Cravings can be caused by a rise in cortisol from increased stress or inadequate sleep. Eating high carbohydrate foods that cause a spike and drop in blood sugar can also trigger cravings. As you adopt healthier practices, like exercising to reduce stress and eating healthier foods, your cravings will decrease. They may not disappear completely, but you will be able to control them and the amount you eat when you decide to treat yourself.
Hunger and Fullness
As you become a mindful eater, you will begin to recognize when you are truly hungry, which will help you to stop eating when you are full. After years of unhealthy dieting, it can be difficult to recognize true hunger and fullness again so consider this a big step to improving your health.
Healthy foods are rich in fiber and protein that help stabilize your blood sugar and prevent the spikes and drops that can zap your energy. Adopting healthy habits will boost your energy levels throughout the day. Pay attention to changes in how you feel at different times. You will likely find that your afternoon slump no longer occurs and that you awake each morning ready to take on your day.
Research shows that regular exercise promotes restful sleep as long as you complete your workout at least four hours before bedtime. Staying well hydrated, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, and limiting alcohol intake can all improve your sleep patterns. Healthy foods can ease stress and anxiety further helping you to get the rest you need to feel your best. Consider keeping a sleep journal that tracks how quickly you fall asleep, how long you sleep, and how you feel when waking. Compare this to your food diary and exercise log to determine the positive changes you’ve made to improve sleep.
Moving with Ease
As you become fit, daily activities will become easier. Pay attention to your breathing when you climb a flight of stairs. Note improvements in joint pain during your workouts. As the weight comes off and you become stronger, your body will begin to move more easily. The aches and pains you once felt will lessen and often disappear.
Fitness enthusiasts welcome gifts that support an active lifestyle whether it’s a new piece of gear or a reminder to keep moving. Make the new year healthier by adding these gift ideas to your shopping list.
Monogrammed Yoga Mat
Whether the person on your list is a yoga guru or simply needs a good spot for crunches, a monogrammed yoga mat makes workouts more fun. Many companies allow you to customize mats with initials or names in a variety of cheerful colors and fonts.
Framed Motivational Quotes
With craft and artist websites like Etsy.com, framed artwork boasting motivational quotes has moved beyond soaring eagles and wooded landscapes. Artists can take a favorite quote and turn it into colorful, quirky wall art that will fit into anyone's home decor.
As winter days grow shorter, it can be tough to fit in exercise during daylight hours. Whether your loved ones are bike commuters or early morning walkers, dependable flashing headlamps, bike lights and reflective shirts and vests are the perfect gift for keeping them safe and fit.
Foam rollers have become an essential piece of fitness equipment. A variety of styles are available, but they all operate the same way. The foam cylinder is rolled against the muscles to massage and ease soreness. To ensure your fitness enthusiast gets the most out of the gift, buy one that comes with an instructional video.
Even the biggest fitness advocate can't be on the move all the time. Grab the latest book on running, cycling, or yoga to keep them engaged during down time. From books by ultramarathoners to football players to yogis, there are numerous options on fitness and motivation available at your local book store.
Compression gear helps with recovery and blood circulation. A pair of compression leg sleeves is a great gift for the athlete and avid exerciser in your life. Not only are they beneficial post-workout, they can also help with blood circulation on long flights or road trips.
Race Number Belt
For competitors, pinning race numbers to shirts can be frustrating. Number belts are thin belts of elastic with holders for attaching the race number near the waistline. This keeps the numbers secure and out of the way.
There is nothing worse than sticky strands of hair in your face during a workout. New sports headbands are made of comfortable, elastic materials that hold hair in place no matter how high-impact the activity. They also come in stylish prints and colors, and make great stocking stuffers for fitness lovers.
A non-stop schedule makes getting the rest you need difficult while also pushing stress levels to the limit. You might think you will recover once the holidays are over, but at that point the damage may be done. Research shows that both sleep and stress are linked to your weight loss success. Keeping rest and stress relief at the top of your priority list will ensure you get through a hectic period while still hanging onto your health and your waistline.
Sleep is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. This encourages squeezing more tasks into the day at the cost of a restful night’s sleep. Many people operate on five to six hours per night, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need seven to nine hours to function at their full potential.
Lack of sleep has bigger consequences than tiredness. Research shows that sleep influences the hormones that regulate appetite, preventing weight loss and often resulting in weight gain. There are three main appetite hormones – ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol. Ghrelin and cortisol stimulate appetite giving you the urge to eat more. Leptin suppresses appetite signaling fullness. When you don’t get enough sleep ghrelin and cortisol production increases and leptin production decreases. This results in increased cravings and hunger which can lead to a higher calorie intake that causes weight gain.
Stress and lack of sleep often go hand-in-hand. Stressful situations can keep you up at night and tiredness and irritability can make daily tasks more stressful. High stress also causes a spike in cortisol further triggering food cravings, especially for high-calorie carbohydrates. This constant increase in appetite can make it difficult to resist unhealthy snacks and grazing between meals.
Set Your Priorities
Making sleep and stress control a priority will better prepare you to accomplish your endless to-do list while keeping your weight in check. Follow these tips for increasing sleep and reducing your stress levels.
Set a regular schedule for the time you go to bed and wake every day.
If you sometimes experience insomnia, get your workout in at least four hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
If your mind races at night, keep a notebook and pen by the bed. When a thought or task pops in your head, write it down, forget about it, and get some sleep.
Exercise, even if you can only fit in 10 minutes. Every little bit will help to reduce stress.
Add stretching exercises and short walks throughout the day to give yourself a break from stressful work.
Delegate your to-do list. Are there things that family and friends can assist with like cleaning, shopping, or cooking? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If cravings and hunger increase, take time to evaluate your sleep schedule and stress level. Make changes to gain control before you start seeing the evidence in the form of extra pounds on the scale.
Often it’s not the holiday foods, but the portions that send calorie intake through the roof. Instead of using large casserole dishes, use oven-safe ramekins that hold ½ to 1 cup of food. Fill them with baked side dishes like sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, or stuffing. When your servings are pre-measured, it eliminates the temptation to scoop large portions onto your plate.
Go heavy on the vegetables.
Adding extra vegetables is a good way to fill up and improve the nutrition of your meal with fewer calories. Add extras to salads like chopped broccoli, sliced bell peppers, and sliced cabbage. Add diced mushrooms or shredded carrots to stuffing, and mix finely chopped cauliflower into casseroles.
Limit your choices.
When there are too many choices, it is tempting to try a little of every dish. This results in an overflowing plate of generous bites. Plan a holiday meal like you would any other. Select two vegetables or fruits, a protein source, and a grain. Of course, these dishes may be dressed up for the holidays, but stick with only four to five separate dishes. You will be able to taste all of the options and still keep the portions and calories under control.
Take a water break.
Put the focus on the special food and skip the high calorie drinks. Sipping on water instead of sweet tea and soda can drastically reduce your calorie intake. Drinking water between courses and between cocktails can also help to fill you up and keep you hydrated, lessening the effects of the alcohol and excess sodium.
Don’t pass up true treats.
"Eat and enjoy" is advice not shared often enough during the holiday season. The holidays bring special foods that you eat only once a year. Pass on more common items like rolls and mashed potatoes. Take one serving of special holiday foods and enjoy every bite. Forcing yourself to pass up on true treats will only make you feel deprived and that is no way to spend a healthy holiday season.
Practice mindful eating.
Planning, tending to guests, and bustling conversations can be distracting. When it is time to join the table, keep mindful eating high on your priority list. Eat slowly and focus on the flavor of the food. Put your fork down between bites and take sips of water. These small changes will slow your eating, help you enjoy your meal, and keep you aware of your hunger level.
Take on new traditions.
Special family recipes will always be part of the holidays, but making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle may mean that it's time to start a few new traditions. Delicious food doesn't have to be loaded with calories, fat, and sodium. While the average Thanksgiving meal contains 4,500 calories, the 3-course healthy holiday meal listed below is under 710 calories. It also has a fraction of the fat and sodium of a typical holiday meal, but with all of the traditional flavor.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow bringing oxygen to the heart is cut off. Factors such as lifestyle, family history, and age contribute to this narrowing and blockage of the arteries. Knowing your health status and where you stand with these factors will help you predict your risk.
Body Mass Index
Body Mass Index (BMI) is determined by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. The resulting number is used to categorize your weight status as normal (18.5 to 24.9), overweight (25 to 29.9), and obese (30 and greater). BMI has been used for many years as a tool to predict health risk, but researchers now recognize its limitations. While it may no longer be the best predictor for heart disease, it remains a simple tool to help you keep your weight in check. Aiming for a healthy weight can help you reduce the health risks that come with being overweight, including heart disease and heart attack. (Calculate your BMI.)
Many researchers now believe that waist measurements are better predictors for heart attack risk than BMI. A waist-to-hip ratio measurement estimates your body fat pattern. People who have an apple shape carry more weight around the middle. Apples are considered at greater risk because of visceral fat (the dangerous fat stored around the organs linked to disease). Pear-shaped individuals carry less weight around the middle and more weight around the hips and thighs which is not considered as dangerous as belly fat. Waist-to-hip ratio is determined by dividing the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips. Men should aim for a value less than 1.0, and women should aim for less than 0.8. (Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio.)
Another measurement used to estimate visceral fat is waist circumference. There is some debate as to whether waist-to-hip ratio or the waist circumference measurement is a better predictor of heart attack. Some studies state waist circumference as the preferred method. Others indicate that when only a waist measurement is used, the risk is underestimated. Consider using both methods to better determine your risk. Men should aim for a waist circumference of less than 40 inches (102 centimeters), and women less than 35 inches (88 centimeters).
Elevated blood cholesterol increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that adults have their cholesterol tested once every 5 years. If your total cholesterol is greater than 200 mg/dL it is considered borderline high, putting you at greater risk for heart disease. Healthy eating and increased physical activity can help you lower your cholesterol to normal levels.
High blood pressure (hypertension) puts stress on the blood vessels causing damage that leads to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. You can reduce your risk by incorporating healthier habits such as nutritious eating, exercise, and stress reduction activities.
mmHg (upper #)
mmHg (upper #)
Less than 90
Less than 60
High Blood Pressure
Stage 1 Hypertension
High Blood Pressure
Stage 2 Hypertension
160 or higher
100 or higher
Emergency Care Needed
180 or higher
110 or higher
A fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or above is an indicator of insulin resistance. When insulin is not working effectively to help cells absorb blood glucose, this puts you at risk for elevated blood sugar, which leads to diabetes. Since high blood sugar damages arteries, diabetes is another risk factor for heart disease.
Smoking and Secondhand Smoke
Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke damages the arteries and causes deposits of cholesterol to collect on arterial walls. Over time this decreases blood flow, increasing risk of heart attack. Limit your exposure to secondhand smoke, and if you smoke, stop. Talk to your doctor about the many successful programs that can help you stop smoking and improve your health.