A couple of years ago my sister asked her 4-year-old granddaughter Abby what was her favorite part of Church that day.  “That song about Santa!” she replied with delight.  Her six-year old big brother instantly chided her with “Abby, we don’t sing about Santa in Church!”  “Oh, yes we do!” she confidently responded.  She then proved it by joyfully singing the last line of chorus of the Christmas carol With Wondering Awe.  “Oh, Santa!  Oh, Santa!  Oh, Santa is his name!” Sure enough … instead of “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to his name!”  There it was! To a four-year-old that song is all about Santa.

I hope you’re laughing, as we have – and do every time we sing the chorus of this carol. In truth, however, how easy it is for children of all ages – including mature adults — to replace the Savior with the world’s substitutes, especially at Christmas. 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! I’m just saying that at this demanding season of the year, it is far too 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 over the next two weeks and as the New Year launches.

As 2020 ends, we are all affected in a myriad of ways by the changes in our daily activities and how we live.  It is emotionally distressing and frustrating on a daily basis.  To me, at this time, there is nothing that matters more than having our wits about us, and our diet affects this in a very direct and immediate way. Even at Christmas. This week and next are a time when it’s easy to skip real nutrition in favor of overly rich holiday meals and treats. While this could be a downer, there is light that will bring us closer to the Savior and to who we really want to be.

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 steaming cocoa with piles of whipped cream, etc.  I remember it all these years later because those charming pictures 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 and there’s usually plenty to be had and eaten 24-7 as food gifts arrive from many sources for most of us.

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.  Of all the times during the year that we need and desire with all our hearts for His Spirit to be 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. 

Here’s a neat trick: By choosing to indulge only at special times with special people, we immediately limit the quantity of holiday treats we consume and can easily arrest the distress that overeating, bingeing and private grazing brings.

C is for Christmas can just as easily be a mental mantra for “Choose the Christ Child” in our hearts instead of choosing another cookie or more candy. How good that feels!

Heavenly Father’s Candy

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

One of my good friends calls fruit “Heavenly Father’s candy.”  She always makes sure she has plenty when her grandchildren 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?  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 it was time for pres-schoolers to line up, out came her bag of apple slices or carrot sticks.  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.

(Hopefully, with COVID still in full mode, we will all be able to return to our regular classes on Sunday soon and implement this tip.)

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 serving is never enough!  A friend who lost 100 pounds said it best  about these offending sugary or carb goodies:  “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?  There’s something in genuine food with authentic nutrition that allows us to stop eating when we’re full. Think about it!

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VWi6dXCT7I

For another short video oh how it affects brain and mood function (and even the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease) , go to https://youtu.be/7DntVsOibTA

Just watching a few minutes of those videos and the many other available on YouTube about sugar is always a huge wake-up call for me.  It’s not a bad idea to make that part of our viewing to ingrain these facts into our behavior and food choices.

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.

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 and Five Easy Meals

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 drink (see at http://www.mymiracletea.com/cmd.php?af=1686624) with some fruit or a little protein, 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. 

1) I often make a double-size pot of vegetable soup.  It lasts for several days and is easy to heat and eat. If necessary, I stretch it out by adding any of the following: some cooked legumes, two cups of water and a couple of bouillon cubes, a can of stewed tomatoes, and/or a can of drained kidney or pinto beans. 

2)  Pre-Made Veggie Mixes: The awesome salad mixes at Costco and Walmart quickly become a full meal when you add some whole wheat pasta and add a can of drained butter beans or great northern beans.  

We buy the big bags of frozen veggies to add to brown rice and some drained, canned beans, or hummus.  Season with garlic powder, chopped cilantro, squeezed lemon etc. for a Mediterranean flavor

3) Though usually for breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal and fresh fruit makes a wonderful, fast supper on a busy day. 

4)  It takes an hour and no work to throw potatoes (white or sweet) into the oven and to serve with steamed vegetables. 

5) Burritos, with whole wheat tortillas and canned low-sodium beans are always a hit with everyone.  Chop up some tomatoes, lettuce, red or green peppers, cucumbers, etc. to make it extra healthy and delicious. 

For our spirits?  How easy it is to let our personal scripture time evaporate in December.  But we are in constant need of this nourishment too! 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 or listening to a conference talk on Youtube counts!

While there are countless ways to spend our limited time and food choices over the next couple of weeks, the greatest gift we have ever and will ever receive is the one of personal choice!  “Accept no substitutes!” can be our happy mantra starting right now.

Christmas time is here! With happiness and cheer –especially when we wisely choose with every busy day to wisely nourish our spirits and our bodies with authentic nourishment.

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 a columnist for Meridian Magazine since 2007. She provided mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success and happy living both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 through 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 a growing number of darling little ones. They are now happy empty nesters in Sandy, Utah where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox