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Eating right in a maple-pecan danish world

It seems like everyone’s on a diet these days. Hang around in the lunchroom and you’ll hear the endless debates over Atkins, The Zone, South Beach, Ornish (just to name a few), as people sip on their meal-replacement shakes and go on about the “negative calories” in celery.

But that just won’t work for you. You LIKE food. And in the cold, damp, dark dead of winter, it’s really hard not to give in to your comfort treats. And really — who ever consoled themselves with celery when the stress-o-meter went through the roof, or grabbed a fistful of celery to get through a rough deadline marathon?

But there’s a lot of ways to fuel your body for optimal performance, and avoid that midwinter weight creep (or even persuade some of those pounds to creep off again). And several of them don’t involve celery at all.

Brown Bag It

It’s easier on your wallet, and easier on your calorie count. Restaurant and cafeteria food is often loaded with extra fat, sodium and starch, to make it more attractive to our primitive taste buds. Google “healthy lunch ideas” for hundreds of easy, make-ahead recipes that won’t leave you sagging under the midafternoon “post-lunch” slump. Chop up raw veggies and pre-bag for grab-and-go convenience. Try soups in thermoses, wraps, salads… brown-bagging has come a long way since the simple days of peanut butter and jam. If going out for lunch is a large part of giving yourself a break from workplace stress, eat at your desk and then go for a walk instead.

Develop a Drinking Habit

Often we reach for a snack when what we really are is thirsty. If your office doesn’t feature a cooler or fountain (taking a walk to get your drink scores extra health points), get yourself a water bottle and put it front and centre on your desk. When you get the urge for a snack, take a swig instead. If plain water doesn’t suit your taste, throw in a slice of lemon, or consider herbal teas served hot or cold.

Avoid Food as “Fidget”

It’s been proven that many of us think better when we have something to do with our fingers, or our mouths. Remember all those pencils and pens you gnawed ragged in school? Be careful that you are eating to satisfy real hunger, and not just responding to the need to chew. Instead of a snack, try substituting sugar-free gum, or at least go for a snack that gives you a lot of “bite satisfaction” (raw carrots, pretzels, dried apples) rather than just a muffin or doughnut.

Know your Game Plan Before you Walk into the Food Court/Restaurant

Cafeterias and fast-food areas are extreme “temptation zones”. You know that the French fries are not good for you, and those oil-and-soy-sauce-drenched noodles? Not exactly health food either. But it’s hard to say no when you are hungry, and overwhelmed by the delicious smells, and surrounded by other people eating those foods. This is the moment when you will crumble… unless you have already worked out your strategy. Think ahead about what you’re going to get, and how you’re going to keep yourself from falling into old (bad) habits.

Front-and-Centre Fruit

Bring an apple, or a banana, or a pear, or a bunch of grapes, to work, and set it where you’ll reach for it first when you need a snack. Anything that short-circuits the trip to the muffin shop downstairs is good. Consider pre-bagging a handful of almonds, or a few cubes of cheese with some crackers, or slices of pickle — whatever will keep the munchies at bay when you’d normally be ambling down the hall to score a candy bar from the vending machine.

Slow Down

Try not to eat while distracted. If you don’t notice the food going down, it can almost be as if you didn’t eat it at all, and you’ll stay unsatisfied. Stop and pay attention to the tart crunch of the apple, or the crispiness of the crackers, or the chewiness of each individual raisin. Take your time. You’ll be amazed at how much “fuller” you feel.

Practice “Harm Reduction”

This public health concept is based on the understanding that you can bomb people with hundreds of messages about good health, but people simply won’t always do what’s best for them. In that case, the next-best thing is to make the harmful things less harmful. If you can’t face life without your morning blueberry muffin, consider cutting it in half and stowing half in the freezer for the next day. If your coffee isn’t drinkable without cream in it, try it with less cream and see if you can adjust your taste buds. Share your fries with someone else. Identify your less-than-good habits, and see if you can push back, just a little. It makes a bigger difference than you think.

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