I grew up in a large family on a small income. I was adopted and was part of an ever-changing family of foster children most of my childhood. For many years, we lived on foods

supplied by government assistance. We ate what was easy, filling and would fit in a low budget. As a result of growing up with limited resources, we adapted to a few food habits early on that I have had to re-evaluate in my adult years.

For instance, we were taught to clean our plates whether we were full or not. If we had good behavior, we were sometimes rewarded with dessert. Then, there was our choice of beverages. Sweet tea, I mean the two-cups-of-sugar-per-gallon kind of sweet tea, was our main drink. Sweet tea tag-teamed closely with an alternate choice of Kool-Aid, made with an extra cup of sugar, of course. Don’t forget our luxury comfort food, the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Still to this day, when I leave a doctor’s appointment, I have the urge to hit McDonald’s for comfort. Our TV time included popcorn. Even when we were full from just finishing dinner, somehow, as soon as we sat down to family TV time, I craved and ate popcorn.

Food habits and choices have a cultural and social link that most people don’t think about. We do what we were raised to do and repeat behaviors without even realizing that we are doing it. Plain and simple, we don’t know what we don’t know!

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During the holidays, when food temptations and indulgent eating are everywhere we look, I like to reflect back on those habits I have worked so hard to rid my family of. Being conscious of how we eat, rest and care for ourselves is important no matter what time of year. For so many, the holidays create a time that is filled with laziness and poor eating choices. Knowing this season is upon us, I’ve come up with four healthy practices that go beyond fitness and can rescue our habits from getting out of control during the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Waste is waist.
We either waste it on our waistlines or possibly waste it in the garbage. We shouldn’t put so much on our plates that we have to waste it. Start each well-balanced meal with a small portion. Eat slowly, and chew your food thoroughly. It takes time for our brains to register that our stomachs are full. If we eat too fast, it’s easy to overeat and not realize it until we’ve reached the point of physical discomfort. That super-full-belly feeling is not what we should aim to achieve at mealtime. Certainly during the holidays, when family and friends are over, it isn’t fun to feel too full to enjoy ourselves. The “clean your plate” rule is not healthy because it encourages us to force food when our bodies may not need it.

2. Do not reward with food.
We should not use food as some sort of payoff for wise choices, good behavior or accomplished goals. Food is a basic necessity. We must have it to live. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy eating, but food should not be a negotiable item that we can take away if we make bad choices or fail at a certain task. It’s best to reward ourselves with other healthy things like fun activities, trips or even modest material things. Luxury items and activities are rewards; food is a basic need. Let’s not get the two confused.

3. Drink a gallon of water per day.

Our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water. We need water to survive. I have encountered so many people during my years of training who drink only tea and soda. They are fatigued, overweight, have poor concentration and low physical performance.

The actual amount of water people should drink in the course of a day largely depends on their individual health and activity level. I personally drink a gallon of water per day and encourage my clients to do the same. I have found that my clients who have a good discipline of drinking a gallon of water each day have quicker fat loss results, more energy, better fitness performance, better portion control and fewer food cravings than the clients who do not drink primarily water. Don’t force the water intake but gradually sip on it throughout your day. You will find the first week is the hardest. Then, your body will begin to crave it. If a gallon is simply too much for you, start with a lesser goal and build up.

4. Unplug at mealtime.

This will probably be harder than you think. Our
culture is plugged in all the time. We are looking at our phones, listening to iPods, watching TV or typing away at our desks during most, if not all, of our mealtimes. This is not good for several reasons.

First, when we are plugged in, we are tuned out. We ignore the possibilities of quality face- to-face time and conversation with our family and friends. Next, we are also so caught up inour media that we don’t realize how much we have eaten, so portion control and awareness are out the window. What about our association of media with food? If we plug in each time we eat, we are slowly training our brain to do the reverse, and we will want to eat every time we plug in. Make sense? Think about the movies and popcorn. How many of us eat popcorn at the movies just because they seem to go together. Do we have to have it? No. But we have trained ourselves to want it every time.

I want to make it clear that I am truly thankful for my upbringing and the assistance our family received in hard times. I know that it could have been much worse. I also know that those experiences paved the way for me to now help others with similar challenges. Even during the holidays, we can be responsible with food choices and enjoy the treats this time of year has to offer. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if these four habits are practiced regularly throughout this time of year, mealtime and family time will probably be even more enjoyable.

I am grateful for how Christ has walked with me through each lesson and continues to show me new ways to pursue healthy habits through my failures. Isn’t it amazing how He is so involved, even in the little things!


[Photography by Hung The Moon Photography]