A couple of years ago my sister asked her 4-year-old granddaughter Abbie 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 “Abbie, we don’t sing about Santa in Primary!”  “Oh, yes we do!” she confidently responded.  She then proved it by joyfully singing the chorus of “With Wondering Awe” replacing “Hosanna” with “Oh, Santa!  Oh, Santa!  Oh, Santa is his name!”

I hope you’re laughing, as we have – and do every time we 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 the great spirit of Santa!  After all, he was a real person who practiced and inspired goodness and generosity.

Magical things often happen at Christmas, including finding the motivation to live the laws of health.  Even though it is easy to neglect our Heavenly Father’s truest plans and hopes for us in the rush of holiday business and busy-ness, when we take a bit of time to care for our bodies and our spirits at this time of the year, it is a gift for everyone within our circle of love and influence.

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 that little book 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 health for Christmas (did you catch all those C’s??) and Him as our God in a very significant holiday way by choosing HIS foods (meaning natural foods, not manufactured foods) for the largest portion of what we eat through the rest of December. This can be a gift to Him and to our families because 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.

Although it may be extremely difficult to feel motivated for healthy living choices right now, reading just one or two of the health recovery stories at Meridian author Jane Birch’s website, www.DiscoveringTheWordofWisdom.com, may be the finest inspiration you may ever find of LDS people who have found a happy way to eat well, and their lives, health and physical appearance reveal it in every way. Finding a few moments to do this now, and allowing it to influence you before Christmas is any more upon us may be the greatest personal gift you receive this year. (Just click on the “Stories” link at the top of her website.)

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 an unbelievable stretch of the imagination to think that we can offer fruit or crunchy veggies or fruit instead of candy?  Listen to this:

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 its time for a family or class of pre-schoolers to gather and pay attention,” she taught us, “Bring out a bag of apple slices.  Raise it high for all to see.  They will then follow your instructions if you do not open the bag until everyone is quiet and listening.”

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 on how sugar works and why we are at its mercy, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VWi6dXCT7I.

In short: Food (and especially sugar) cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. It is legitimately categorized as a drug, albeit a mild one – an opiate/cousin to heroin and morphine. 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.

How well we know that downward spiral and the sadness/lethargy and feelings of failure they bring.  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

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 tea (check it out) with some fruit or vegetables, a little dish of beans or a slice of whole wheat bread, I’m happy and good until dinnertime. The tea 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 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.  We are no longer milk drinkers, and have even weaned ourselves from the cheese that most find essential for satisfying Mexican dishes.

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.  We have found that listening to the audio version of the scriptures is easy and very rewarding, and great company while you walk vigorously. Another way to gain the spirit is to listen to BYU Education Week lectures on youtube.com. This is a hidden treasury that will bring great health to your spirit and life!

“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 healthy foods, the peaceable gifts of nature, to nourish our bodies.

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available HERE.

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 ten. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson Tennessee, close to Memphis where they center their online business and enjoy the beautiful sunsets from their back porch.