It can be really difficult to escape the holiday season's vortex of associated problems. Cars and furnaces seem programmed to go fritzy in the winter, the cold makes it more difficult to exercise and high-calorie food runs hot and cold.
As you try to avoid junk foods, it helps if you're able to really listen to what your body is saying. According to Joshua Rosenthal, author of Integrative Nutrition: The Future of Nutrition, what you crave is an indication of what your body needs.
In his book, Rosenthal explains that cravings are the body's attempt to keep itself in balance and, he says, the body needs to maintain balance. Just as we desire caffeine to wake ourselves up and sweets to lift our moods, we use other specific foods to deliver a specific effect.
If your diet is missing certain nutrients, it will let you know.
Rosenthal divides what we eat into contracting and expanding foods. Expanding foods (carbs and sugars) are mood enhancers, he says. Contracting foods contain proteins and depress our bodies. He argues that eating too much of a contracting food sparks a craving for an expanding food and we end up struggling between highs and lows, overeating in the process.
He recommends filling up on vegetables and limiting the intake of meats, sugars and breads. Rosenthal says it's important to take a breath after a crave hits and to try to understand what it's saying.
Make sure you're drinking enough water — thirst can be misinterpreted as hunger.
You can also choose a healthy alternative to the food you crave. If you're wanting a sugary snack, try an apple instead — its sugar isn't as rich or as refined as candy. If your mood is the problem, try to figure out how you can meet your emotional needs.
Regular exercise and proper sleep are important, too. These are basic, everyday activities that regulate your body, your moods and your energy levels.
While none of this advice is new, the context it provides can help you work with your body and make it your friend rather than something you're fighting against.
CONTACT STEPHEN CARTER-NOVOTNI: snovotni(at)citybeat.com