Welcome to the first week of the nine-week gain fitness not fat holiday challenge! I’ve put together nine weekly challenges to help you finish the year strong by building healthy habits while still enjoying the holidays.
Learn more about the challenge in my intro blog post. The biggest lesson I want you to learn over the next nine weeks is that a healthy lifestyle isn’t something you switch on and off. It’s not an all-or-nothing choice. You can enjoy the cheesecake and live a healthy lifestyle. You can miss a workout (or three) and still live a healthy lifestyle. You are permitted to have a crazy life and simply do the best you can with what you have. It’s healthier to have balance than it is to have extreme diet restrictions or throw all health concerns out the window. You don’t have to choose 100% healthy or 100% not, you can find a nice comfortable place in the middle.
If we spend the time to build healthy habits, it’s easier to stay on track when life gets crazy. If we don’t beat ourselves up for eating the cookie or enjoying the cocktail, we can move on to our next healthy meal without guilt. It’s what we do most of the time that matters, there is room for treats in a healthy lifestyle.
This challenge isn’t about making crazy diet commitments, food eliminations or following intense workout plans. It’s about building healthy habits that the lay the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.
Each week we will work on one small practice that can fit into your day, even if your day is filled with work, family, friends, holiday parties and shopping. The key to the challenges over the next nine weeks is that they are achievable, no matter how busy your life feels.
If you build on the challenges week after week, adding the new habits while still continuing to work on the existing ones, you’ll finish the year on a healthy foot and set yourself up to reach all your health and fitness goals next year.
A mistake people make is that they let themselves off the hook completely around the holidays with a promise to start over on New Year’s Day. Even if you can’t exercise, and healthy nutrition feels impossible, do what you can. Any effort is better than pushing health and fitness out of your mind completely. Life tends to ebb and flow. Do what you can while things are crazy, then do more when life slows down a bit.
If been looking for ways to make healthy changes without feeling like you’ve screwed up every time you miss a day or eat something sweet, then this is the challenge for you.
WEEK ONE: TRACK ADDED SUGARS
Your challenge for the week is to keep track of the added sugars you consume each day for the week.
I know what you are thinking.
“Say what? You promised me no extreme diets, and for the first challenge you’re taking away all my sugars?!? Don’t you know the first holiday party of the year is this weekend, and you don’t understand because you never tasted my Grandma’s fudge!?!”
Notice the challenge is to track the added sugars that you consume, not necessarily limit anything right now. It’s about awareness of sugar in-take and understanding the difference between natural and added sugars.
If we aim to consume less than 25 grams of added sugars on most days, then we are free to enjoy Grandma’s fudge without guilt on occasion. For now, I only want you to have a better awareness of how many grams of sugars you are consuming a day. Once you see where the hidden sugars are coming from, it will be easier to work to reduce to 25 grams of added sugar per day on most days (with exceptions allowed!).
During the challenge, I want you to document the amount of added sugar in everything you eat and drink for each meal and snack. You don’t need to track every calorie consumed, simply take note of the added sugars. I recommend that you write it down as you go, either on paper, in notes on your phone, or in an app and add up the totals at the end of each day.
Don’t forget to include all the sugars you eat each day: the leftover Halloween candy you stole from your co-worker's desk, the sugar and the flavored creamer in your coffee. It’s all too easy to forget about the foods we eat mindlessly on the go. For this week, track it all. If you are way over 25 grams of added sugars at the end of the day, look for ways to reduce just a little bit the next day.
Look at the Nutrition Facts label to locate the sugar grams. Be sure to take note of the serving size. Often foods will list unreasonably small serving sizes. If you eat a bowl of cereal and it has 10 grams of sugar per 1/4 cup, make sure you are measuring the sugar content in the actual amount you are eating, because no one in the history of cereal eating has ever only eaten 1/4 cup. Amiright?
If it doesn’t have a label, like fruits or vegetables, you don’t have to track it.
WHY NOT TRACK NATURAL SUGARS?
In this challenge we are only tracking added sugars. Natural sugars are sugar too, but they are healthy because they also provide nutrients that your body needs. Natural sugars are found in fruit and dairy products.
Most people don’t gain weight because they eat too many bananas, apples and or plain yogurt. You’ll make a bigger impact on your health by focusing on reducing those hidden sugars.
I like to ask my clients to focus on the actions that will produce the biggest results. Often we get caught up in ideas that won’t make enough of an impact to put any mental energy towards it. Giving up fruit won’t make as much of a difference in your health as reducing the sugars you consume from processed foods, like candy, soda, ice cream, cakes, and cookies.
HOW CAN I TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NATURAL SUGARS & ADDED SUGARS ON FOOD LABELS?
On the new Nutrition Facts label, added sugars are clearly defined on the label. There is a ‘Total Sugars’ amount and ‘Includes Added Sugars’ amount. As you track your added sugars this week, you only need to calculate the added sugars number.
On foods produced before the FDA made changes to the Nutrition Facts label, sugars, both natural and added, were lumped into one Total Sugar number. In this case, you can tell if sugars are added or natural by reading the ingredients list.
If sugar is listed on the ingredient list, then it has added sugars. The ingredient list is ranked by volume, so if sugar is near the top of the list, that means it has more sugar than the other ingredients.
HOW CAN I SPOT HIDDEN SUGARS?
Food companies use other names for sugars in the ingredient list so they may be harder to detect. Look for these different names for sugar used in packaged foods: Cane crystals, Corn syrup, Dextrose, Evaporated cane juice, Fructose, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, High-fructose corn syrup, Lactose, Maltose, Molasses, Sucrose, Syrup as a few examples.
Even if you don’t consume traditional sugary treats, if you're not paying attention you may be consuming more sugar than you realize. There is added sugar hiding in a lot of packaged foods. Check the labels on your salad dressing, ketchup, flavored yogurt, canned fruit, juice, protein bars, flavored nuts, even your tuna packets. You can easily rack up more than 25 grams a day even if you never drank a soda or ate a cookie.
It’s eye opening to track your added sugars with the awareness of the 25 grams or less guideline, even if you aren’t able to adhere to it every day.
This isn’t about beating yourself up for eating too much sugar, but to bring awareness to your sugar intake and finding the hidden sugars lurking in your foods. Once you gain the awareness, you won’t need to track every day for the rest of your life, because you will have a better understanding where sugar is hiding. Awareness is the first step.
I’d love to hear how it goes this week! Stay tuned next Monday for your second weekly holiday challenge.
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