A Fiesta, Not a Feast

As I continue with my exploration of Mindful Eating, I am  now reading a new book, Eating the Moment by Pavel Somov. I am enjoying it so far. Somov recommends 141 tips to be more mindful at meals. I am only finished with 1/3 of the book, but I have already gleaned some interesting tips. One is to have a fiesta instead of a feast. Somov tells us that the word “fiesta” comes from the Latin word for “joy.” His point is to take a holiday, and instead of revolving the whole thing around food, make a non-food activity the “main event” of a holiday.

As I pondered this tip, I realized how many of our holidays revolve around food. I don’t think we would know how to celebrate a holiday without food at the center. However, there are millions of joyful activities out there, it is just a matter of finding them. After our huge meal, Jonathan and I always take an annual Thanksgiving Day hike, if the weather permits. We have done this for years, and often the weather is so nice it is kind of like an Indian Summer. The muted browns and reds of nature from those hikes are deeply burned in my consciousness. The conversation is great, and it is a time to catch up. Looking back, while I appreciate the Thanksgiving meal my mother and grandmother prepare, the hike stands out more than just about anything. The reason is that I typically overeat at the Thanksgiving meal, and end up feeling tired and foggy-minded. Granted, this is my own fault, but my point is that while the meal is good, the hike is invigorating, and not weighed down by the side effects of eating too much.

My point is that who says we couldn’t have an annual Thanksgiving picnic and hike? It always gives me joy. We wouldn’t get rid of the Thanksgiving meal; it just wouldn’t be “about” the meal. The meaning I experience hiking could be the source of joy, rather than the meal that often gets the best of us. More joy and less bloat, mind-fog, and body fat? Sounds like a winning tradition.

Dealing With The Holiday Pitfalls

Now that Thanksgiving is over, most of us are thinking of the upcoming Christmas holiday (especially we teachers that get 16 days off!). However, this time of the year is generally bad for your health. Well, perhaps I should say that the choices we often make during these days are bad for our health, which, when coupled with certain naturally occurring conditions (like winter), make matters worse. There are a few things I think we should all keep in mind as the season of holiday parties and treats approaches.

First, let me start with a little philosophy. As a Catholic, I believe that life consists of both feasting and fasting. Christmas (which, as a Church holiday, begins on December 25th) is a time of feasting. Advent, which runs roughly four weeks before Christmas, is generally a time of restraint and simplicity, and in some traditions, fasting. So keep in mind as I share some of these ideas, that I most certainly believe in both fasting and feasting properly!

– The first pitfall to watch out for is gainig too much weight around the holidays. The average person gains 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is really quite a lot of weight to pack on in such a short time, and stresses the body physically and mentally. We have compiled ways to lose and maintain weight that are applicable any time of the year, including the holidays.

– The second pitfall is holiday-related stress. Money, travel, family visits, etc, all create stress, and this is in addition to the daily stresses we encounter. Studies show one solution to stress is to simply smile. Using the facial muscles necessary for smiling tells the brain that it is happy. You may look crazy randomly smiling, but you’ll be happier.

– The third pitfall is winter depression. Winter is a rough time for a lot of people. Add holiday stress, and holiday eating to this, and many people are less than joyful around Christmas. One way to beat the winter blues is to get some sunlight. As simple as it sounds, it is true: sunlight triggers the brain to produce serotonin. Unlike Vitamin D, whose production requires sunlight to hit the skin during a limited range of months, simply looking in the direction of the sun with one’s eyes closed triggers serotonin production. This can even be done from the inside. In the winter, I make it a point to go to the window and soak in some sun during planning periods.

Some Good News on the Weight Front!

Yesterday I weighed myself, and I am the same weight I was before I visited my parents over Thanksgiving! In fact, I am technically about a pound lighter than the last weight I logged before I left for Thanksgiving vacation. This is really good news because I ate quite a bit over Thanksgiving break, and I am not just talking about Thanksgiving Day itself. I also know I gained some muscle over this period, since I saw strength gains in my lifting, which means I actually lost a little fat over the break. I chalk this up to curbing my eating, even though I still ate plenty. I also exercised quite a bit over the break to blunt the impact of the Thanksgiving calories. Whatever happened, I was relieved when I weighed at the Y today.

In other good news, I benched 170 today, 30 times, which means I am basically benching more than my weight, and 30 reps to boot. That is really cool!

Yeah, But Boy Was it Good!

I hope all of our readers had a blessed and restful Thanksgiving. I have been spending my break (which started Tuesday evening) with my wife, my parents, grandma, and my brother and his family. We had a nice big meal, and I had plenty of turkey, stuffing, cranberry dessert, mashed potatoes, and of course, pumpkin pie. Jonathan and I began the day by running at the school I graduated from. There are nice rolling hills surrounding the track, so we ran a few “country miles” as our old football coach would call them. I overate quite a bit, but the extra activity made me closer to breaking even, although I still consumed more than I burned. I suppose if there is one day of the year that is allowed, it is Thanksgiving. So yeah, I consumed too much, but boy was it good!

I have a lot to be thankful for, and in the end, I am always more thankful for people than I am for stuff, so it was nice to spend time with my family.

Image of Pumpkin Pie taken by me

Feeling Good and Staying that Way on Thanksgiving

I have lost about 35 pounds since August 2007. As I have mentioned on here before, my weight has fluctuated since high school, so I know the different way I feel when I am overweight, and when I am in good shape. I am probably in the best shape of my life right now. I work out every other day, which includes the best weight lifting program I have ever been on. I have seen amazing gains of muscle, and have steadily dropped weight from body fat. Basically, I feel good. When I was heavier, I always felt full and drained of energy. I hated the feeling of not fitting into clothes, and getting winded walking up stairs. When I was overweight, I felt bad, and there was always a certain “weight” on my shoulders (and mostly on my gut actually!). So the point of this post is that I feel good and don’t want to come out of Thanksgiving feeling like crap again.

As a teacher, I have a 5 day Thanksgiving break (Wednesday-Sunday), which will be a nice period of rest and visiting family. However, I also want to keep my eating in perspective, and continue to work out. To do so, I will do the following things to limit my weight gain (I doubt I will actually lose):

– Go to the YMCA to lift weights as usual, but adding extra calorie burning to my routine, to make up for the extra eating. As I always mention, weight loss is essentially a calorie balance issue, so when I take in more calories, I need to burn more.

– Get some exercise outside on Thanksgiving Day. Traditionally, I go hiking, or else go to the local school and pass football (and run pass routes) with my brother. We play a little game where we give ourselves 4 passes to get about 50 yards, ending with a field goal. It is like a series of 50 yard sprints.

– Avoid snacking. Typically I have the extra calories in a day to get away with snacking, but on an already high calorie day, I will just drink a little extra coffee or chew some gum between meals.

– Take “Lean Balance” supplements, which contain Chromium, green tea, and Citrimax. Do I believe that these pills work? Well…maybe, I won’t say for sure, but since I got them for a dollar a bottle at a clearance sale, they can’t hurt. Some small studies have shown benefit to the ingredients.

– Walk. If it is nice, I will try to get out and walk, but with the unusually cold temperatures as of late, this may not be as feasible!

Basically, I want to keep things in control, because feeling good year-round is better than going overboard during my Thanksgiving break!

Image Taken by me on what I think is a quintessential Midwestern November day