stand out: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin signals to your brain you've had enough to eat, while ghrelin stimulates your appetite. When your sleep patterns are out of sync, these hormonal signals can go haywire, impacting your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Remember the movie, “Gremlins”? That's ghrelin gone haywire, turning that symphony into a horror movie.

The influence of sleep on metabolism has been extensively researched, and the results are clear— a lack of sleep disrupts your hormones. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in ghrelin production, which makes you feel hungrier and crave those things you'd likely not choose under normal circumstances. There’s also a decrease in leptin levels, making it harder to feel full. This hormonal imbalance often results in sleep-deprived individuals not just consuming more food, but foods that are nutrient poor, usually processed carbohydrates and high not-so-good-fat foods, which can contribute to weight gain.

As well, even when you do manage to make healthier choices, a sleep-deprived body cannot properly process the food you're giving it.

A study published in the journal Sleep highlighted the significant impact of sleep deprivation. It showed participants who slept only four hours per night for two consecutive nights experienced a 24% increase in ghrelin and a 26% decrease in leptin levels, making them more prone to overeating. Chronic sleep deprivation has been closely associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of obesity.

Insulin, another critical hormone in the metabolic process, plays a pivotal role in regulating blood sugar levels. When you don't get enough sleep, your body's sensitivity to insulin diminishes. This means your cells become less effective at absorbing glucose for energy, leading to higher blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels can, in turn, promote fat storage, also make it more challenging to lose weight.

A study published in Diabetes Care provided insight into how even a week of insufficient sleep can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity. In that study, young, healthy adults who slept only four to five hours per night experienced a 25% to 30% reduction in insulin sensitivity, a level of impairment similar to individuals with diabetes.

Beyond hormonal disruption, sleep deprivation can also affect your energy levels as well as your ability to engage in physical activity. When you're tired, you're less likely to exercise. And even if you do manage to work out, your performance may suffer. This lack of physical activity can lead to muscle loss, which can further hinder your weight loss efforts.

Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine emphasized the importance of sleep in physical activity and weight loss. The study found that individuals who were sleep-deprived (receiving 5.5 hours of sleep) lost less body fat compared to those who received 8.5 hours of sleep, even when both groups consumed the same number of calories.

While the quantity of sleep is undoubtedly important, so is the quality. Within the realm of sleep, there is one particular phase that holds a special key to regulating appetite and metabolism—rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

REM sleep is where most dreams occur, and it plays a crucial role in the balance of appetite-regulating hormones. Disruptions in REM sleep can lead to an imbalance in these hormones, which can contribute to weight gain.

To ensure you get adequate REM sleep, it's crucial to incorporate good sleep hygiene practices into your daily routine.

1. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Try waking up without an alarm and when you feel rested, that's the number of hours your body needs.

2. Create a sleep-conducive environment. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house.

3. Establish a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate your body's internal clock.

4. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Avoid both late in the day as they can interfere with your sleep patterns.

5. Manage stress. Try meditation, deep breathing and yoga. A warm bath can calm your mind before bedtime.

6. Mindful eating. A small whole food snack including protein an hour or so before bed is beneficial, processed, packaged and sugary foods, not so much.

To learn more about sleep and how all of the six “plates” affect weight loss, watch Tania's free video

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Coffee is not your best energy source

A cup o' joe not best to go

Let's be honest, coffee is practically a lifeline for a good chunk of the population. But are you really doing yourself any favours in the long run?

“Don't talk to me until I've had at least 2 cups of coffee,” is the morning mantra held by most of the population. I'm sure many of you can relate to that bleary-eyed, zombie-like state before that magical black elixir brings you back to life.

But as much as you may rely on that daily jolt of caffeine, it's important to ask yourself why that is. Is reliance on artificial energy sources like coffee (or energy drinks, cola or prescriptions) really the best way to kickstart your day, or is there a healthier more natural approach to get that energy?

Let's unpack and explore artificial energy versus the power of food, how natural fuel can create hormonal balance and stabilize blood sugar, which naturally turns on metabolism, which in turn increases and sustains energy levels. It also allows your body to release stored fat, which is never a bad thing.

That warm cup of liquid motivation might do wonders in the short term—hence the huge lineups at Starbucks and Tim Hortons first thing in the morning—but are really helping? By the way, those lines do come back mid-afternoon.

Caffeine provides that instant pick-me-up, but it's often followed by a crash. You know that feeling, you're buzzing with energy one moment, and the next you're crashing, yawning at your desk, feeling drained and reaching for another cup to stay afloat until it's time to go home. The cycle starts again the next day, leaving you forever dependent on the next cup o' joe.

It's not just coffee. The world is rife with artificial energy sources – energy drinks, sugary snacks and even prescription medications. While they can give you a temporary boost, they often wreak havoc on your gut, along with your hormones and blood sugar levels, creating a rollercoaster of spikes and crashes throughout the day.

So, what if we could harness the power of food to stabilize your body, giving you the energy you want and need naturally and consistently?

When you put the foods you love together in the right portions and right frequency throughout the day, you're creating hormonal balance and stabilizing blood sugar. It's all about choosing the right foods that nourish your body and keep your hormones in harmony. Hormones play a crucial role in our energy levels. Insulin, for example, is a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. When we choose whole, clean, single-ingredient proteins, fats and carbohydrates together frequently throughout the day you will maintain steady blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar means balanced hormones, increased metabolism, more energy, weight loss, better sleep, optimized immune system, and more.

By prioritizing clean, single-ingredient foods, avoiding processed, sugary options, and focusing on creating health rather than artificially trying to boost one thing, we can maintain hormonal equilibrium and have all the energy you need to not only get through your day but to have some left over for your family, hobbies, etc., when your work day is done.

Food is always your foundation, but we can't overlook the importance of water and staying hydrated. Every function your body and brain does requires water. Dehydration can zap your energy and make you feel lethargic. Opt for water, herbal teas or infused water to stay well hydrated throughout the day. Hydration goes hand-in-hand with a balanced meal plan to maintain optimal hormonal balance and blood sugar levels.

Physical activity also plays a pivotal role in enhancing energy levels. Regular exercise releases endorphins, which are known as the body's natural mood lifters. Even a short walk during your lunch break can interrupt the stress of the day, invigorate you and boost productivity.

So, there you have it. The battle between artificial energy sources and the incredible power of eating for hormonal balance and stablizing blood sugar.

Am I suggesting never having coffee again? Not at all. Just know that relying solely on caffeine or other stimulants is a short-term solution that can leave you feeling drained and dependent.

If you love the flavour and the whole warm-mug-in-the-morning thing is part of your morning routine, have it with a breakfast of say, eggs and fruit, something that includes protein. Not a breakfast eater? Add a scoop of good quality vanilla protein powder to your to-go mug for a latte that not only tastes amazing but you'll start the day nourished, balanced, and energized.

Having the odd cup because you love the flavour is vastly different from needing it in order to function on a daily basis.

By prioritizing clean proteins, healthy fats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, avoiding the processed stuff and by staying well-hydrated, you can maintain a steady level of energy throughout the day. Coupled with small, frequent meals and intentional daily movement, you can truly transform your approach to energy, leaving the need for those two cups of coffee in the rearview mirror.

So, next time you feel the need for an energy boost, think about the long-lasting benefits of eating for energy and health, and maybe, just maybe, you'll find yourself saying, "Don't talk to me until I've had my balanced breakfast…”

Learn how to eat for balance and energy and still enjoy the holidays without dieting. Watch Tania's free video.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Building a healthy body is like building a house

Foundation for good health

Most people are aware they need to make better food choices, but so many more have no idea the role and effect sleep, stress and filling nutritional gaps has on whether or not you achieve your goals.

There's a lot more to achieving your health and weight loss goals than what you put on your plate and how often you get up and move your body. Don't get me wrong, intentionally moving your body every day will allow you to keep moving and be comfortable doing it. And of course, nutrition is important. After all, food is the foundation to creating health.

But like building a house, or anything for that matter, the foundation is a good place to start, and it takes a lot more things added on before the project is complete.

I literally had a conversation with someone at the gym yesterday about this very thing. One of the regulars, I'll call him Bob, commented he recently gained a bit of weight. His pants felt the same-ish but he was wondering how he'd be able to tell if the scale bump was an increase in muscle mass or just weight.

Now, those of you who know me and have followed for years, know that I do not advocate using the scale as your only measuring tool. The question I often ask a clients is, “How would you measure your success if you didn't have a scale?”

I do this because building health is so much more that weight loss alone. In fact, the only way you will get to your optimal weight is when you get to your optimal health. An unhealthy body, a body full of inflammation, holds onto the weight.

Building a healthy body is just like building a house. Start with your foundation and then make sure you're addressing all six components of health so you can build on that foundation and end up with a rock solid structure you can not only live in, but feel great in as well.

The six components, or six “plates”, as I talk about with my clients and, as I shared with Bob, are nutrition, exercise, water, sleep, stress, supplements. Picture the juggler at the circus with the long poles and plates spinning atop each one. He starts them one by one, paying attention to the balance of each one as he goes.

Even after they're all up and spinning, if one plate starts to wobble, the juggler needs to adjust his stance and get under the wobbly one to make sure it doesn't come crashing down, right? It's the same with your health. Turns out Bob's sleep, stress, and nutrition plates were no longer up and spinning, hence the bloat.

I would say most people are aware they need to make better food choices, get in some daily exercise and drink more water. But so many more have no idea the importance and impact good quality sleep, managing stress and filling nutritional gaps has on overall health and weight. If only half your plates are up and spinning, you're only halfway in the construction phase, making it impossible to achieve your goals and create that healthy structure you're looking for.

Sleep is something people of all ages struggle with. Without good quality, restorative sleep, your body is not able to properly metabolize the food you're putting in. Lack of sleep stimulates the body to release cortisol, which in turn causes fat storage, which creates internal stress and inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of all disease, so clearly this is a path you don't want to go down.

Stress—the other “S” word—also increases cortisol, inhibits sleep, raises anxiety, makes it difficult to concentrate and focus, affects mood, and can even contribute to physical pain, slow healing, and suppress immune function.

Supplements are gap fillers. We all have gaps. Can we get all the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from our food? It's possible sure, but highly unlikely. Because we're not perfect people. You may be able to get a full nutrient profile on your plate every single meal for a week or so, but it's not realistic to think you're going to do it 24-7, 365 days a year. I know I don't, so I make sure I fill the gaps where necessary. Like putting that insulation in the walls on a new build. Could you live in a house without insulation? You could. Would it be very comfortable when winter hits? Probably not.

In order to know where you are in the construction of your healthy body, ask yourself, “How many plates do I have in the air?”

Great job if you've been able to get all six up and keep them up! But if you. Need some help to get them up, and keep them up while eating the foods you love over the holidays, email [email protected] for info on Thrive the Holidays group coach, starting Nov. 1.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More FIT Talk With Tania articles

About the Author

Nutritionist Tania Gustafson, owner of FIT Nutrition, has been active in the health and fitness industry since 1986 when she entered as a fitness instructor and trainer.

In 2011, Tania partnered with internationally renowned nutrition and fitness expert Mark Macdonald, and in 2017 officially earned the title of Master Nutrition Coach in conjunction with Venice Nutrition and the International Board of Nutrition and Fitness Coaches (IBNFC).

Tania is one of only five health professionals licensed and certified in Canada to deliver this proven, three-phase program of blood sugar stabilization, not dieting.Tania is committed to ending the dieting madness both locally and globally and educates her clients on how to increase health with age.

Tania is able to work with clients across Canada, the U.S. and U.K. to restore health and achieve their weight loss goals.Tania is a wife, mother of three adult children, global entrepreneur, speaker, workshop facilitator, writer, blogger, podcast host, travel junkie and self-proclaimed gym rat.

For more information and to book your complimentary health assessment go to www.fuelignitethrive.com. Check https://www.facebook.com/fuelignitethrive/  and https://www.facebook.com/groups/8weeksisallittakes/

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories