'Tis the season to be healthy

Once again the holiday season has arrived! Have no fear - it's still possible to enjoy the delicious meals without haunting leftovers bursting your belt buckle. In fact, by following several healthful tips you can actually lose weight over the holidays. Basically, if you monitor your eating method over the next several months you can shape and sculpt the most important holiday present of all: your health.

Your eating pattern is the most important factor in keeping the weight off this December. The key to a healthy diet is remembering to eat consistently. Instead of saving your ferocious appetite until Thanksgiving dinner, ingest small meals throughout the day. In so doing, you won't be famished once dinnertime arrives, and thus you will be less likely to overeat.

Most healthy individuals eat five to six meals per day. By not eating all day you are essentially starving your body. As a result, when you finally eat that delicious turkey dinner, your body actually stores the food for later. Unfortunately, when your body stores food it is often stored as lipids - fat. However, when you consistently ingest food throughout the day, your body distributes the nutrients efficiently. In short, the consistent eating method actually deters your body from storing nutrients because your body recognizes that more food and nutrients are on their way.

The consistent eating method also applies to water. Water makes up approximately 60 to 70 percent of a person's total body weight. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the average person should drink two to three liters of water - or eight cups - per day to maintain this healthy percentage. As with foods, if you deprive yourself of water your body will retain fluids. However, by frequently drinking water, your body automatically retains less, thus leaving you feeling and appearing thinner.

This year make a promise to your body. Rather than one or two meals per day, aim for five to six meals every three hours. In addition, remember to hydrate your body by drinking at least eight glasses of water per day. By following this consistent method you will keep your body well fueled and properly hydrated.

Make sure each one of those five to six meals includes carbohydrates, protein and fat. Remember, your body is similar to a machine. In order for a machine to run efficiently it needs the correct mixture of oil and gasoline. Likewise, your body needs the proper mixture of micronutrients to burn energy properly. If you are deficient in one macronutrient, your body cannot burn calories as efficiently.

Besides correct eating and hydration method, it is important to review healthful food options. Portion control is crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. Luckily, there are a few simple guidelines to follow to ensure that you're eating the right portion sizes, even if everything tastes delicious.

Gordon Wardlaw, author of "Contemporary Nutrition, Issues and Insight," proposes a simple model to control your intake. By using common household items such as a golf ball, tennis ball, yo-yo, computer mouse, baseball and your own fist, you can actually monitor your caloric intake.

Golf ball = 2 tablespoons ... of salad dressing, peanut butter, margarine, etc.

Tennis ball = medium/small fruit, a measurement of 1/2 to 2/3 cup

Yo-yo = 1 standard bagel or En-glish muffin

Computer mouse = 1/2 to 3/4 cup ... of baked potato; ground or chopped foods; 1/2 cup = 2 ounces.

Baseball = large fruit (apple, orange) or 1 cup volume.

Fist = 1 cup ... of, say, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal.

During each meal, when you go to select your food, pay close attention to your plate and be sure your portions match up to these objects. Now, I know what you are thinking: "This is half of the amount of food I usually have. I am going to starve!" However, remember that you will be eating five to six times per day, not simply once or twice. Fact is, when using the consistent eating method you should feel full for approximately three hours before you need to eat again.

A possible day, eatingwise:

Meal 1 - 6 a.m. Snack

Meal 2 - 9 a.m.: maybe after a workout

Meal 3 - noon: Snack

Meal 4 - 3 p.m.

Meal 5 - 6 p.m. Snack

Meal 6 - 9 p.m.

Note: If your day does not start until 9 a.m., then maybe you should eat only five meals a day.

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