Snow is falling. Sleigh bells are ringing. Halls are decked with holly. That is to say: 'Tis the season for apple pie, eggnog, and alcohol-infused holiday parties.
But with Jan. 1 around the corner, it’s also the season for those who are feeling particularly resolute about losing weight or adopting a healthier lifestyle.
That’s where Tiffany Chag comes in. Chag, a nutritionist at Tom Brady and Alex Guerrero’s TB12 Center who holds a master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Columbia University, sat down with the Globe at the new TB12 facility in the Back Bay Tuesday to offer advice on how to eat healthy this holiday season.
1. Be mindful about what you’re eating.
As humans age into adulthood, Chag says we tend to turn off a component in our brain that tells us when we’re full.
“When you see a little kid with an ice cream cone, you’ll notice they stop eating it when they’re full,” she said. “But with adults, there’s this ‘clean the plate’ mentality.”
Before and after each meal, Chag recommends thinking about how hungry or full you are on a scale of one to 10, with one being “starving” and 10 being “Thanksgiving-dinner stuffed.”
“At the end of each meal, you want to feel about a six, seven, or eight,” she said. “You never want to be at a 10, but you also don’t want to feel faint.”
Chag said that mindless snacking and grazing also tends to happen when we turn off this mechanism. She says before you reach for between-meal foods to check in internally and ask, “Am I hungry, or am I kind of dehydrated?”
“Sometimes, you just need a cup of water,” she said.
And when it comes to mindful eating, practice makes perfect.
“It’s easy to talk about, but it takes a lot,” she said. “If you can tap back into it, it will be your guide. It takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight. Be patient with yourself."
2. Fill up half your plate with veggies.
Gone are the days of meat and potatoes dominating dinner plates. To keep healthy, Chag recommends loading up half your plate, or a portion two to three times the size of your fist, with non-starch vegetables. (Starchy vegetables can include potatoes and corn.)
Vegetables to strive for include bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens — “the world is your oyster,” Chag said.
However, when it comes to choosing veggies, variety is key. “You don’t want them just to be green. Get some color on the plate," Chag said, noting that different-colored foods can help supply a range of vitamins and minerals.
3. Adhere to the 80/20 rule.
In general, every meal should follow the 80/20 guideline, Chag said, where 20 percent of the food eaten is a lean protein like chicken, fish, or pork.
Red meat lovers: You can have your beef and eat it, too, as long as you opt for a lean cut like a top sirloin or prime rib and consume it in moderation, she said.
When it comes to starches like potatoes, rice, and bread, generally a portion the size of your fist, or half your fist, would be a Chag-approved goal. (Yes, that includes the mashed potatoes and Thanksgiving stuffing.)
4. Nightshades are now on the table (literally).
If Brady is known for any weird diet quirks (remember his well-documented love of avocados?) it’s his aversion to nightshades, which include tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes.
However, Chag said that now, for some people, nightshades are (literally) on the table. Chag said she and Guerrero — Brady’s controversial trainer and TB12 co-founder who helped develop the football star’s diet and off-field exercise regimen — “look at what was historically said and evolve” based on research and experience.
For example, if a veggie-averse client is only eating three vegetables a day and two of those are nightshades, then if they’re not feeling any negative effects, there would be no reason to cut them out of their diet.
“It’s person-dependent,” she said. “We want to make sure people are getting enough fruits and veggies a day, since they’re rich in vitamins and antioxidants."
So does this mean Brady himself is back on the nightshade train? With a laugh, Chag noted that Guerrero is the point person on Brady’s diet, and that she had no idea if he has come around on tomatoes.
5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Another headline-grabbing statistic from “The TB12 Method”: Brady apparently drinks as much as 25 glasses of water a day.
“Twenty-five . . . is a lot. Very much a lot,” Alicia Romano, a clinical registered dietician at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center, previously told the Globe. “I would never recommend that to a patient.”
So when Chag begins to wax poetic about the benefits of staying hydrated, I ask what she thinks about the 20-some glasses of water a day.
Generally, she says people should take their body weight in pounds, divide it by two, and use that number in ounces as a baseline for how much water to guzzle a day. (Surprisingly, after doing the math, this seems pretty doable for most people.)
“However, if you’re active,” she says, “that’s when we start taking other things into account, like what your sweat rate is, because we want to make sure we’re making up for losses.”
6. When it comes to alcohol, moderation is key.
In order to fend off dehydration, Chag recommends opting for water or seltzer as a first drink when you arrive at bars, parties, or family dinners where alcohol is front and center.
“If you skip the first one, you build a little bit of armor for yourself,” she said. “Alcohol is super pro-inflammatory and dehydrating, so we try to get the number of alcoholic drinks as low as we can.”
She also notes that simply having a non-alcoholic drink in your hand can deter mindless alcohol intake.
"People are eager to get you a drink because they want to be a good host, but if you already have something in your hand, you can say you’re all set.”
You don’t need to go alcohol free to be TB12-approved, though. And don’t feel like you need to choke down vodka sodas in a quest to limit calories.
“If you’re drinking, pick something you enjoy and have it in moderation,” she said. From a diet standpoint, “I don’t care where your number [of drinks per week] is, I just try to bring it down. Some of my clients have two drinks a week, max. Some of my clients are wine aficionados, and they have 15 glasses of wine a week.”
For those of us more who are simply aiming to clean up our down-the-hatch act, Chag recommends against sugary cocktails that use rely heavily on juice or soda, since refined sugar is inflammatory. “Go more straightforward,” she said.
7. It’s OK to enjoy guilty pleasures now and then.
It’s the holidays. No one is expecting you to refuse every chocolate or home-baked sugar cookie, Chag said.
“Avoiding sugar can be challenging, especially this time of year,” she said. “Don’t beat yourself up over that Lindt chocolate ball.”
In terms of how often you consume something, Chag says there are two categories: “Sometimes foods” and “everyday foods.” The “sometimes foods” tend to include the sugary, delectable treats that are a no-no in the TB12 world.
“It’s OK to just have them some of the time,” she said. “It’s not not having it, but spreading it out. Make sure it becomes a ‘sometimes’ food, not an ‘everyday’ food."
And even if you pig out on foods that are unsanctioned by the TB12 nutritionist (gasp!), Chag said that it’s not a big deal to do once in a while.
“Enjoy it,” she said. “Know that one meal won’t undo one month or one year’s worth of hard work."
8. Don’t forget to move.
Yes, Chag is aware that movement is not a food. But she says it’s still important to work into a healthy diet.
For example, after a family meal, get everyone together and go on a walk around the neighborhood, Chag suggests.
“It doesn’t have to be sweat-inducing," she said. “Go on a leisurely walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Little things build up over time.”