At the end of the year many women find themselves over-indulging in holiday delights that they only eat during that special time. In fact, a lot of us spend the year thinking and talking about those nostalgic family recipes that our palates are awaiting. I always say, “Enjoy … with balance and moderation.”

The average woman gains 12 to 15 pounds in the month of December from making poor decisions about holiday foods. Instead, pick your battles, and partake only of things you don’t usually get to eat. Cookies, chocolates and cupcakes you can get every day, but Aunt Lana’s Italian Strufoli only comes once a year. This should be a year-round attitude and not just applied for the holidays.

What I have seen in the 18 years that I have been a nutritionist is that whenever January comes around, we struggle with getting back on track. Staying on track is challenging; getting back on track is like climbing out of quicksand. Throughout the coming year practice staying on track, and next holiday season will be a piece of cake (or not).

Unfortunately, staying on track, cutting back on sugars and carbs can seem nearly impossible in the beginning of a lifestyle change, and here is why:

Binge or “stress” eating boosts our levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and gives us a fake high. The intake of foods full of carbohydrates and sugars stimulates insulin production, which lowers blood sugar levels. These lower blood sugar levels keep us yearning for that “fix” satisfied by more sugar (i.e., chocolate, ice cream, frappuccinos, bread, chips, etc.)

Our ammunition to combat this dilemma is more complex carbohydrate foods, rich in tryptophan, which creates more healthy serotonin and insulin levels.

The goal is to increase our serotonin-building foods with good carbohydrates that create balanced blood sugar. This promotes “feeling good” with a healthy lifestyle that includes more energy, a peaceful mood, better sleep, weight loss and enhanced quality of life.

Additional facts on serotonin:

• Serotonin is one of the most important feel-good neurotransmitters.

• It’s been called the “happy molecule” for the role it plays on positive mood.

• Serotonin regulates mood, social behavior, libido, sleep, memory, digestion, learning and mental well-being.

• 90 percent of serotonin is made in the gut.

A healthy, balanced lifestyle is the main goal, but not always the answer all by itself. Some women face depression, anxiety and insomnia. In my healing center we look at the underlying causes and address the long- term positive outcomes to help heal the brain.

Remember, there are patterns and connections in our whole body system, and the key is to understand the system, not the illness itself.  We are all uniquely biochemically different, and there is no one-size-fits-all remedy.

By KAY SPEARS, CERTIFIED CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST