Psychotherapist, Author, Speaker

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Robin D. Stone is a New York City based psychotherapist, coach and consultant who works to help you achieve your most optimal self. 

Fast Fitness for the Workout Weary
 

I recently blogged about interval training, the exciting workout trend that blends high-intensity bursts of activity with periods of rest. Interval training isn’t new; in fact, pro athletes have done it for years. But now there’s a stack of I-T research that should encourage the most sedentary among us to get moving.

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In May I wrote about how a study showed that seven minutes of high-intensity I-T produced the same results as 30 minutes of traditional aerobic movement. Now more research highlights a four-minute exercise program. I don’t know how low you can go, but it seems that, according to this study, you can get fitter and stronger doing just four minutes of exercise several times a week! 

How can you put interval training to use right now? Well, let’s say you typically get your cardio by walking. On certain blocks, or between certain park benches, boost your pace to the max.  Go as fast as you can – or break out in a jog – then slow down to your normal pace for the next block or bench. Do this several times during your outing. That’s a form of interval training.

If you’re a gym rat who likes to mix it up with equipment and running, try these Cross Fit moves.

If you’re into DVD’s or want to invest in a simple, whole-body routine, try 20-Second Fitness, a series of high-intensity moves that will work you in 4-minute segments. And as I’ve mentioned previously, there’s also Insanity, a DVD series of push-you-to-your-limit I-T workouts for those who are already active.

It doesn’t take a lot to reap great health benefit. Even if you have the busiest of schedules, you can find an interval training workout that fits.

Whatever path you choose, be consistent and you’ll see results: Your endurance will grow. Your heart health will improve. Your metabolism will function better. Studies show these health benefits occur largely because your body learns to use oxygen more efficiently.

So give these fast and furious bursts a try. Be careful, though; unless you’re used to exertion, make sure to check with your doc before you jump in. You might find that pushing yourself to the max for a minute – or four or seven or more – certainly has its benefits. And then before you know it, you’re done.

 
Ready to Declare Your Independence?
 
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We’re now in the thick of summer, but the 4th of July is still on my mind. As we remember family reunions, picnics and barbecues, let’s consider the significance of the 4th – the national holiday celebrating this country’s adoption of The Declaration of Independence from the Empire of Great Britain.  Sometimes, especially since it’s been more than 200 years, we get so caught up in the celebrations that it’s easy to forget the meaning of the day.  Did freedom cross your mind when the fireworks lit the sky on the 4th? Did you celebrate that freedom?

I’d like to suggest a challenge for the rest of the summer – and beyond.

Let's make a personal declaration of independence – to be awake and aware enough to say:

I ______________________________, do solemnly declare:
I’m the one who determines my daily habits. I will take responsibility for seeing that I get the food and exercise that I deserve. I won’t blame my schedule or my mate or my kids or lack of knowledge for the choices I make.
I will pay closer attention to how I eat and what I eat, and how I treat my body. If it’s not good for me, I won’t do it.
I will be more aware of the people I let into my life. I’ll push haters, naysayers and negativity to the outer circle of the sphere that influences me.
I will explore what I believe about things – from the quality of my food and relationships to the work I do to the way I cultivate my spirituality. I’ll determine what works and what doesn’t.
I will celebrate my independence every day.

At its core, Freedom is the ability to choose. But as Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, "Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility." As a health coach, I am here to help you choose a lifestyle that leads to your best health so that you can get the most out of life. I'm also here to hold you to your promise to yourself to do just that. The best way to start is to become more aware of your habits, to keep the ones that work for you and to toss those that don’t. 

So let’s declare our independence from manufacturers, marketers and agribusiness, from peer pressure and those who don’t have our interests at heart. Let’s be responsible, independent thinkers and choose options that lead to only the best of health. Now that’s a Freedom worth celebrating.

How will you exercise your Freedom?

Healthy eating,
Robin 

 
Foods vs. Pills
 

I have a friend who lives on salads, pasta and lots of coffee. A single mom, she strives to be the epitome of health in spite of her hectic city life: full-time job, volunteer work, teenage daughter. She does meatless on Mondays and holds the mayo and she eats a colorful diet. And to cover her bases, at just about every meal, she pops a slew of vitamin pills.

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Research shows, when it comes to taking vitamins, it’s possible she has too much of a good thing.    
Without question, we need all 13 vitamins to help our bodies function properly. For instance, C supports healing and absorbs iron to fight fatigue; D helps process calcium for strong teeth and bones, sharpens the mind and boosts the mood; E elevates energy and helps other antioxidants fight off cancer-causing free-radicals; the Bs help convert food into energy. We get vitamins mostly from the foods we eat, and, when our diets are lacking, from pills, or supplemental vitamins.

And that’s where we can run into trouble. Some of us take double or triple the recommended dietary allowance of some vitamins, thinking, like my friend, that more is better. I’m guilty too: at 250 mg, I take more than three times the RDA of Vitamin C (it’s 60 mg for adults). And if I feel my body even thinking of catching a cold, for a few days I double or triple my daily dose. If 250 keeps me reasonably healthy, I presume, then 500 should do twice the job. But over time, that kind of thinking can misguided and unsafe. Studies show a definitive link between excessive vitamin use and increased risks of illness, including cancer and heart disease.

While the Food and Drug Administration is charged with monitoring dietary supplements, it doesn’t approve products before they go to market. By law, it can’t force manufacturers to tell you how much of a vitamin is too much – the supplement industry defeated those efforts long ago – so manufacturers can sell you double and triple the daily recommended allowance without any proof that those doses are safe. Use this guide by the National Academy of Sciences to determine how much is too much.

Your body absorbs vitamins and minerals from fruits, veggies, grains and dairy much more readily than from a pill. So try to go straight to the source to meet your needs. When you need to supplement, read the labels and unless directed by your health care provider, take just enough to meet the recommended allowance.

Like I tell my girlfriend, be careful out there in the wild, wild west of dietary supplements: pill-popping might not do what you think it’s doing; in fact, overdoing it may cause damage that no pill can undo.

 
Welcoming Spring with Seasonal Recipes
 

Hey Spring!

Come on in – we’re glad to see you!

It’s been awhile, we know, and with winter hanging around well past her welcome, you’ve had to elbow your way onto the stage. Keep pushing – she’ll drag herself out of here soon enough.

We’ve missed you and your promise of everything new and green, of the earth giving way as stalks and stems yawn and stretch their way to the sky.

We are also unearthing ourselves from layers upon layers of sweaters, coats, scarves, socks and hats. It’s good to feel the warmth of the sun upon our faces.
 

And since we’re trying to eat what’s local and in season, it’s also good to see seasonal veggies other than potatoes, squash and beets. We know that seasonal eating is about harvesting what’s grown nearby instead of what’s trucked (or shipped) in from around the globe, so it allows us to support local agriculture. We know that foods grown locally tend to be more affordable. And we know that we’re giving our body a rich and diverse diet because the food we eat changes through the year.


We know that seasonal eating puts us in sync with the earth’s natural rhythms and calendar. Before progress brought us superstores and any food at any time, we ate according to what was local and fresh (or we canned and froze foods when they were fresh). Many ancient healing traditions are grounded in seasonal eating to build health and strengthen emotional balance. 

So, Dear Spring, for the best in flavor and nutrition, we will look for foods in season right now, like arugula and asparagus and strawberries and cherries. We’ll focus on tender, leafy vegetables that represent all that’s vibrant and young. We will celebrate your arrival with asparagus and spinach dishes, and since winter still can’t take the hint, with a big warm hug. 

Tips: Store rinsed asparagus in a plastic bag in your fridge with the bottom wrapped in damp paper towel. Store spinach unwashed, also in a plastic bag.

 
6 Principles of Clean Eating
 

As millions of us toss gunk and junk from the recesses of our apartments and garages in that annual rite known as spring cleaning, consider doing the same for your body: Take advantage of the warmer weather to try clean eating.

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Clean eating is not washing your veggies five times before you peel. Nor is it eating “twigs and berries,” as my son once described some of my earlier, super ambitious dietary experiments.

Eating clean means eating food that’s as close to natural as it can be: unprocessed and without added flavors or excessive ingredients. Imagine grilled shrimp tossed with shallots, bell peppers, lime juice and chili powder; tender new potatoes roasted with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper; steamed spinach with garlic, lemon and pepper. Nothing boxed or bagged there. All fresh, all clean, amazingly flavorful and good for you.

Clean eating is not a diet; it’s a way of living. You don’t go “off” this lifestyle; you enjoy experimenting with fresh, whole foods, feeling energized and at your optimum from the premium “fuel” you feed your body.

I learned the concept of eating cleanly when I completed a 21-day nutritional cleanse a few years ago.  When I read the list of foods that were prohibited, I thought, what’s left to eat? But those were the days when I was still preparing boxed rice dishes with seasoning packets (i.e. loads of salt and other stuff you don’t need).

I had to wean myself from those packets, trying new spices and new ingredients. I started reading labels more closely, and came to appreciate simply prepared foods. Clean eating is not as stringent as a “cleanse;” you don’t eliminate foods but you do eliminate ingredients that lead you to feel sluggish, bloated and craving more food.

After only a few weeks of eating cleanly, your taste buds will be “reprogrammed:” Fruits will taste sweeter than before, so you’ll crave fewer sweet treats. A little salt will go much further as your tolerance for sodium drops. Your skin will be clearer, your hair shinier an nails stronger. Oh, and you will definitely lose weight.

To eat cleanly, you can’t just pick something up, or open a package and pour in a pan. With a little forethought, you shop for the week and cook meals to last two to three days. These days my son may say, “what’s this?” when he peers into a pot with a scrunched-up nose.  But then he digs in, with nary a mention of a twig or a berry.

6 Principles of Clean Eating

Eat whole foods – the fewer ingredients, the better. That means fruit and veggies, legumes and nuts are A-OK. For packaged foods, scan the ingredient list. Count the ingredients. Then name them. You’ll probably see many words you don’t recognize. Aim for foods with 5 ingredients or fewer. And if you can’t ID it, don’t eat it.

Cut the sugar and salt. Sugar is toxic. The average American consumes 23 teaspoons of the stuff a day, compared with the recommended daily allowance of just 6 for women, 9 for men. One soda has 8 teaspoons of sugar alone. Americans also eat more than 1,000 milligrams over the recommended allowance of sodium. Get your sugar fix from fruit and sweet vegetables, like carrots and yams. And cook your own meals. When dining out, ask for sauces and dressings on the side so you control how much you eat.

Drink more water and less alcohol. Water hydrates and helps maintain your balance of bodily fluids. Try swapping your soda for a glass of water, and drink a half-glass before a meal to help make you feel full and eat less. Alcohol, on the other hand, can make you dehydrated.

Eat healthy fats. Say yes to heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – from fish, nuts, seeds, olive, canola and coconut oils. Eat less saturated fats, which come from meat and dairy products. Run from trans fats.

Cut refined grains and wheat. Switch from white and wheat flour, bread and pasta to complex carbs from whole grains (grains that haven’t had their germ and endosperm removed by milling), such as corn (and yes, popcorn), brown rice, rye, amaranth, millet, quinoa. But steer clear of wheat: it’s known as an appetite stimulant that’s linked to inflammation, autoimmune and digestive disorders.

Eat mindfully. Eat when you’re hungry – not just because it’s mealtime. Eat slowly, and put your fork down between bites. Make a point to chew a certain number of times – aim for 20 – for each mouthful. Consider the aroma and the flavors and textures at play on your tongue. Stop eating when you’re full – well before you’re stuffed.

Clean eating is also about consuming with a conscience: consider the environment, focus on local products and products raised and produced humanely.

Ready to eat clean? Start with one clean meal a day, increasing the meals so that by day three or four you’re eating clean full time. Follow these principles for seven days, then if you can, go for 14, and once there, go for 21. Let me know how you do and what changes you see!

Happy Eating,

Robin

 
Do You Have Multiple Eating Personalities?
 

One client often ordered what her guy did when they dined out. Ribs and mac and cheese was a once-in-a-while treat, she reasoned. Plus, she’d vow to get right back on track.

Whenever another went “home” to visit relatives, she forgot all the newly adopted strategies that helped her eat cleaner, lose weight and feel better. Her pedometer went from 6000+ steps a day (three miles) to fewer than half. She wondered why she returned to her real home feeling heavy, sluggish and sad.

Not wanting to be the subject of colleagues’ constant commentary about her diet, a third client ate typical on-the-road fare whenever she was on the road for work. 

All three suffered from a similar syndrome: multiple eating personality. All three struggled to lose weight.

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The symptom is clear: like a chameleon, you conform to your environment, instead of making your environment conform to you. You morph into co-worker eater, sweetheart eater, or family-size eater, feasting on foods and portions that the new, improved you would you’d never touch. 

Could that be you? Consider the situations below. Then review the counter-intelligence to realize the power you have to control how well you eat and feel.

1. It’s easier to go with the crowd so you don’t have to explain or defend yourself.

Don’t let peer pressure get to you. Ignore comments from the folks who have something to say because your plate has mostly greens and fruit or just a palm-size of chicken (that’s really one serving). “That’s all you gonna eat?” Somebody will ask, and quite loudly too. “Yep,” is all you need to say – if you say anything at all.

2. You can eat like everybody else because you deserve a “treat” now and then.

Find other ways to “treat” yourself that have nothing to do with food. And change your perspective: don’t think about what you can’t eat, but what you can eat because it’s good for you. You’re more likely to stick to healthier eating habits when you feel it’s your choice. So powerfully choose to eat what’s good – and you’ll find it easier to avoid what’s not.

 3. You tell yourself “I’ll make up for it,” or “just once won’t hurt.”

Don’t sabotage your progress. If you haven’t had extra servings of anything in a month, don’t take a second – or third – helping just because that’s what relatives do.  Think before you eat: What does your body need? Note how that’s different from what do you crave or what just looks good. Keep up your exercise routine – invite your fam to come along.

Remember that you you take you wherever you go. So wherever you are, eat “cleanly” – whole, fresh, unprocessed foods with lots of water. Move consistently – cardio, flex, resistance. Cultivate these habits until you do them without a second thought.  The only way to get there is to remain consistent regardless of what changes around you.

If you become a chameleon, you veer off track of your eating and exercise goals. Then you have to start over and work your way back. That can lead to frustration and unhealthy yo-yo dieting and giving up. By forcing your environment to meet your needs, you stay on the path to your goals.

Recently I met a friend for breakfast at a soul food restaurant. After almost a year of eating wheat-free, I no longer have an appetite for pancakes or toast or even grits (made from corn, of course, but they often make me feel as stuffed and sluggish as when I eat bread). Instead of adapting to the environment – really, how can you have a soulful breakfast without grits? – I asked for o.j. and salmon cakes with a green salad and vinaigrette on the side. Yes, a salad at 10 a.m. My body doesn’t know that lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers are off limits before noon – that’s all in my head. I ate heartily and left satisfied with the protein, fat and carbs I needed to start my day.
Losing weight for good is not easy or simple or quick. It’s a slow, steady process in which each step forward should make the next one easier. Those multiple eating personalities get in your way. Ditch them and you’ll reach – and keep – your goals.

Do you conform to your environment or take your healthy habits wherever you go?

 
Books That Will Get You Cooking!
 

A new year brings new intentions, and one way to get intentional about your well-being is to consider not just what you eat but how and why. You can do that by getting to know the history and healthy interpretations of your food.

Cookbooks – and books about cooking – are great not just for recipes, but also for understanding cultural and collective history, or how we come to eat what we do, and why. The more you know about Afro-inspired cooking, the more you understand how our legacy goes beyond the poverty cooking of the plantation and includes the high art of infusing fresh, flavorful ingredients with creativity and hints of home – wherever home may be.

Consider these recently published reads as you recommit to your health and wellness in 2016:
 

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The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks

In The Jemima Code, Toni Tipton-Martin, an award-winning food journalist and activist, explores her huge collection of rare cookbook titles from the early 1800s to the late 1980s. Though Black women have always had an integral role in the cultural history of food and cooking, we have often been written out of that narrative, relegated to servitude in Big House and behind the closed doors in White Folks’ kitchens.  Martin looks beyond ingredient lists and instructions to reveal culinary competencies and artistry, and shows much love for the intuition that Black women have used in their cooking for centuries.

The Up South Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen

Author Nicole A. Taylor, a Georgia native, mixes her Southern taste buds with the Brooklyn foodie scene, bringing a fresh eye and a modern twist to recipes like Grits with New York State Cheddar and Blue Cheese, Collard Greens Pesto with Pasta and Apple and Bok Choy Salad. Sweet or savory, you’ll find pages of downhome favorites.

Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family

As their website shares, the mother-daughter duo of Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams “reclaims and redefines soul food by mining the traditions of four generations of Black women and creating 80 healthy recipes to help everyone live longer and stronger.” Rich in family lore and favored dishes like DeFord’s Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate, Soul Food Love is an affirming, intergenerational look at food, health and history.
 

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Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed

Whether cooking inspiring and hearty meals for crowds or packing a lunch for his daughterBryant Terry, an award-winning chef, educator, food justice activist and author based in San Francisco, brings bold flavor and color to the plate. With recipes like Crispy Teff and Grit Cakes with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Peanuts, which combines the Ethiopian grain teff with grits from the Deep South and North African zalook dip, Terry reimagines familiar dishes and serves them up with a nod to their global origins. A great option for meatless Mondays and beyond.

 
13 for 13: Weight-Loss Resolutions You Can Live With
 

If each year around this time you’ve resolved to lose weight … again … only to rebound within a month or a few, try this approach instead:

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1. Resolve NOT to "diet."  Most people think of dieting as something they do temporarily to lose weight quickly. Most who lose weight this way re-gain it once they stop dieting. This "cycling," or yo-yo dieting, can put you at greater risk for heart disease, among other health risks. Think of changing the way you eat not as a temporary fix but as your new approach to taking better care of yourself. So consider these other resolutions:

2. Resolve to eat more real food. Most packaged foods are full of additives and preservatives that you don’t need and that force your body to work overtime to process them. Stick with whole fruits and veggies, meats, grains, nuts and legumes.

3. Resolve to figure out why you turn to ice cream (or candy bars or potato chips or … ) when you’re feeling challenged or stressed. We all do it. Mindful eating can help you understand how to see food more for nourishment and enjoyment, and less for stress-relief.

4. Resolve to drink more water.  Aim for at least 8 cups a day. Water helps our bodies function, flushing toxins, fueling cells, nourishing tissues. We are made up of 60 percent water, and what we lose through perspiring, breathing and eliminating, we need to replace.

5. Resolve to cleanse your life of toxic relationships. They can lead to stress … which leads to … see No. 3.

6. Resolve to move your body till you work up a sweat for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week. Who says you have to spend hours at the gym? That 30 minutes can be as effective as 60.  

7. Resolve to prepare your own meals one day more a week. Eating in can save you money, give you control of the ingredients, increase family time (enlist the help of others) support the environment and provide other benefits to you, those you love and society at large. After a month, resolve to cook two days more a week, and then more, until you’re eating homemade food at least 4 out of 7 days.

8. Resolve to not eat for 12 hours overnight. Let’s say 7:30 p.m. is your cutoff. That means nothing but water till 7:30 a.m. This mini fast gives your body a chance to process what’s already there and take a break before it’s time to start up again. And it helps you steer clear of calorie-laden late-night snacks. A good helping of protein for dinner will keep you feeling full.

9. Resolve to track your habits. Hold a mirror up so you can see where your trouble spots are. There are several programs available, many of them free. I use My Fitness Pal because it’s quick and easy.  It shows me that I eat way too much sugar. So I’m much more mindful of that.

10. Resolve to track your steps. Use a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) per day.

11. Resolve not to go back to what you were doing that got you into whatever size you’re in. The longer you keep the weight off, the easier it gets to do so.

12. Resolve to take the long view. Safe, lasting weight loss doesn’t happen in an instant and it’s not dramatic, but when it’s gone -- and when you stick with your new habits -- it’s gone.

13. Resolve to start now.

Trying to figure out where to start? Contact me at robin@healthjones.com

 
What are You Hungry For?
 

“But aren’t you supposed to have three meals and two snacks a day?” One client challenged me as we explored the concept of eating when you’re hungry. 

“You’re supposed to have the nutrition and satisfaction that you need for the day,” I replied, “but there’s no rule as to when and how you’re supposed to have it.” 

The meals/snacks scenario is just one of many of the major misconceptions around healthful eating, along with the rule that says a meal needs to be a meat and two “sides” of a “starch” and a veggie. 

Ever wonder why “sides” are about the same whether you’re ordering in a sit-down restaurant or at a bake-and-take chicken place? 

But I digress. One reason that so many of us are overweight is that in following rules like meals/snacks, we’ve lost touch with our own hunger. We eat more often than we need to, and more than we need. In many cases we substitute hunger for other things, like love, affection, a job we like and that likes us back, more money. And we try to feed these other hungers with food. 

To rationalize feeding the hungers, we adopt rules that mesh comfortably with our lifestyles, quirks and habits. There is a rule that says you should eat three meals a day and mentions nothing about snacks. Why is it that nobody seems to adopt that rule? 

A friend once glanced at my salad-filled plate and surmised that I was a “utilitarian eater.” I thought about it for a minute (in this age of peer-pressured eating, somebody always has something to say about a salad-filled plate) and agreed. Most of the time I eat when I’m hungry and I eat what I need. Now don’t get me wrong – I am known to answer when sweet treats call my name. But I’ve learned to put aside all the diet rules and take my cue from my body. I can tell when I'm hungry for food, and when I'm hungry for something else. 

So today’s rule – so to speak – is to eat when you’re hungry, but to know which hunger you’re feeding. How can you get in touch with your authentic, physical hunger? Here’s a start: 
 

  1. Eat with intention. Try this: Set a plate, make it pretty, sit at a table, use utensils and savor your meal. Don’t watch TV or read the paper or anything distracts. Note the colors, flavors and textures of your meal. Chew each mouthful at least 25 times (for many, that’s easier said than done). Stop. Put your fork and knife down. Drink (water, ideally), and start again. This exercise will force you to slow down and give you time to recognize when you are full. And when you are full, ignore the rule about cleaning your plate, and stop eating. You can’t do this all the time, of course, but mindful eating is a good foundation for developing other healthy eating habits.
  2. Let yourself “feel” hungry. A lot of us wouldn’t know what physical hunger felt like if it punched us in the gut. We eat dinner at 7 and a snack at 10, ad then we wake up at 6:30, not feeling hungry, but we eat anyway because the rules say “breakfast time.” Of course you shouldn’t skip breakfast, but recognize that if you don’t allow at least 12 hours between the last thing you ate at night (snacks included) and the first thing you eat in the morning, your body is still processing food from the night before and might not be ready for more. There’s a reason they call it “break” “fast:” you should wake feeling hungry if you’ve truly fasted. When you are hungry, eat a fiber- and protein-rich breakfast (fruits or veggies and certain grains or lean meat) – it should carry you to lunch without the need for a snack.
  3. Ask yourself, “What am I hungry for?” Consider that you may be bored and looking for entertainment. Or stressed over a big project that’s due. Or you had a hard day at work and “deserve” to treat yourself to an over-the-top dessert. While you’re considering the answer, drink a glass of water. That will help you break the habit mindless eating and feeding hungers that food can’t begin to feed.

Have a Healthy Day, 
Robin

 
Party-time Guidelines
 

Whether you’re hosting or dining, follow these party-time guidelines to enjoy the festivities while avoiding extra pounds: 

  • For pre-dinner snacks, serve fresh fruit and veggies instead of chips and dips Use 1/3 less fat (mayo, oils, dressing, etc.) and 1/3 less salt than usual in savory dishes.
  • In sweet dishes, apple sauce, sour cream or yogurt are often good substitutes for oil, butter or shortening. As much as your budget allows, buy the leanest cuts of meats, raised without antibiotics or hormones.
  • Serve some meat grilled but not sauced
  • Fill ½ your plate with salad or healthy greens
  • On the other half, add a taste of everything else (a child’s fist-size of potato salad; meat the size of a deck of cards)
  • Swap water for sugary drinks like soda, lemonade and ice tea
  • Drink alcohol sparingly (a serving or two)