The Most Important Diet Tip

Are you a mammal? Of course you are. So am I. And whether we think about it or not, we are a part of nature. And when the days grow short, as we approach the winter solstice, we are programmed to put on weight. Yup. Sorry, but fattening up for winter is built into our DNA. It was how we survived, long ago, before central heating and luxury seat warmers. Sometimes nature is cruel.

Today, we might not need that extra body fat, but no one told our DNA. Our hormones are still programmed to cover our body with a layer of insulation to get us through the long, cold winter. How do I know this? I can feel it.

Lately I've been craving sugar. Chocolate chip cookies and brownies. Muffins and cake. Bread pudding and hot chocolate. Foods that are warm and comforting. And full of sugar. UGH!

What's a poor female mammal to do?

Here's the really important part: remember you have choices.

You are not a victim.

Yes, those cravings sometimes seem overwhelming. It feels as though you might even DIE if you don't give in and stuff a donut in your mouth. But let me assure you: no one ever kicked the bucket from ignoring a craving for a cruller. I'm almost 100% positive.

When that craving strikes, you can strike back. You are in control.

1) Take some deep breaths. This will help you feel calmer so you can think rationally. It is very likely that your blood sugar is low. You probably need a snack or a meal. But you do NOT need to snatch the first thing you see. Before you stick something in your mouth, STOP and THINK.

2) Drink a big glass of water. Yes, you heard me! Before you eat anything, make sure that your hunger isn't really thirst. In the colder months, we forget to drink enough water. We aren't sweating as much, so we don't feel as thirsty. But we still need to replace all the fluids we lose, even without exercising. Plus, drinking the water is another way to SLOW DOWN and GAIN CONTROL.

3) If you're still hungry, make yourself a meal or a snack. Start by selecting your protein. Often cravings for sugar are linked to a need for more protein in the diet. Choose sources of high quality protein (foods which contain all the essential amino acids) such as pastured eggs, grassfed dairy, grassfed meat or poultry, wild-caught fish or seafood. Plan ahead so that you have foods on hand that are already cooked and ready to eat. Here are some possibilities: hard-boiled eggs, roasted chicken, canned tuna or sardines, chicken sausages or meatballs, Greek yogurt. You need about 20 grams of protein per meal if you're a woman, 30 grams if you're a man. (3 oz. lean chicken or turkey contains about 20 grams of protein.)

3) Add a boatload of veggies. Stuff yourself with plenty of raw or cooked green things. Make a huge salad or a big bowl of soup. It is impossible to overeat lettuce. Cravings might also be driven by a lack of certain vitamins and/or minerals in your diet. Eating a wide variety of different veggies will help. Be aware that root vegetables contain sugar. This doesn't mean you can't eat them, but just mix it up and get a variety of all types: roots, leaves, stems, etc. The same goes for fruit: although it is "natural," fruit contains sugar. Choose a piece for a treat now and then, but don't substitute fruit for veggies in your meals.

4) Don't forget the fat. Good fats, healthy fats, are essential to the proper functioning of many body systems. Fats are the building blocks of hormones. Without enough fat, you cannot be healthy! Fats are digested SLOWLY and therefore help you feel fuller for longer. Coconut, avocado, olive, and nut oils are all recommended. Try to avoid vegetable oils like canola and soy. And absolutely ban all transfats from your home, your diet, and your universe! You need one serving of fat for every meal. Look at the size of your thumb: this is how much fat you need per meal. More if you are very active.

5) Plan ahead. This is crucial. Forewarned is forearmed. You know this is the season for weight gain. The holidays are just around the corner. As the days grow shorter, the Christmas cookies and fruit cakes, the pumpkin and pecan pies, the candy canes and sugar plums dance in our heads. Instead of filling your home with sugary treats, opt for trying delicious new recipes that feature healthy foods. Stock up on foods that you enjoy, but will not ruin your waistline.

6) Cave, but only on a rare occasion. If you MUST have a dessert, keep it small and make it count. Choose your absolute favorite treat, and then only eat one serving. Don't go for cheap imitations. If possible, make it yourself from scratch to ensure the highest quality ingredients are used. Savor your treat slowly and mindfully. Get the most out of each bite so that you need LESS to feel satisfied. Try not to have entire cakes or dozens of cookies sitting around. Give away the excess so you don't have to worry about resisting temptation.

So what is the most important tip? The take away?

You always have choices. You are in control. And if you mess up? Let it go and start fresh again at your next meal or snack. We are all human (and mammals) and we all make mistakes. Don't beat yourself up. Figure out how you can make a better choice next time and then make a plan.

Need help? I'm available in person (in Howard County, Maryland) or online (leave a message in the comments) for one-on-one weight loss coaching.