OK, you’ve survived Thanksgiving, the holiday that celebrates overeating as much as it honors the spirit of cooperation between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Now the next challenge awaits you as we head into a whole season devoted to parties and food, food, food. How can you avoid being labeled a party-pooper while staying true to Atkins? In fact, how can you do some entertaining yourself and serve foods your guests will appreciate as much as your waistline does? And finally, how can you still fit in time for your fitness regimen between holiday shopping, gift-wrapping and shipping, a busy social schedule and, oh, yes, a family and a job.
I’m here to tell you it can be done. I’ve been living the Atkins lifestyle for 25 years, so I’ve developed some strategies that work for me, and I’m sure they’ll do the same for you. Let’s start with the culinary temptations. One of the great things about Atkins is that eating the low-carb way keeps your blood sugar on an even keel. That means that you aren’t craving sweets or ravenous at meal times—assuming, of course, that you’ve taken our advice to have a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack in addition to three squares.
Eating In, Eating Out
Here are five tips for confronting the “nibblies” at home and on the town.
1. When you’re attending a holiday lunch or dinner, a party or an office celebration, fortify yourself with a filling Atkins-friendly snack before you go. My favorite snacks are some almonds and strawberries, Cheddar cheese with some strips of red pepper or, of course, an Atkins Advantage bar or a shake. Or you could have a small low-carb meal, such as a chef salad topped with grilled chicken. The combination of a small amount of carbs with either fat or protein will stabilize your blood sugar so you don’t arrive famished. That way, you’ll have the physical backup to your mental fortitude so you can pass up holiday foods that are not on your low-carb meal plan.
2. If you receive personal or business gifts that are high in carbs—think cookies, chocolate, fruitcake, flavored popcorn and the like—re-gift them to your child’s school or a homeless shelter. If such gifts arrive at your office, simply put them in a public area like the coffee break room. I guarantee they will disappear fast.
3. If your workplace is awash in holiday goodies, it’s all the more important that you stick with your low-carb snacks to keep your appetite under control. If possible, avoid the parts of the office where bowls of candy and plates of cookies beckon. You might even want to talk to the office manager or whoever is responsible for this holiday custom and suggest some healthy alternatives like fresh fruit and nuts.
4. When alcoholic beverages are being served, confine yourself to a glass (or two at the most) of wine or one glass of spirits. That’s assuming that you are out of Induction, of course. Just be sure to have your spirits with water or a mixer made without sugar in any form.
5. At buffets, stick to the roast turkey, ham, roast beef, salmon filet or other protein dishes, as well as tossed salads and “foundation vegetables.” If you’re in the later phases of Atkins, have modest portions of sweet potatoes, carrots, or other starchy veggies—or even some whole-grain bread. You may want to sneak in an Endulge bar for your dessert. At sit-down meals, there’s no rule against simply not serving yourself a food you want to stay away from. If your hostess insists, take a small portion, have a tiny taste and leave it at that. No need to announce to the world that you’re doing Atkins and are more virtuous than everyone else!
Now let’s see what we can do about saving some precious time. The first thing you need to do is get over some misguided idea that everything has to be perfect and made from scratch. Remember, this is 2010 and the supermarket is full of convenient helpers. Here are five more tips.
1. My family expects to see Brussels sprouts with chestnuts on the table for Christmas dinner. For years, I spent hours, spoiled my manicure and even cut myself steaming and then peeling fresh chestnuts. To make it worse, it always seemed like a third of them were spoiled. Then I discovered that you can buy poached, peeled chestnuts in the frozen food aisle. Another equally helpful and tasty product is jarred cooked and peeled chestnuts. They also come in handy as a stuffing ingredient for your turkey. Do remember chestnuts are high in carbs so go easy on eating them.
2. Veggies are key to doing Atkins at any time of year, but at holiday season, I’m particularly grateful for washed lettuce or baby spinach in bags, as well as the cut-up cauliflower, pumpkin and other vegetables in the produce section. Sometimes I buy four different kinds of raw veggies and pick up some pre-made hummus. Once I put the hummus in a pretty bowl and surround it with the crudités, it looks like I’ve spent an hour washing, slicing, and pureeing.
3. Other time savers include chopped nuts—they’re less expensive, to boot—cooked chicken-breast or roast-beef strips (from the deli or packaged); cooked and cleaned shrimp—you can even get them with cocktail sauce and sliced cheeses (again, either from a deli or packaged).
4. I always try to prepare as much as possible before my guests arrive so I can focus on them. I prepare vegetables earlier in the day, and then cook them while the turkey or ham or other main dish rests. Take care not to do it too far in advance, though, as veggies can lose nutrients once they’re cut. Wrap them in damp paper towels and store in plastic bags in the fridge for no more than four hours.
5. Anything that can be made ahead of time and reheated before serving will also save you time and fuss the day of your party. Soups lend themselves well to freezing so you could make pumpkin soup, for example, weeks ahead of time. Just defrost it early on the day of your event. Casserole dishes such as mac and cheese, using Atkins pasta, of course, can also be made ahead of time and then reheated in the microwave just before serving. Low-carb cheesecake can also be made well in advance and defrosted in the fridge for 24 hours. Garnish with some fresh berries and you can have dessert on the table in a flash.
Stay Fit During the Holidays
No matter how “good” you are when it comes to holiday temptations, the reality is that you’ll probably take in a few extra carbs. The best way to deal with that is to get up the next morning and get back on track. The worst thing you can do is wallow in guilt and decide that you’ve blown it and need to wait until after the holidays to get serious about your weight. There’s nothing like some hearty exercise to make you feel good about yourself and help you renew your commitment. Here are some tips for staying fit over the holidays.
1. Instead of conking out in front of the TV after the holiday feast, take a walk with a family member. While you’re out working off some of the meal, hopefully someone else will take care of the dishes!
2. Visit a tree farm. It will buoy your spirits with good old-fashioned cheer and hiking around in the fresh air in search of the perfect Christmas tree is great exercise!
4. After everyone has opened their presents and had breakfast, suggest a family walk, sledding or ice skating to blow off some steam and deal with the inevitable letdown after weeks of anticipation.
4. Take a walk around the neighborhood with a friend (or your dog). You can check out the decorations and get a quick cardio workout.
5. Give the whole family the gift of fitness: Wii Fit is lots of fun and keeps you and the kids active even when the weather won’t cooperate.