The Twelve Tips of Christmas

December 2, 2014

By Anna Varriano

I hosted my first holiday celebration for the season over the weekend, and one of the items I served was the veggie Christmas Tree pictured above (instructions are at the end of this article if you’re interested). You’re probably thinking: “Oh brother. Anna’s going to tell me that the only thing I should indulge in over the holidays is vegetables and dip.” Well, I’m not…but I would like you to consider trying out one or more of the twelve tips that I’m about to share with you that will help you to be a bit more mindful of your holiday indulgences so you can stay on track over the holidays.

Statistics show we can gain anywhere from a few pounds to seven or eight pounds over the holidays, and that while we can lose some of that in the New Year, a couple of pounds tend to stick around – like the holiday gift that keeps on giving so to speak. Over the years, a couple of pounds here and there leads to ‘stealth’ weight gain that sneaks up on you.

Let’s face it. You want to enjoy everything that comes with the holiday season, and there is a way to do that without depriving yourself or packing on pounds. If your schedule is anything like mine, the challenge is that the holiday parties and get-togethers started a few weeks ago, and are running right in to the beginning of January. The Twelve Days of Christmas has become the Thirty or More Days of Christmas! With that in mind, here are my Twelve Tips of Christmas that I hope will help you stay on track.


Make yourself a healthy meal or snack before you go to a holiday party so that you aren’t starving when you get there. If your hunger is under control, you will be less likely to overindulge and/or make bad choices.


Standing around the food table often leads to mindless eating, so instead, grab a small plate, put what you want on it, then move as far away from the table as possible, and engage with guests.


sugar coated lipsIt’s easy to associate sugar with baked treats and chocolates, but what about associating sugar with drinks? I’m betting you would think twice before knowingly pouring ten or more teaspoons of sugar down your throat in one night; but when you drink beer, alcohol, liqueurs, soft drinks, hot chocolate mixes, eggnog, and fruit juices or punches, you’re sort of doing just that. These liquid sugars don’t satisfy your hunger, and will do a super job of putting your fat-storing hormones into action. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to consume a significant amount of sugar in a short period of time if you’re drinking it. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, choose red wine. We tend to drink it more slowly than beer and mixed drinks, which are often consumed as frosty-cold thirst quenchers. At least red wine offers some powerful antioxidants. Limit your intake to one or two glasses. Instead of soft drinks or fruit punches, squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into some sparkling water.


Research shows that dark chocolate offers some health benefits due to compounds called flavonoids. While milk chocolate contains some flavonoids, dark chocolate contains almost four times more. White chocolate has no flavonoids and that’s because it isn’t really chocolate. Whether you’re buying chocolate to eat as a treat or to use in your baking, buy chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa (the higher the better), and read the ingredients to make sure cocoa is listed before sugar. To make it an even better choice, buy dark chocolate that is organic, fair-trade.


I love all things coconut: fresh and dried coconut, coconut milk, coconut flour, coconut oil – you name it. Many of my students and clients fondly refer to me as the Crazy Coconut Lady due to my LOVE of coconut oil. It’s a wonderfully unique fat that offers loads of health benefits. I’ve shared them before, but I’ll remind you of a couple right now: it can promote weight loss by boosting metabolism and burning body fat, and it boosts our immune system – all very helpful over the holidays! Try some coconut oil and flour in your baking. Most recipes work well substituting up to 1/3 of the fat or flour in the recipe with coconut oil and coconut flour respectively. You may have to experiment a bit to see what works. And why stop at baking? Try some coconut oil in your holiday meals – in vegetable dishes and soups for instance. One of my favourites is to mash baked sweet potatoes with coconut oil and top with crushed pecans and cinnamon.


cinnamon sticks and groundMany of the spices we associate with the holidays offer some great health benefits that can counter-act our indulgences. Cinnamon helps to boost metabolism and regulate blood sugar levels. Ginger and cardamom have also been found to boost our metabolism, and help with appetite control. These spices are delicious in savory and sweet dishes – vegetable dishes, curries, stews, soups, cereals, yogurt, smoothies – and they’re a great addition to just about any holiday baking. So sprinkle away and enjoy!


I generally avoid potatoes because of all the starch they contain, but they aren’t all bad. Potatoes provide fibre, some nutrients, and some phytochemicals that are good for us. The problem is that most of that goodness is in the potato peel, or in the flesh of the potato right under the peel, so a lot of it is lost if the peel isn’t eaten. If potato side dishes are part of your holiday tradition, you can optimize on their goodness by leaving the peel on. Also, if you buy small potatoes and leave the peel on, you will maximize the peel to starchy flesh ratio! Unpeeled potatoes are delicious roasted or mashed. If mashing, dice them up before mashing to avoid big pieces of skin in your finished dish. If you’re not tied to having potatoes as a side dish, try substituting them with sweet potatoes (mash with coconut oil and cinnamon, and you’ve got a nutrient-packed, metabolism-boosting alternative to potatoes!).


bowl of chipsPretzels, potato chips, flavoured popcorn, cheesies, and all things ‘snacky’. We know they’re not good for us, but sometimes a bag or two will mysteriously find their way into our laps! Ever started eating a snack food out of the bag while you’re watching TV or a movie, and next think you know – POOF – just like that, the bag is almost (or completely) empty? To avoid mindlessly polishing off five, or ten, or twenty servings, pour some out into a small bowl, seal the bag and put it far, far away (in the pantry, or better yet, in your neighbour’s pantry!), and then go watch your movie. Chances are, when you’ve finished what’s in the bowl, you’ll have had enough, you’ll be engaged in the movie, and hopefully you can’t be bothered getting up for more. Eat slowly so it lasts (one piece of popcorn at a time instead of shoving a fistful into your mouth), and make the healthiest choices you can; for example, buying root veggie chips instead of potato chips, or eating organic corn chips with salsa instead of Doritos is a step in the right direction!


Whether you’re at home, or at work, keep treats as inaccessible as possible. For example, when you’re at home, keep the boxes of chocolates (or any other treat!) in the pantry, not on the kitchen counter, where you’ll be tempted to pop one into your mouth every time you walk by. At work, if people are bringing in treats, ask that they be kept in the kitchen or staff room – not on their desk, or by the water cooler. This forces you to make more of an effort to go and get the food as opposed to it being easily accessible, which most often leads to mindless eating. FYI, we keep our holiday baking in the basement freezer! It lasts longer that way! :o)


IMG_5157It takes so much time and care to prepare wonderful holiday treats and meals, and sometimes they are wolfed down in no time at all. Before you start eating, take a moment to look at what you’re about to eat. Enjoy how it looks and smells, enjoy the beautiful table setting, and think about all the effort that went into making such a lovely meal that is going to be shared with loved ones. Really appreciate it – and the person who made it for you (even if that person is you!) – and enjoy it with your senses and emotions before putting it into your mouth. Once you do put it in your mouth, take the time to really savour it. Chew it slowly, appreciate the texture, the saltiness, the sweetness, the spices – I think you get the idea. Wait to take your next bite, or forkful, or spoonful, until you have finished the previous one. By calming down, slowing down, and appreciating what you are about to eat, your environment, and your company, not only will you enjoy your food more, but you’ll be more conscious of what and how much you’re eating, which will help prevent overeating.


Exercise has many benefits, including reducing stress, improving mood, and boosting immunity – all of which are definitely useful, especially over the holidays. Even though studies show that exercise doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss, a lot of people still fall into the trap of viewing it as a way to compensate for overeating and /or poor food choices. You’ve likely fallen into this trap if you’ve ever said something like “I had a one hour walk today/went to the gym today, so I’m going to go nuts at that Christmas buffet tonight!” The fact of the matter is that managing your weight isn’t just about calories in and calories out – but even if it were, it would take you about an hour of very brisk exercise to burn off the calories contained in a glass of eggnog that took you about five minutes to drink! So, while exercise offers many benefits, using it as a trade-off for over-indulging isn’t one of them.


bless it don't stress itWhen you do have the occasional holiday indulgence, it’s important that you thoroughly enjoy every bite of it. One of my favourite expressions is bless it, don’t stress it! Stressing over it will set off a negative emotional and physiological cycle that won’t do you any good. Remember, in the end, it’s not a few days of holiday indulgences throughout the year that are going to do you in, just as going on a grapefruit diet for a few days isn’t going to get you on the path to wellness.



I hope that these tips will help you to mindfully and healthfully navigate your way through the ‘Thirty Days or More of Christmas’. I look forward to continuing to partner with you throughout the holidays and the New Year to ensure that your daily choices are health-boosting ones!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Click here for the instructions for the Veggie Christmas Tree. Note that I used a really fat cucumber for the structural cone instead of the styrofoam cone suggested in the instructions. I just cut one end flat so that it sat steadily on the platter, then carved the top so it was more of a cone-shape. I used black olives and mini bocconcini instead of pearl onions. I made my dip with 1 cup of organic kefir and 1.5 tablespoons of Epicure Selections ‘3 Onion Dip Mix’. Enjoy!


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