The other night I spoke at a First Place 4 Health (FP4H) group about how to stay healthy during the holidays. This is such a love/hate topic. Many people want to stay healthy over the holiday season, but most also want to enjoy the holiday season and “take a break.”
At the FP4H session, I asked everyone how many pounds they believe the typical American gains between the months of November and January. Their answers were what the typical person guesses: 5 – 10 pounds. According to research though, the actual average weight gain during these months is only 1 pound. The catch is that the majority of those who gain this weight do not lose it¹. The 1 pound weight gain carries over to the next year when another pound is gained. After 5 years, that is an average of 5 pounds of weight gain just from holiday eating! Oftentimes, even if a person does not gain pounds, the ratio of body fat to lean muscle increases, not to mention an increase in cholesterol and other negative lab markers!²
The good news is that the holidays truly can be enjoyed in a healthy way. The bad news: it just requires some planning.
Dietitian Approved: Being the Best “You” During the Holiday Season
- Enjoy your favorite holiday foods guilt-free, to satisfaction, not to “stuffed”
- Stay away from the foods that you like, but do not love, or the foods you can have any time of the year
- Drink plenty of water or other low calorie beverages
- Keep a steady physical activity regimen (a brisk 10 minute walk 3 times per week is better than nothing!)
- Do not let food be the “star” of the holidays
But how do I accomplish all of that?
Here is the fun part: think about your favorite holiday foods. Answer the following questions:
- what is my favorite dessert? (pumpkin pie? pecan pie? bread pudding?)
- what is my favorite “treat”? (Christmas sugar cookies? peanut butter blossoms? glazed nuts?)
- what are my 2 favorite meal items? (turkey? ham? stuffing? sweet potato casserole?)
Here is the less-fun part: your answers to those questions are your “indulgence” foods; all others should be consumed only in very small amounts or avoided. For example, if your favorite treat is sugar cookies and you are at a holiday party that has a smorgasbord of various treats, take a couple sugar cookies and fill the rest of your plate with foods that are nourishing such as mixed nuts or fresh fruit. If you are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and your favorite meal items are turkey and stuffing (those would be mine 🙂 ), then take an indulgent serving of those two items, but just a taste of the rest (or none at all). I can have mashed potatoes and dinner rolls any time of the year, so will not choose to even put these items on my plate.
At parties/get togethers, take one plate of food, and then stay on the opposite side of the room from the food table to resist temptation for seconds. At a sit-down meal, remove yourself from the table after you are satisfied (but not stuffed). Maybe get the dishes started or grab some water.
Water. That is another point. Drinking low calorie beverages can help prevent over-eating. If you are carrying around some sparkling flavored water and sipping on it, chances are, you will be less likely to be thinking so much about food. Fluid can also take up some room in the stomach.
Keep active. The holidays do not have to be all or nothing. You do not have to “let yourself go.” Dietary indiscretions are almost inevitable during this season, but do not get caught in this mindset. Do the next “healthy” thing. Did you overeat at the office Christmas party? That’s okay; the day is not over. The next healthy thing might be to take your dog for an extra mile walk that evening or to focus on getting 2 servings of fruits/vegetables in at dinner. Do not deprive yourself to make up for an indiscretion, but nourish yourself with the valuable fuel that your body needs: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, heart-healthy fats, etc.
Lastly, remember, the holidays are about spending time with family and friends; food is just part of the picture. Put more effort into spreading joy and connecting with loved ones than you do eating the food. It is a blessing to have an abundance of food to choose from; let’s be thankful for that without abusing it. Happy holiday season!
- Cunningham, E. (2013). What’s the Latest on Holiday Weight Gain? Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113 (11), 1576. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.09.007
- Hull H.R., Hester C.N., Fields D.A. (2006). The Effect of The Holiday Season on Body Weight and Composition in College Students. Nutrition and Metabolism, 3, 44. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17192197