Don’t Surrender Health Hopes at the Holidays

Joan Bender

by Martin Miron

Joan Bender is a certified health coach, author of the cookbook Gluten Free Alchemy: The Heart & Soul of Creating Gluten Free Goodies and the children’s book The Great Veggie Monster Mystery and owner of Food & Mood Coaching, LLC, in Delmar.

She has created New Year, New You—A 28-Day Post-Holiday Reset Program, that begins on January 5, 2019, online. Participants receive daily emails with healthy recipes, guidance, support and inspiration. The goal is to create new healthy habits, decompress from the holidays, reset the nervous system, energize the body, mind and spirit, and regain greater hormonal balance by eating delicious, clean, whole foods.
Bender’s mission is to help people make peace with food and learn to listen to their own bodies, rather than follow old, unhealthy habits or the latest fads. It can be confusing at times, and talking with someone that has knowledge about healthy eating can help one to clear up confusion, discover new possibilities and become excited about food and cooking. According to Bender, the holidays can be especially challenging as people struggle to be disciplined amongst great temptation.

What is your advice for those overdoing the sweets at holiday parties?
This is huge for so many people, and over-indulging can really lead one to not only feeling physically not well, but also feeling emotionally bad about themselves. I suggest eating a combination of protein and vegetables before heading to a party that will have lots of sweets. This will get some good nutrition into you and help to minimize cravings for sweets.

What can people do at the party when faced with temptation?
At the event, take pause before putting food on your plate. Look it over, admire it from afar. Get a sense from others of which items are really yummy and which ones might not be worth eating. Be a food connoisseur. Before plating your food, look all of the food over, and ask yourself, “What looks appealing to me right now? What do I really want to taste? What’s worthy of going on my plate and into my body?” If you can, take one item at a time, eat it slowly, really savor it and enjoy every bite. Give yourself permission to eat some yummy treats, and let go of any guilt. Believe it or not, this can really help with overeating.

How does that help?
It slows you down and connects you with how food feels in the body. Often, we are so distracted with fun and conversations, that we are hardly tasting the food, and we are missing hunger and fullness signals from the body. In addition, once guilt sets in, people often give up. They feel like they’ve failed, so they just keep eating. Another strategy for overeating, is to give yourself permission to only eat foods that taste really good. If you start to eat something, and you’re really not crazy about it, ask yourself if you really want to eat it. If the answer is no, don’t eat it. Allowing yourself to not eat everything on your plate can be hard for some, based on how they grew up, or possibly fearing that they might insult someone. Something to tell yourself is that nothing goes to waste. If something isn’t eaten, it will feed an animal at the landfill or it will decompose and return to the earth as nutrients for the soil which will feed new plants and animals in the future. When it comes to insulting someone, if you have food on your plate and you don’t want to eat it, and you don’t want to throw it away in front of your host, explain that you are full and ask to take it home. You can than dispose of it privately.

Is it better to do your own holiday baking rather than purchase bake goods?
It is better to bake your own. When you do your own, you control what ingredients go into your food. Most store and bakery-bought goodies have way more sugar than is needed. Store-bought items often contain high-fructose corn syrup, as well. I’ve found that most traditional recipes can have their sugar cut back by one-quarter to one-half cup and still taste really good. There are many natural sugar substitutes like dates, coconut nectar and coconut palm sugar that can replace white sugar and provided a lower glycemic index. This means that it gives your body a lower sugar spike, so the body will need to produce less insulin. This is especially important for those who have pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Why is high-fructose corn syrup a problem?
High-fructose corn syrup is manufactured in a factory where extra fructose is added to the corn syrup to make it sweeter. This can have several adverse effects for the body. High levels of fructose lead to insulin resistance. This can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes, obesity and heart disease. In addition, if someone isn’t doing enough exercise to burn off the extra sugar, it will be converted into fat and stored primarily in the belly. Another adverse effect is that it impacts ghrelin, a hormone that signals to our body when we are hungry. When ghrelin is high, we are hungry. Fructose doesn’t suppress ghrelin, so even though we might be full, our body isn’t getting a full signal and we continue to eat.

What advice do you have for someone who is feeling guilt or remorse about overeating during the holidays?
Our bodies are resilient. Our cells are regenerating every day. Therefore, each day is a new and fresh start at creating something different and getting back on track. Also, you are not alone in this. Other people are having a similar experience and you do not need to go to drastic measures to try to off-set any perceived damage.

For more information and to register for Bender’s new program, call 518-461-9507 or visit