The DOs and DON’Ts of Holiday Eating

Greedy Woman with Chocolate Spread on Her Finger

You will probably see ten articles this holiday season offering ‘advice from experts’ on how to deal with the orgies of food that your family and friends will tempt you with. You’ve heard it all before– in fact, you can probably write these articles yourself: “eat small portions,” “Don’t load up on sweets!”, and “try whole grains instead of pasta and cereal.” You know these things because you read them last year. And the same advice will help you just as much this year– which is to say, not at all. I’m going to do you a favor and not coddle you. Here’s how it is: those simplistic “dos and don’ts” work fine– for people who never gain weight anyway. We all have at least one friend with the metabolism (and bodyweight) of a field mouse. They can eat four desserts as an appetizer and never gain an ounce. But for the rest of us: That advice will not help. If you eat those “healthy” whole grains, or “small portions” of blueberry pie (it must be healthy, it has the word blueberry in it!), and “stay active” by walking up the stairs in the mall instead of taking the escalator, I assure you, you will still gain weight this season. So what do you do? You make a decision to be informed and understand the choices you are making. Following “advice from experts” and still gaining weight is depressing, and it makes you think you can never lose weight. I’m here to tell you that you can maintain a healthy weight through the holidays and beyond, but you’re going to have to get your metabolism working in your favor to do it. To lose fat, here’s the skinny: Some of us are much more sensitive to carbs than others. Carbs break down to glucose. Glucose causes insulin release. And insulin is the fat storage hormone. That means that if you have elevated insulin levels, you can run as though you are being chased by a mountain lion, and you will not lose an ounce. At my medical practice, we check fasting insulin levels in all of our patients. The normal range for fasting insulin is from about 2-24. That means if your level is above 24, you are getting close to diabetes (or already have it). But here’s what your doctor probably hasn’t told you: if your fasting insulin level is above ten, you can forget about losing weight until you get that level down. If your fasting insulin is above ten, then

  • “a small slice of pie” for dessert is not okay.
  • Oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast is NOT healthy, it’s just a pile of carbs that will raise your insulin level. (Never heard that one before, have you?)
  • “Pasta with vegetables” is NOT a healthy choice even though it’s low in saturated fat. Your pancreas doesn’t care about saturated fat, it cares about carbs. Pasta = carbs.

So here are

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the Holiday Weight Loss Tips you REALLY need: 1. Diet Soda is Bad. It’s always bad. It was never good, that was a myth. Specifically, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda cause your stomach to empty faster, so you will not feel as full. Yes, this has been studied. Drink WATER, SELTZER or TEA. (Real tea, not Snapple. This Just In: Snapple is not actually made from “The Best Stuff on Earth.”) 2. Get your Fasting Insulin level checked. If not today, then January first. Knowledge is Power. 3. “I take the stairs at the mall” is NOT EXERCISE. It’s slightly less slothful than average. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just saying don’t delude yourself that you are now losing weight. If you are elderly or dangerously overweight, it is a great start and I applaud you for taking a step towards better health. But as soon as you are able, you need to kick it up a notch. Now here is the good news: Losing weight does not require running for 45 minutes on a treadmill. Losing weight requires 23 minutes. What do I mean by that? I mean High Intensity Interval Training. A short, 23 minute workout will increase Growth Hormone levels and keep your metabolism running throughout the day, raising your resting metabolic rate and burning off calories while you sit on the couch. 4. Huh?? How do I do an HIIT Workout? It’s easy! (Well… actually it’s hard as hell, but only for 23 minutes!) ANYONE CAN DO IT. (Okay, anyone without a heart condition.) It is tailored to any level of fitness. Here’s how: Take your pulse when you are relaxed (or ask someone who knows how to check it for you) so that you know your resting

heart rate. Then go to this handy link, type in your age and resting heartrate, and voila! My holiday gift to you: Your very own customized HIIT workout! 5. You do need some tools to help you deal with the misguided folks who think “food is love.” Here are two that really work: BRING A DELICIOUS LOW-CARB DISH. This is especially helpful if you bring dessert, so that people can see you eating dessert and stop pressuring you to eat THEIR dessert, which will give you diabetes just from looking at it. You can find all the amazing low-carb recipes you could ever want over at All Day I Dream About Food! DRINK WATER FIRST. It has been proven that drinking 16oz of water before you

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eat a meal will lead to greater weight loss, partly because you simply feel more full, and partly because you are less likely to drink other drinks that cause insulin release. Here is a graph from the 2010 study:

Drinking 16oz of water before each meal increased weight loss by 44%. CLICK GRAPH TO ENLARGE. From: Obesity. 2010 February ; 18(2): 300–307.
I love this trick because your peers don’t have to hear “I’m on a diet”; all you need say is “I’m really thirsty, can I get a glass of water?” Crafty! (By the way, please don’t overdo this: As quite a few fraternities can attest, it is possible to develop water toxicity from chugging gallons of H20. Twelve cups a day should be about your max.) 6. Go on the Slow-Carb Diet. Of the myriad low-carb diet variations, the one my patients have had the most success with is the version described in Tim Ferriss’ book “The Four-Hour Body”, which he calls the Slow-Carb diet. This is not really a diet so much as a lifestyle choice, but boy does it work. The reason it works is that it allows a cheat day, which accomplishes two things:

  • It keeps you from going crazy: if you crave something carbalicious, you don’t have to perseverate over never being able to eat it again… you can instead tell yourself, “I’ll have it on my cheat day this weekend.”
  • The cheat day prevents your metabolism from slowing down to compensate for your new eating habits; thus, you continue to lose weight beyond the first week or two.

Mr. Ferriss’ approach to the cheat day is… shall we say, ‘aggressive.’ I can’t say I advise quite the gastronomic excesses he describes, but the point is, the cheat day works. You can find all of the important information about the Slow-Carb Diet online here. 7. If you are over 40, get your hormone levels checked. Insulin is not the only hormone that causes weight gain: loss of testosterone and the hormonal changes of menopause are virtually guaranteed to increase visceral body fat. In addition, many people have subclinical hypothyroidism that is not picked up on the standard TSH test. You can find a lot more information about that at I hope that gives you something meaningful to work with this month! When you’re ready for more, I’m at PhysioAge Medical Group!

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