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Merry Christmas to all The Office Diet’s readers!

I’m going to be away for a week or so, and the next update here on The Office Diet will be a round up of some of the blog’s 2008 highlights as we head into the new year.

I wanted to wish all of you a very merry Christmas: wherever you are with your healthy living goals, be proud of what you’ve achieved, and of what you have planned for 2009. Have a very happy time, however you’re celebrating, and you have my wholehearted permission to completely forget about calories, diets, nutrition and everything else Office-Diety on Christmas day (I know I’ll be tucking into chocolate as soon as I’ve opened my stocking… ;-))

Merry Christmas!

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Good Christmas snack foods for healthy dieters

Resist the urge to stock up on bags of crisps (chips), boxes of cookies and tubs of chocolates: if you’ve got them in the house, you’re likely to end up digging into them – even if you’re supposedly saving them for when guests come round, or for when you need a hostess gift.

Instead, look out for some yummy and healthy snacks, to enjoy yourself during December, or to serve at holiday parties.

A few great ones are:

Olives – much healthier than crisps, and lower in calories than nuts. They contain monounsaturated fat, which is great for your heart. The strong flavour means you won’t munch them like other snack foods. Buy stoned varieties to slow your eating even more.

Shelled nuts – although nuts are good for you, they’re high in calories so you should only eat small portions. This is easier said than done (especially when faced with a bowl of cashews). Try buying shelled nuts, like pistachios; these take much longer to eat since you’ll need to remove the shell from each and every one…

Spicy foods – another trick for slower snacking is to buy spicy nibbles, as it’s hard to eat too many of these without feeling like you’re breathing fire! Spicy Bombay mix is often a good one, as it contains healthy ingredients like lentils, split peas, peanuts and dried fruit.

Dark chocolate – if you must have chocolate, go for some rich, dark chocolate; the flavour is intense enough that you’ll be satisfied with just a small piece. For a low-calorie alternative to after-dinner chocs, try serving Amoretti biscuits or biscotti with coffee.

Satsumas – I love the sweet, juicy flavour of Satsumas, which are in season here in the UK, and on offer in most supermarkets. They make a palate-cleansing alternative to richer snacks, and look nice presented as part of a table centre-piece, perhaps with other seasonal fruits too.

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Surviving the office Christmas party (with your diet intact)

Are you one of the lucky few who’s having a Christmas party at work this year? Maybe you wish you weren’t: many employers have cancelled company-paid-for events, in the current economic climate, and you might have been hoping that yours would be amongst them.

There’s plenty of advice on how to avoid making an idiot of yourself at the office party (which pretty much boils down to “don’t get hideously drunk”) – but how can you survive the office Christmas party with your diet reasonably intact?

Formal meal: make sensible choices

If the Christmas event at work is a formal meal out, you’ll almost certainly be asked for your food choices well ahead of time. This makes it easy for you to choose the healthier options.

  • Go for a salad or soup as a starter (studies show that eating soup at the start of a meal means you’ll consume fewer calories overall).
  • Choose a fish or vegetable heavy main course, rather than one involving large amounts of meat, cheese and/or cream.
  • Look for fruit-based options for dessert, or something light like meringue, instead of cheesecake, chocolate mousse or Christmas pud.

On the night itself, don’t feel obliged to clear your plate at each course. I find that chatting to my neighbour helps me to slow down my eating speed, and engaging people in conversation outside the workplace is a great way to get to know them better. You might find you’ve got more in common than you thought!

Buffet meal: fill up on proper foods

Buffet spreads nowadays tend to involve at least some vegetables and healthier options like breadsticks, hummous, wholegrain sandwiches etc – rather than just being a spread of crisps (chips to US readers), creamy dips, slices of quiche and so on.

Try to fill up on items that are “proper foods” – by that, I mean ones which would constitute a decent meal. Piling your plate with snacky foods makes it very easy to wolf down a lot of calories without filling up. Go for at least a couple of servings of vegetables, and try to get some lean protein too – if you just eat carbs, you’ll be hungry again well before the end of the night.

The main advantage to buffets from a dieting perspective is that you can choose whatever foods you want without anyone commenting on what you aren’t eating: trickier at a sit-down meal. And from the point of view of enjoying your work party, buffets are nice because you can circulate and chat to lots of different people – you won’t get stuck next to the office bore for a full three courses.

Go easy on the alcohol

My first response to office parties is often “ooh, free booze!” but this is not the healthiest way to approach such events…

Try to focus on the social aspects of the party – celebrating the year’s achievements alongside your colleagues, and having the chance to chat and enjoy yourself outside work. By all means indulge in the alcohol, but remember that it contains calories: about 100 in a small glass of wine, and over 200 in a pint of beer. Spirits and “lite” mixers are your best option, if available.

Alcohol also weakens your willpower and resolve, and makes you hungrier: not a great combination! Be particularly wary of snacking on salty foods like nuts, as these will make you thirstier and more likely to down that drink too fast.

Enjoy your office party! For more tips about dieting during December, make sure you’re getting free RSS updates – or just pop your email address in the box on the top right.

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What are you thankful for?

In the US tomorrow, it’ll be Thanksgiving, and although I’m in the UK, I think having a day focused on gratitude is a great idea.

Whether or not you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about what you’re grateful for – especially when it comes to your body, your physical health and your diet.

These are just a few areas you might like to think about:

Being thankful for your health

I don’t know what your personal circumstances are. You may be reading The Office Diet because you have a medical condition that predisposes you to being overweight. You may be suffering from stress or depression, or you may have severe food allergies. But I imagine that, on the whole, you readers are a pretty healthy bunch. You have access to medical care, you get sufficient nutrients from what you eat to keep you well, and you’re knowledgeable enough to know how to take care of your body (even if, like me, you sometimes slip up in practice!)

Even if you’re not currently as healthy as you’d like to be, be thankful for what you do have – and be thankful that you have the power and self-awareness to take positive steps to improve your health.

Being thankful for your physical ability and strength

If you’re like me, with two left feet and a distinct lack of co-ordination, you might feel rather a long way from being the world’s best sportsman/woman. Notice the way your body feels after exercise, though: do you have a satisfying glow of strength and achievement? You might not be as fit, strong or active as you’d like – but your body is an amazing piece of equipment, resilient and with an impressive ability to get fit and strong through a moderate amount of exercise.

What activities can you do now that you perhaps couldn’t do, through lack of physical ability, a year, or two years ago? I’m certainly not claiming any great prowess in the gym, but compared to myself a few years ago, I’m a lot fitter and stronger!

Being thankful for your job

One of the focuses of The Office Diet over the past year has been on the “office” part – I know that many of you are employees in 8-4 or 9-5 type jobs. As a former full-time office worker myself, I know that it’s sometimes hard to be thankful for your job! You might feel that without the stress, or the long hours, or the boredom of your job, you’d be much better placed to suceed in your diet.

Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on the positive aspects of your job. That could be simply the fact that you have a job, in the current economic climate.
But if you can, go further, and list some of the things (however small) that you enjoy about your work day.

Being thankful that you’re self-aware

Something I know about everyone reading this is that you’re interested in living a healthy lifestyle that nurtures your mind and body – good for you! You’re not succumbing to the junk-food and sloth-like habits that many people adopt without even bothering to question them. Even if your health, your fitness and your weight aren’t yet what you want, you’re on the right path.

Be thankful that you’ve got this self-awareness, and that along with it, you’ve got the willingness to change. The fact that you’re reading this says a lot about you: you’re someone who cares about your health and who knows that a few lifestyle tweaks are enough to pay dividends for years to com.

What are you thankful for?

Try to find just five minutes this week (maybe during a dull meeting, in your lunch hour, or on a coffee break) to scribble a list of things you’re thankful for. Make sure you include at least one thing about your body, at least one thing about your eating habits, and at least one thing about your exercise. They don’t have to be big (“I’m thankful that I can now walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath” is fine), but do try to find something for all these aspects of your healthy living journey.

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope you have a wonderful, joy-filled day. And you hereby have my permission to enjoy yourself without thinking once about calories – one day won’t ruin your diet (just get straight back on the wagon on Friday).

Don’t forget that you can get email updates from The Office Diet straight to your inbox. Just pop your email address in the box on the top right of this page.

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Resist Hallowe’en treats

That little candy bar on the right looks innocent and innocuous, doesn’t it? But it just might be the scariest thing you have to face this Hallowe’en…

We’re getting into that time of year where all sorts of excuses for overindulgence are just round the corner. Hallowe’en is the first biggie; it’s almost synonymous with chocolate and sweets (candy) in many people’s minds, with ghosts and ghouls relegated to second place.

If people are already starting to bring packets of “spooky cupcakes” and “scary cookies” into the office, or if you’re tempted to stock up on packs of fun-sized bars well in advance of the big day, read on…

Don’t buy treats until the 30th

You really don’t need to buy mini chocolate bars a couple of weeks in advance. Wait until nearer the time; that way, the goodies are more likely to end up going to trick-or-treaters than going into your stomach…

Keep treats well out of reach

If you’ve already taken advantage of the supermarket offers on Hallowe’en snacks – or if you really do need to buy in advance – then keep the treats well out of reach. Leaving them lying around in the kitchen won’t do much to boost your willpower.

(This works for chocolates at all seasons, not just Hallowe’en! You might want to read one of The Office Diet’s earliest posts, Out of sight, out of mind, out of reach.)

Be ready to say “no thanks”

If your colleagues are constantly bringing in treats for the office, learn to say “no”. Yes, it’s hard if you feel like you’re missing out – but if you leave your share for someone else, they’ll probably enjoy it more (and without the guilt)! If you’re worried about offending someone, read How to refuse a cookie.

Beware of fun-sized bars

Of course, one teeny tiny little chocolate bar isn’t going to hurt your diet. Why, it doesn’t even have 100 calories. So it can’t really count …

This is dangerous thinking! I know from experience that those multi-bags of mini chocolate bars are likely to do more harm than one proper-sized bar from the corner shop. If you scoff four or five mini bars (which is easy to do), you’ve eaten far more chocolate than if you had one “real” bar.

If you’re staying in…

When you’re home on Hallowe’en, you’ll probably be expecting trick-or-treaters. Try to find something that occupies you, without being so absorbing that you can’t interrupt it to answer the doorbell to a gaggle of witches and ghosts. If you’re sitting around watching television, that basket of chocolate bars near the door will look all the more tempting.

One word of warning: although you might be tempted to give out something healthier (fruit, or home-baked non-additive-packed goodies), parents are very cautious about what their children accept from strangers. Pre-wrapped treats are always best.

If you’re going out…

For those attending a Hallowe’en party for adults, you’ll probably find that the fare on offer includes at least some healthy options, so follow the same guidelines you’d use at any buffet. Look out for seasonal non-chocolate treats like pumpkin soup. Go easy on Hallowe’en drinks – it’s hard to tell how strong punch is.

Have a great Hallowe’en – without anything scary happening to your diet! And make sure you continue getting tips from The Office Diet by adding our RSS feed to your reader, or by simply entering your email address on the top right of this page.

(Image above by TheTruthAbout…)

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Poverty – What Dieters Can Do

Today is Blog Action Day 2008, and The Office Diet is taking part. The theme is “poverty”.

How much do you spend on groceries, in the average week? Here in the UK, the average couple easily spends £50 ($90) per week … and that’s not counting meals out, Starbucks, takeaways, alcoholic drinks.

Even if you think you’re hard up, you’re spending a lot on food compared with billions of people in the world. 80% of the world’s population live on less than $10 a day. And 10% live on less than $1.

Feeling rich now?

Many people don’t have the luxury of being overweight

I spent a week in Madagascar in summer 2007, seeing the work of Mission Aviation Fellowship out in the field. (It was a family trip to witness first-hand the work of a charity which my parents have been supporting for many years.)

One thing which struck me was that I never saw a fat child or adult. Not a single one. I was relieved that none of the children we came across (even in very remote communities out in the bush, accessible by plane) looked seriously malnourished – but they were all thin.

Being overweight – consuming more food than your body needs – is a luxury. Sometimes, it seems like an unnecessary and even distasteful one in a world where millions of children go to bed hungry every day.

What can you do?

It’s so easy to throw our hands up in the air and say, “But what can we do?” Despite what your mother may have said, you know that the food on your plate can’t go to feed starving children in Africa.

But there are plenty of practical ways you can help. The ones which require least effort deliver least impact, but if you need to, start small and work your way up. I’ve tried to make all of these somewhat office-dieter related!

The Hunger Site – donate food by clicking (the site is sponsored by the advertisers whose banners you see after the click). What better use of those idle moments at work?

Donate to charity – choose a reputable charity that’s in alignment with your principles, and which works to alleviate poverty. Try giving up your daily latte, or taking lunch into work from home (it doesn’t have to be a boring sandwich), and donating the money you save to charity – you’ll be boosting your dieting success too!

Donate clothing to charity shops – I bet you’ve got good-quality clothes lurking in the wardrobe that you’re now too slim for (or clothes which you bought in a fit of overoptimism, and which you know you’ll never fit into!) I had a big clear out the other week and managed to take a huge bag of clothes to the local charity shop, all things that I’d not worn in months or even years.

Sponsored event –why not undertake a sponsored slim, sponsored run or similar, in order to raise money for charity? If you can get enough people on board to sponsor you, it could be a much greater sum than one you could donate single-handedly.

Help Make Poverty History – the campaign to Make Poverty History has been running since 2005, incorporating Drop the Debt and Trade Justice campaigns. Of course suffering should be alleviated by giving food aid – but we also need to tackle the deeper causes of famine and poverty.

With famines across the globe, in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Latin America, North Korea and other countries, this is a time to focus on our over-consumption in the West, and on what we can do to help men, women and children around the world.

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