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A couple of years ago my sister asked her 4-year-old granddaughter Abby about what they had done in Primary that day.  “We sang ‘Oh Santa!’ ” she replied with delight.  Her six-year old big brother Brigham instantly chided her with “Abby, we don’t sing about Santa in Primary!”  “Oh, yes we do!” she confidently responded.  She then proved it by joyfully singing, instead of “Hosanna” in the chorus in “With Wondering Awe” “Oh, Santa!  Oh, Santa!  Oh, Santa is his name!”

I hope you’re laughing, as we have – and do every time the children sing that song!  In truth, however, how easy it is for children of all ages – including mature adults — to replace the Savior with the world’s substitutes.  I’m not saying I don’t believe in Santa, or that he doesn’t come to our house.  In fact, I still believe in Santa!  After all, he was a real person who practiced and inspired goodness and generosity.  Magical things often happen at Christmas! I’m just saying that at this demanding season of the year, it is easy to neglect our Heavenly Father’s truest plans and hopes for us in the rush of holiday busy-ness.  It applies to how we care for our bodies, as well as how we care for our spirits.

C is for Christmas

When our children were young, we once enjoyed a lovely little Christmas library book entitled “C is for Christmas.”   The charming story was lavishly illustrated with candy canes, cake, cookies, chocolate, cinnamon buns, cups of cocoa, etc.  I remember it all these years later because those delightful drawings illustrated not only the text of the book, but my own over-sized December weaknesses and temptations in regard to sugar and goodies.  The funny t-shirt slogan that says “Dear Santa, I want it ALL!” describes me to a T when it comes to Christmas treats.

I do not remember how the “C is for Christmas “book ended, but if I were to write my own ending, it would be “C is For Christ Child” with the scripture from Nephi:  1:17-40  “He loveth those who will have Him to be their God.”

That being said, we can choose to have him as our God in all ways – including smart eating choices over the next couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.  Jane Birch’s continuing Meridian articles are great guidelines. Of all the times during the year that we need his Spirit close, and our own spirits, emotions and health to be at their best, it’s the last two weeks of December.  Without a doubt, what we eat determines how we feel both physically and emotionally.  By choosing to indulge only at special times with special people, we arrest the distress that overeating, bingeing and private grazing brings.

Heavenly Father’s Candy

Would a loving Father deprive his children at Christmas? Of course not!

One of my favorite grandmothers calls fruit “Heavenly Father’s candy.”  She always makes sure she has plenty when they come to visit.  When you think about it, all of the popular children’s candy is simply duplicating the spectacular colors and flavors that are already available naturally in fruit!  The reds, oranges, greens and purples are found in grapes, oranges themselves, kiwis, apples, etc.  Somehow, like Abby substituted the word “Oh Santa” for “Hosanna” we’ve substituted candy for “the real thing.”

Is it a believable stretch of the imagination to think that we can most often choose fruit or crunch veggies instead of candy?

As a student of Family Studies at Brigham Young University in the early 70’s, I remember well the insights of a favorite professor, Darnell Zollinger, who said “an apple will lead more than a horse.”  When it was time for pres-schoolers to line up, out came her bag of apple slices.  She’d raise it high for all to see.  They’d quickly follow her instructions, as she did not pass out the fruit until everyone was quietly in line.

It works for older children and teens, too.  Another excellent teacher I know brings bite-sized pieces of fruit or veggies on a little plate to her classroom.  As they raise their hands and participate appropriately, she quietly passes the plate and they take just one. They love it!  They do not feel cheated that it’s not candy or cookies, they’re just glad there’s a treat.

What is there about an apple, an orange or a banana or carrots and celery, that enables us to stop eating after a healthy-sized serving … but a cookie, a bag of m&ms or a cookie or a chocolate? Well, one is never enough!  A friend who lost 100 pounds said it best about these offending sugary or carbgoodies:  “For me, one is too many – and a whole bag is not enough!”  In fact, I don’t know anyone who binges on apples.  Do you?

How Sugar Works Against Us

For a fascinating (and entertaining!) youtube lecture by a medical doctor (Dr. Neal Barnard) on how sugar works, how it changes our behavior chemically, and why we are at its mercy, click here. 

In short: Food (and especially sugar) cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted or blue (a frequent occurrence during the holidays), we have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin, and the body signals the brain that it needs a pick-me-up. This signal causes a sugar craving or carbohydrate craving.  During the holidays, the foods that feed these cravings and set us up for the vicious cycle are in ample supply because we often bake and buy them ourselves, and they are given more as gifts.

Serotonin is our basic feel-good hormone. If serotonin is low, we feel sad or depressed. Unfortunately, eating sugars and simple carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin — we feel good for a moment, but soon return to our low-serotonin state — then crave more sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s a downward spiral.

In many ways sugar is literally a DRUG that provides, though it is a small amount, the same opiates as in recreational drugs.

No wonder we are at its beck and call. Dr. Bernard could be a stand-up comedian as he explains this life-changing information.   It’s is an extremely well-spent 30 minutes that may be the inspiration you need to eat better starting right NOW.

How well we know that downward spiral and the sadness/lethargy and feelings of failure they bring.  Is this what we want at Christmastime for ourselves and our families?

The best way to address it is with proper nutrition! Even as our spirits cannot substitute Santa for the Savior, our bodies cannot substitute candy and refined carbs for proper nourishment.

Some Easy Answers and My Free eBook “Have Yourself A Healthy Little Christmas”

No matter how busy we are at this time of the year, to beat the blues and the binging, regular meals with an emphasis on vegetables are the answer.  My worst time of the day, and I’m sure this is not uncommon, is the 3:00-6:00 stretch.  I have found that though I crave a warm cup of cocoa and cookies, if I choose instead warm cup of my herbal detox tea with some fruit or a healthy carb, I’m happy and good until dinnertime. It does a wonderful job of curbing sugar cravings, as well as a providing a gentle de-tox and digestive support.

I’m not one for time consuming cooking – any time of the year, but especially in December.  I often make a double-size pot of vegetable soup.  It lasts for several days and is easy to heat and eat. I stretch it out by adding some cooked legumes, beans and a box of frozen spinach.

We buy the big salad mixes at Costco and add baby spinach leaves for fast, easy dinner-sized salads.  We also buy the big bags of frozen veggies to add to brown rice and some canned beans. A bowl of oatmeal and fresh fruit makes a wonderful, fast supper on a busy day.  It takes an hour and no work to throw  potatoes (white or sweet) into the oven and to serve with steamed vegetables.  Burritos, with whole wheat tortillas and canned low-sodium beans are always a hit with everyone.

In the same way that we can quickly fill our bodies healthfully, we can fill our spirits healthfully as well.  Even 10 minutes of the scriptures is better than none.  Subscribing to Meridian that sends scriptures and an uplifting message from the prophet that  provides strength and perspective that lasts all day is a nourishing meal for our spirits.

Finding The Motivation

This is all well and good – but how come the motivation to eat wisely and well can vanish as quickly as a Christmas elf? I had so much fun as a Weight Watcher leader and re-wrote many Christmas Carols for us to sing, i.e., “I’m Dreamin’ of a Thin Christmas”. As the years went by, I added stories, poems, attention grabbers and mind tricks to help us all, and put it into a little e-book called “Have Yourself A Healthy Little Christmas.”

It’s been several years since I looked at it, and believe it or not — it’s exactly 10 years old this year! First published (and I sold it then for $29.95) way back in 2006!   (In a fun coincidence, it’s almost exactly ten years since I started to write for Meridian Magazine!) In the ten years since it was published, many things have changed in my life, and many have NOT. The need to be healthy and strong, physically and emotionally, will always be a conscious effort. The desire to be healthy must still be fostered and encouraged.

I want you to have it now, and share with whoever you’d like. Some things have changed since it was published that will let you know it’s dated, but enjoy and make the most of this wonderful little book!

Because our health is the MOST IMPORTANT GIFT we can give ourselves AND our families!
SO – for me and for all of us, the first weekend in December say it with me:

“ONLY I can choose to eat the right things. ONLY I can choose to bypass sugar and goodies I know are not really food, but just entertainment for my body.  ONLY I can get myself to the gym.  Only I can do the things that will bring a great deal of convenience and ease to my family.

Only I can choose to give myself the gift of health for Christmas and many Christmases in the near future!”

Maybe it will help you too, as we enjoy December together, knowing that only WE can control what we eat, what time we get to bed, and how diligent we are at getting some exercise.

So here it is!  CLICK HERE

To go with that, I share what’s going on in our home. Heavenly Father probably knew I needed another boost of commitment besides getting out my ebook.  A week ago, on December 5, a text and link my health-minded daughter Kelly, age 23,  arrived with the words:

“Hi Mom! Here’s a Sugar Free December Challenge!  You and Dad want to join me?

We chatted and Bob and I both said “Of COURSE!!” as we are pretty much there year-round – but Christmas and December are more relaxed. I was not really 100% committed and I promised Bob and Kelly I’d “try.” Then I read the blog entry she’d sent and I was hooked:  Here it is:

From www.SimplySadieJane.comWay too much sugar and it’s ruining me! Normally I’m not a sugar eater but because I can fit it into my calorie count, I have been!  The result has been terrible sleep, hormonal acne, foggy brain and lots of exhaustion as my insulin spikes and comes right back down. 

I gotta get my life back and I know what sugar does in my body, so I’m doing a no sugar challenge like the olden days … who remembers those?

It’s not about weight loss, dieting or some fad, it’s about getting the sugar dragon outta your system and I PROMISE you’ll feel like a million.

The challenge will go for the next 20 days (yep right in the middle of neighbor gifts, caramels and candles) and end right in time for Christmas Eve where you’re welcome to put yourself in a sugar coma if you’d like!”

This is from www.SimplySadieJane.com  who says: “My goal is to HEAL and HELP. You can do it. You are strong enough. You are good enough!” I like that a lot!

The very next night was our big Primary party here at the house, with a big spread of Christmas sweets and goodies. (I had bought my assigned cookies rather than bake — a big step forward.)

At the end of the evening, I texted Kelly a picture of the cookies on the platter with the words, “NOT ONE!  THANK YOU for the inspiration!” And another picture of the fruit platter saying “Yes, please!”

healthy-christmas-medium

There was something about getting through that one night sugar free that has made the rest of the week (a VERY BUSY ONE) a joy — without any sugar hang overMy mind has been bright and clear for some very large projects. I’m sleeping like a baby, I’m in a good, calm mood.   I’m in control of the things I say (to myself and others) and do.

Hmmmmm Sugar Free is ME being free to be my best ME!  I’m committed to the challenge.
I don’t know where you are with all of it — and maybe others just handle sugar better than I do.  If you’re like me, however, and KNOW that you function better without it, maybe you’d like to join me.

No signed contracts or daily posts or entries — just a quiet prayer of gratitude for the Christmas season … and the REASON FOR THE SEASON, which is the sweetest thing of all for me.

As one of my health minded friends quipped recently:  “Really, what does fudge have to do with the Baby Jesus?!”

I hope you’ll consider letting these things, and the love you have for yourself and others be the inspiration you need to take excellent care of yourself and your dear ones by being at your BEST this Christmas!

“Accept no substitutes!” Christmas time is here! With happiness and cheer –especially when we wisely choose with every busy day to nourish our spirits with the peaceable gifts of the Savior and to nourish our spirits with the peaceable gifts of nature.

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life/. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of eleven. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson Tennessee, close to Memphis where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox and Carolyn serves in the Primary Presidency.