Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation


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10 Tips for Controlling Your Inner Cookie Monster®

By Mark Nelson

Face it. The deck is stacked against your waistline during the holidays. And there are scientific reasons for that. But the good news is, knowing why you crave those delicious holiday cookies can help you resist them. So what's behind the cravings?

Holiday Theme

It starts with serotonin.

Serotonin, which is produced by your brain, is the "feel-good" hormone. When your brain produces enough of it, serotonin can help you feel calm, confident, and relaxed. Several factors encourage its production. A primary driver is sunlight. In the bright days of spring and summer, sunshine stimulates your brain to produce plenty of serotonin. But during the short days of fall and winter, your brain needs extra stimulation to produce enough serotonin. Now here's the bad news, and you can probably guess what it is.

You crave sugar and carbs because they stimulate serotonin production.

Cookies It's not enough that grandma's decadent holiday calorie-bombs are insanely delicious. No. At this time of year, your impulses drive you to attack holiday desserts like a brain-dead cookie monster just to get your serotonin fix.

Does this mean we're hardwired to add holiday heft?

Not necessarily. That's because you can spur serotonin production in other ways. For example, did you know exercise supports serotonin production? It's true.

When you look at the big picture, most of the steps you can take to avoid gaining weight happen in your head, not your stomach. That's why you can think your way out of weight gain, regardless of how your brain encourages you to be bad around fattening foods.

Here are 10 tips for helping you manage your inner Cookie Monster.

  1. Woman Holding a Glass of WaterTreat yourself. Ever notice how denying yourself something only makes you want it more? According to researchers, dieters who were told not to even think about chocolate ate twice as many candies as people who weren't. The solution? Have a taste instead of eating the whole treat—or make smart substitutions. Instead of Fritos®, have some edamame. Or trade a bowl of ice cream for an ice milk fudge bar.
  2. Think 25 minutes into the future. It takes 12 minutes for a thin person's brain to register that he or she has eaten. But it can take 25 minutes for an overweight person to know this. So set a timer, have a sensible meal, and know that 25 minutes after your first bite, you'll feel a lot less hungry.
  3. Plate of VeggiesSkip the dip and gravy. Gravy is made of flour, salt, turkey fat, and broth. Do you really need all that? And dip? It's just a lot of goo. You're better off nibbling on fresh veggies. Besides, skipping these temptations will help you leave room for a little dessert.
  4. Flip your script. So you slipped and ate two of Grandma's killer chocolate chunk cookies. Rather than say, "I blew my diet, so why not just keep eating?" take a breath. Smile and say, "No big deal. I can stop now and still feel good about myself."
  5. Sleep to avoid holiday stress. You know the holidays are hectic. So give yourself a chance to heal. Studies show that when you're sleep-deprived, the stress hormone cortisol is released at a higher level. This can help you feel hungry even when you're full. And who needs that?
  6. Say no to the 'nog. Eggnog, that is. An 8-ounce serving contains 343 fatty, high-carb calories. And that's without the rum. Think about how long it'd take to burn off all those calories, and saying no to the 'nog gets easy.
  7. Chocolate BallsWalk and talk. It's harder to fill your mouth with sweets and carbs when you're talking. Well, OK, a little harder. But it's worth it, because you'll be the life of the party. And that can help keep you from eating everything on the buffet.
  8. Work out. Bet you didn't see that one coming. Sure, it's a crazy time of year. But if you think of your workout as an essential way to stay grounded, you'll do it. And here's a hint that will give you more time to fit in your workout.
  9. Shop online. With all you have to do, stay home instead. Eat healthy things you have in the fridge instead of grabbing fast food or sweets. Put on holiday music (if you must), and save your energy for a good sweat-soaked workout.
  10. Try tag-team weight control. See if you and a friend can look out for each other. If one of you begins to blow your diet, a little friendly peer pressure can help you step back from the cookie. If you don't want to burden a friend with this job, try a RISK-FREE 30-Day Team Beachbody® Club VIP Pass. Team Beachbody Club members reach their health and fitness goals 3 times faster than people who don't join, partly because online peer support helps them keep going with their diet and exercise programs.

Now's the time to plan ahead.

Remember that a holiday is just a day. You don't really want to undo weeks of sensible eating with a day of crazed eating, do you? And remember, even if you give in for 24 hours, it's not the end of the world. Just take a breath and think when you're within striking distance of holiday goodies. Trying these helpful tips can help you keep your inner Cookie Monster under control. Happy holidays!

Related Articles
"8 Lower-Calorie Holiday Cocktails"
"8 Tips for Avoiding the Holiday Pounds"
"7 Key Foods to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Workout"

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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9 Ways to De-stress Your Holiday Season

By Steve Edwards

It's the most stressful time of the year. (Do you remember when that line had "wonderful" in it?) Let's face it, the holidays are stressful. But we'll get through them. We always do. This year, let's do it in style.

Scale and Christmas Decorations

First, it helps if you know your enemy. According to the American Psychological Association, lack of money and the pressure of gift-giving are the most significant contributors to holiday stress (61 percent and 42 percent, respectively). These are followed closely by lack of time (34 percent) and good ol' credit card debt (23 percent).

Roughly 20 percent of us are worried that holiday stress will negatively affect our health, and more than a third of us will turn to food or alcohol to cope. On the upside, nearly half of us attempt to use exercise and/or spiritual activities to relieve stress.

These statistics suggest that we're aware of the situation. So why is it such a problem? Probably because we roll them into one big mess in our heads and allow it to paralyze us, causing us to be reactive instead of proactive. Another factor is articles like this one (but not this one, of course). Most of them advise us not to spend more than we can afford, to get some exercise, or to spend some time by ourselves, or any number of activities that if we could do, we wouldn't be stressed out in the first place. Basically, they just add to our already skyrocketing stress level!

So let's reshuffle the deck and come up with some new ways to take the edge off.

  1. Person Running Up the StairsDon't go for a walk . . . or do any low-intensity aerobic activity, unless you're already calm. You know you should exercise, and everyone tells you it's important, but rarely do they tell you how. During these periods, a walk around the block holds the very real possibility of increasing your stress levels. The reason is that easy aerobic exercise only slightly elevates your breathing and stimulates brain function. This allows—or induces—thought, which is exactly what you don't need when your mind is already overloaded with tasks you don't have time for. A walk, especially in a beautiful area, might calm and enlighten you, but it also could make you worse. You don't want to roll those dice, especially when you're short on time and there are other things that will work.
  2. Do intense exercise. Hard exercise is all-consuming. It forces you to focus on your breathing or movement to the point where you can't think about anything else. It also promotes hormonal release, which alters your mood in a positive way. When you're jumping up and down, lifting heavy weights, or having a roundhouse kick launched at your head, you can't think of anything else. Intense exercise is the perfect de-stressor because you're being stressed in a different way that's good for your body. It also doesn't take as long. Even if your intense session is shorter than the time it took you to warm up (because you do need to warm up), you're still benefiting from every second your heart rate exceeds your anaerobic threshold.
  3. Get cocky (or at least confident). What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and how many holiday seasons have you survived so far? No matter how bad things seem to be, you are going to get through it. And you know it, too, because you've done it before. You do it every year. No matter how broke, how tired, or how busy you are, or how many family members you never want to see again are descending on your abode, you're going to survive, and come January 1st, you'll be right back to doing whatever you were doing before it all began. You know you can—and will—make it through, so why worry?
  4. Woman SleepingEmbrace your mornings. Ever notice that no matter how you felt when you were falling asleep, you wake up feeling calm and relaxed? This feeling may only last a few seconds, but every day, it's there. You can force yourself to control this feeling and hang onto it to the point where it permeates your entire day. Statistics say that 14 percent of people use yoga or meditation to combat stress, but sometimes it's hard to find that state when you're already amped up. Plus these activities take time, which creates a catch-22, because the lack of time is adding to your stress in the first place. When you wake up, though, you're already in a meditative state. Enabling yourself to ride this state out for a while greatly enhances your ability to fend off stress throughout the day.
  5. Exercise while shopping and driving. Shopping is already exercise. You get the physical benefits of a walk or hike, and you're mentally stimulated enough so you barely notice that it's exercise. At least until you get into the car and feel like—whoa—you've just carried a bunch of weight up and down a few flights of stairs. But this is no time to stop exercising. Use your time in the car to de-stress and promote recovery. You can do breathing, stretching, and ab work while you're driving (at lights or in slow traffic) and it won't be dangerous, as the movements you want to do will make you more alert and supple, so you'll react better to all those stressed-out crazy drivers on the road.
  6. Try some desk stretches. You probably know that stretching calms and relaxes you, but between parties, shopping, and getting the house ready for family, who's got the time? You don't need any if you get creative. You can steal a short stretching session from time you're devoting to something else by looking for opportunities. You just need to be aware. Possibilities are everywhere.
  7. Alcohol BeverageThink, don't drink. You don't need to avoid holiday cheer altogether, but keep in mind that each drink you have will take away from your valuable time and available energy. Many people tend to reach for alcohol during times of stress, because up front it alters your mood and temporarily eases the situation. But during the holidays, money and time are causing most of your stress. Alcohol is expensive, and even when it's free, it takes time. It's not so much the front end that matters. Feeling hung over can zap the small amount of extra energy you need to combat your stress and stay on top of your game. It's like adding a handicap to your holiday challenge. So think ahead and strategize those holiday events, and they'll be so much easier to handle.
  8. Remember what the season is supposed to be about. The holiday season is about embracing family and friends, not being beholden to them or showering them with gifts you can't afford. The commerciality of Christmas has caused our society to lose focus on what really matters. Since nearly half of us turn to spirituality to help combat holiday stress, we're already trying. But it can take more focus than just going to church. It helps to focus on believing that the holidays are about people and relationships, and not stuff. Doing this can help you realize that the last thing your friends and family want from you is something that would add strain to your life. They just want to spend time with you.
  9. Take back the night. After a whirlwind day, it's all too easy to spend the evening remembering things you've forgotten to do, and trying to figure out where to fit them in tomorrow. While it's great to try to be organized and efficient, this is not the optimal condition for hitting the sack. If you can't go to sleep, you're losing both valuable time and your ability to perform the next day. So try to set a time each night at which you'll finish working. Write it down, or whatever works for you, and then check it off the list. Then spend some time de-stressing. Maybe read the kids a seasonal story, snuggle up on the couch with It's a Wonderful Life, or get into bed with a cup of valerian tea and a book. Do whatever you like—just make it for you and your family, because ultimately, that's what the holidays should be about. (Sorry, Santa.)

Related Articles
"Your 10-Point Plan for Holiday Diet Success"
"10 Ways to a New You"
"The Top 10 Inspirational Fitness Films"

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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Recipe: Low-Fat Holiday Eggnog

Recommended by P90X nutritionist Carrie Wiatt

Low-Fat Holiday EggnogWant to serve something festive that won't have you looking as pudgy as Santa in the New Year? P90X nutritionist Carrie Wiatt's twist on this holiday favorite has a great carb-protein-fat ratio that'll help you stay healthier for the holidays.

  • 4 cups skim milk
  • 1-1/2 cups evaporated skim milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Ground nutmeg (to taste)

Chill 3/4 cup of the evaporated milk in the freezer for 30 minutes (to make it easier to whip). In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together skim milk, remaining 3/4 cup evaporated milk, eggs, and sugar. Rinse whisk in hot water to ensure that no bacteria from the egg remain. Using a wooden spoon, stir mixture on stove constantly for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. (Do NOT boil.) Remove pan from heat; transfer mixture to a large bowl and let cool for several minutes. Place chilled evaporated milk and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk together until slightly thickened. (If you prefer, you can substitute 1/2 cup of rum or brandy for vanilla.) Add contents of this bowl to egg mixture and whisk for a few more minutes, until frothy. Refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours. If eggs begin to coagulate, strain mixture to remove solids. Top with ground nutmeg before serving. Makes 12 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes (mixing), 30 minutes (prechilling), 4 hours to 24 hours (chilling)

Nutritional Information: (per serving)

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Total Fat Saturated Fat
73 6 g < 1 g 7 g 2 g 1 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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