All I Want for Christmas is Food

Certain things happen once a year like clockwork – New Years, tax season, another Peter Jackson installment of The Never Ending Hobbit – plus the one annual tradition flooding the internet as we speak: holiday eating blog posts.

From Facebook to HuffPost to probably Pinterest (which I was recently disappointed to learn isn’t an online draught beer community), the world wide web is rife with tips this week on how to exit the holiday season healthy and trim and ready for bathing suit season.

Only one of us is nude.
Helpful hint: You can avoid having to get bathing-suit ready by purchasing a convenient summertime cover-up. Warning: this one made with real fur.

Unfortunately, most of the advice on the subject of holiday eating is downright hogwash. And not the good kind of hogwash, that ends with a plate of clean, sizzling bacon.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s smart to go into the indulgence-laden holiday season with a game plan in order to kickstart January able to squeeze into more than just your elastic-waist Christmas jammies. But with so many of the so-called tips circling the ‘net silly, arbitrary or downright ridiculous, it’s tempting to ignore them altogether and eat for two (turtledoves) straight through Epiphany.

Take, for instance, these “healthy holiday eating strategies” I found on usually worthwhile website

At a cocktail party: “Stand more than an arm’s length away from munchies, like a bowl of nuts or chips, while you chat so you’re not tempted to raise your hand to your mouth every few seconds.” (When has an extra foot of space ever stopped me from getting another cheese and cracker, honestly?)

At dinner: “Keep visual evidence around of what you’ve consumed so you don’t forget. Leave an empty bottle of wine or beer in view and you’ll be less tempted to drink more.” (Because hoarding shrimp tails and olive pits is so in this season.)

While Christmas shopping: “Avoid fast-food places that emphasize red in their color schemes. Red has been shown to stimulate the appetite more than many other colors, and many restaurants add it to their decor, in everything from the flowers on the table to the squiggles on the plates.” (Yes, because I’m sure it’s the red advertising, NOT THE FACT THAT YOU’RE GETTING FAST FOOD WHILE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING, that’s behind that holiday weight gain.)

Or my personal favorite ridiculous Christmas eating tip online: “Eat with a small group when you can. One study found that dining with six or more people can cause you to eat 76 percent more, most likely because the meal can last so long.”

What if you have 24 first cousins like I do, huh? = the anti-Catholic.

But while most tips I found online made me cringe at their absurdity, there are a few pieces of advice I’d say are, in fact, worth keeping in mind as you enter Christmas Week. They’re not going to see you shedding the pounds, no, but keeping them in mind as you rock around the Christmas tree could help you do the only thing you should be aiming for weightwise between Advent and New Years — maintenance.

So without further ado, here’s my list of achievable, sustainable, non-misery-inducing holiday eating tips.

  • Indulge in your seasonal favorites, but skip the snacks you could have any time of the year. Seriously, which of these sounds wrong to you? “I really shouldn’t, but it’s Christmas Eve, so I’m going to treat myself to a piece of Gram’s mincemeat pie.” vs. “I really shouldn’t, but it’s Christmas Eve, so I’m going to treat myself to these Cool Ranch Doritos.” Skip the extra calories without any seasonal significance, and save room for that favorite fruitcase instead.
  • Offer to contribute your own dish. If you aren’t hosting the holiday party or dinner yourself, plan to bring along an appetizer or side to add to the spread — and make it something on the healthier side. That way, as you’re overfilling your plate because you have more than six friends (ahem), at least you’ll know one dish along the buffet won’t completely undo a year’s worth of good eating. Could be a plate of crudite and hummus, or a side of roasted Brussels sprouts, or even a healthier version of a holiday classic, so long as you know exactly how many sticks of butter went into it.
  • Commit to getting out and moving every day. You don’t have to sign on for a holiday streak like this stubborn runner, but resolving to do one active thing a day between Christmas and New Years is a great way to undo the previous night’s damage. Whether it’s taking your younger cousins sledding or playing some touch footfall or walking the dog around the block, getting your heart beating again is the best way to counteract that gallon of gravy you drank the night before.

The truth is, the holidays come once a year, and they’re a time for celebration, not calorie counting. But I know from experience laying in bed holding your stretched-out stomach in agony isn’t the best way to ring in the new year either, which is why I advocate exercising a little (but not too much) moderation this holiday season. That, and getting a fur cover-up before spring break.

What is your best tip for maintaining healthy habits during the most gluttonous time of the year?

Running Training

Ice Ice Baby

There are a handful of things I’m afraid of all year long – giving blood, centipedes, the monstrosities that will be the new Star Wars trilogy – but at least one of my top trepidations only pops up on a seasonal basis: ice.

Also, haircuts.
Also, haircuts.

Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of appropriate uses for ice, from ice cream to ice baths to the Mighty Ducks’ epic triumph over Iceland in D2’s climactic result. Without ice, there’d be no polar bears, no bobsledding and nothing to avoid in third world countries, plus rapper Robert Matthew Van Winkle would be just plain vanilla.

But while water in a frozen state may have its place, when it comes to covering my city in a slick layer of danger, it’s simply not welcome. Unfortunately, it’s three days in and it doesn’t seem to be getting the hint.

I imagine nearly everyone isn’t a big fan of ice covering his or her sidewalk, but this petrified New Yorker in particular slows to a crawl as soon as the temperature drops below freezing. Blame my terrible eyesight or my terrible balance or my terrible luck, but if there’s ice within 10 feet of me, history shows I’ll always locate it and always slip on it and always teach the neighborhood children a new string of expletives during my fall from grace/a standing position. You’re welcome, Upper East Side moms.

Strap ice-skates to my feet and I’m still shaking in my (sharp) booties as soon as I step onto the rink. Don’t let this apparent smile fool you. This, my friends, is what you call sheer and utter terror.

Also the face I made when Disney bought LucasFilm.
Also the face I made when Disney bought LucasFilm.

During the icy weeks of winter, I’d normally hang up my running shoes and bask in the glory of my unsprained ankles as far from the sidewalks as possible. But with this being the penultimate week of my holiday running streak, throwing in the towel simply isn’t an option. Ice or no ice, the run must go on. The question is how.

Over the weather-filled weekend, I initially tried to run outside, and found my cautious self moving slower than a Terrence Malick film. So I did the unthinkable: I moved my workout inside. If you’ve been reading my blog awhile, you know I hate the treadmill more than I hate 30 Rock at Christmas, but with my ill will toward ice even stronger, the machine somehow won out.

And you know what? It hasn’t been that bad. Sure, I haven’t been logging the mileage I’d like  – in fact, I’ve yet to run more than 2.2 miles in one session since I’ve been forced indoors – but at least I’m maintaining my streak this frigid week without the neck brace to prove it.

It may not look like much, but this, dear friends, is visual proof that in the battle of man vs. ice, man has won. And that’s something worth celebrating with an ice-cold lukewarm beer.


How do you maintain fitness when the weather outside is frightful?

Running Training

A Sick Joke

As I enter the second full week of my first-ever running streak, I’m beginning to feel increasingly like Job. No, not Steve Jobs, the American entrepreneur and inventor who I understand dates Mila Kunis. We’re talking Job of biblical fame, who encountered one setback after another (stubbed toe, mass family burial, etc.) at the hands of infamous Steelers fan Lucifer B. Satan.

To be fair, I haven’t watched everyone I love die in agonizing hellfire this week, but I have encountered challenge after challenge as I aim to keep my running streak alive: My workday began to start an hour earlier (but I kept streaking), then I had a terrible bout of insomnia (but I kept streaking), then winter weather blew into the Eastern Seaboard, making it increasingly tempting to stay curled up in bed.


But I kept streaking.

Each time I battled the odds and made it out the door to run, I started to feel a little more like Lt. Dan hoisted up in the lines on Forrest’s shrimping boat as Hurricane Carmen battered the Gulf Coast. The world was throwing everything it could at me, and I just kept on streaking. I could practically hear my battle cry: “You’ll never sink this boat!”

And that’s when it hit me: the 24-hour stomach flu. We’re talking painful cramps, projectile vomiting and an entire night shivering on the bathroom floor. Not quite what Shaggy had in mind.

My stomach had calmed itself by Wednesday sun-up, but the illness had already wrecked havoc on my hydration levels, leaving my poor head feeling terribly hungover without any of the social perks from the evening before. I slowly added water back into my diet around 9 a.m., then Gatorade around noon, then bland food in the early afternoon, but I was left pondering the inevitable: Would my streak at last be broken?

In our age of digital crowd-sourcing, I decided to seek out some help as I struggled to answer that question. As I began to feel better as early evening approached, I started to think a run was possible and my streak need not be broken, so I first polled another diehard runner in hopes she’d give me the advice I was looking for. Her thoughtful reply was just what I expected:

“Do it. Bring some water with you. One loop around the reservoir. Or run to the park, walk the reservoir and go home. The fresh air will be good for you. Worst comes to worst, you puke on the side of the road and you run home. Still counts, right?”

It’s probably the same advice I would have given, and it’s exactly what my stubborn self wanted to hear. But as I found myself feeling increasingly worse as I slowly went to lace up, I decided I needed a second opinion. So I reached out to my very sympathetic and occasionally procrastination-prone sister, who suggested a postponement might be in order:

“I’d imagine you don’t get to doctor’s note yourself out of a streak, but I heavily support the Saint Nicholas Eve Dec. 5-Epiphany Streak. (a.k.a. the Wise Man Dash.)”

With one yes vote and one motion to table but my body suddenly wanting a plea bargain out of my contract, I decided to seek out the one voice I knew would instruct me to take it easy — my dad:

“It would be unwise to do so and unfair to sidewalk people upon whom you vomit for the sake of principle. The Father absolves you from your running today.”

I had collected input from all sides of the table — or so I thought — when one more late-breaking text came through: a two-line reply from a very dear friend to my earlier wails of misery.

“Feel better!” she wrote. “A one-mile day?”

I hadn’t yet used any one-mile days since beginning my streak, but suddenly, that compromise suggestion seemed like just the solution. So I got dressed, ran ten comically slow blocks south, did a 180, and slowly jogged home, where I treated myself to some victory pepto before high tailing it back to bed.

Was going for a run — albeit a very short one — 24 hours after a stomach bug a smart move or a stubborn one? Maybe both. But I knew if I broke it once, I’d be hard pressed not to cheat on my streak again, and that wasn’t a risk this hard-headed runner was willing to take.

Of course, I’m not the only stubborn one in this family.


How is your training faring this illness-prone season?

Running Training

Rule Breaker

I tend to think of rules as falling into two distinct categories: the unbreakable vow variety of Severus-Narcissa fame and the bendable, grey-area ones that are more like suggestions than hard and fast canon.

Deciding which rules are breakable and which have some flexibility is a very individual choice, but for me, the line falls somewhere around here. No intravenous drug use? Unbreakable. No swimming less than 30 minutes after eating? More of a suggestion. No infidelity? Unbreakable. Not eating cookie dough for breakfast? More of a suggestion. Vowing never to see another Tolkien film? Unbreakable. Keeping your dog well groomed in the off season?


Clearly a suggestion.

Whenever I’m training for a new distance or big race, be it the July triathlon that wasn’t or last month’s New York City Marathon, I always download a training schedule that I intend to follow exactly – no cheating! – and for the most part, do, especially for the first few weeks. I wake up early. I log every mile. I’m disciplined and focused and stick to the plan, with my workout routine falling into that first category of rules: unbreakable.

And then something inevitably happens – a hangover, a cold, a Property Brothers marathon on HGTV – and I allow myself to skip one scheduled workout. It’s just one 3-miler. I tell myself. You’ll get back out there tomorrow like you never even missed it.

Does my training suffer from missing one 25-minute workout three months before the marathon? Probably not, at least in the physical sense. But mentally, breaking that training schedule just one single time relocates it from that sacred, unbreakable category to a dangerous grey area. Suddenly, with that one act of flexibility, my training shifts from unwavering to bendable, and skipping another workout the following week becomes significantly easier. Breaking your own rules is a slippery slope, kids, and it can lead to missed PRs and hobbits. And probably heroine.

It’s with this idea in mind – that a once-bent rule is easier to break – that I begin my first full working week as a running streaker. Logging at least a mile a day during my four-day visit to Baltimore was easy, as the weather was clear, my schedule was clearer and I had the best darn running partner on that side of the Mason-Dixon Line.


But when I arrive back in the city tomorrow, getting out the door before sun-up every single day is going to be a far more trying commitment, and not just because I’ll be doing it solo. Some days I’ll be tired, some days I’ll be sore and – eventually, if I keep this up through Christmas – some days I’ll be lacing up in the snow. Streaking isn’t going to be easy.

But you know what? Easy or not, it might just be worth it. So here’s to relegating it to that unbreakable category and leaving it there, at least for the next 24 days. I might chicken out and do the bear minimum – one mile – more times this upcoming month than I’d like to admit, but at least I vow to do it, no ifs, ands or butts.

So here we go. 24 days and counting – both until I can stop streaking and until I get to see this beast again.


Of course, when I see her, I might want to take her on a Christmas morning run, and the streak might press on. If you give a mouse a cookie…

What rules won’t you break?