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A Guide to Healthy Holiday Eating

Fitday Editor
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The holidays are upon us with 6 weeks of temptations from the end of November to the beginning of January, with well-wishers who leave plates of cookies at the office or drop by with gooey treats like fudge or cheese balls as holiday gifts. The result: Many gain a substantial amount of weight during the holidays, but this year FitDay readers can eat well, drink in moderation, and be merry without making the scale your enemy.

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Every year for the past 3 decades, Americans have gained weight. Two groundbreaking studies from 2000 affirmed the phenomenon of holiday weight gain: Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging discovered that 51% of annual weight gain occurs during the holiday season. Winter weight gain is believed to be an important contributor to our nation's obesity epidemic (Nutr Rev 2000;58(12):378-9). A National Institutes of Health study also showed that holiday weight gain is usually not lost during the spring or summer months. Therefore, winter weight gain significantly contributes to increases in body weight that frequently occur during adulthood (N Eng J Med 2000;342(12):861-7). So the best fitness strategy is to avoid gaining in the first place.

Avoiding Temptations

Are you really hungry? Or are you just craving what is before you? Be conscious and determine whether or not you have real, physical hunger. Don't just eat for the sake of eating. Yes, food is there, but that does not mean you are compelled to eat it (but if that's your philosophy, the mountain is there, too, so climb it!). Follow our eating and and exercise strategies to keep fitness a priority this season - you can feel virtuous watching others scarf down the stuff you know you don't really want or need.
  • Don't skip meals. Becoming overly hungry just sets you up for overeating. Make time for a light, fiber-rich breakfast and lunch (including carbohydrate, protein, and fat) to keep you comfortable until dinner and help avoid over-consuming food later in the day.
  • Eat your daily requirements of healthy foods before indulging in extras. If you haven't had at least 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables today, pass up the bowl of potato chips and go for crudités or blend up a smoothie.
  • Veg out; don't pig out. Go for the whole palette of colors found in produce to get the full range of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and a good dose of fiber. Have at least 1 serving of green leafy vegetables and 1 in the red, yellow, and orange group each day, and a good source of Vitamin C fruit to keep colds at bay.
  • Cook low-fat at home. Roast instead of frying; add water or broth instead of fat. Bake with whole grains, and switch from oil or shortening to applesauce. Make vegetarian legume-based entrees at least once a week.
  • Monitor your food intake with a food journal. Alternatively, have a friend help keep you on track.
  • Don't stock up on seasonal treats. They'll be everywhere you turn, so keep them out of the house. If you have to have a candy cane, chances are there will be one at your next stop.
At the Party
  • Plan ahead. When visiting loved ones and you know the food perils that await, bring along a healthy, low-fat alternative, like a veggie-based dish, and let the natural flavors sing out. Don't hide them under gobs of butter, cream, cheese, or marshmallows - steam veggies lightly (this method also keeps them colorful) and season greens with lemon juice and dill, or orange veggies with apple cider and cinnamon. Bringing a nutritious dish will be appreciated by health-conscious party-goers, and this way, you know there will be something healthy to eat.
  • Prioritize your plate. Survey all the offerings. You don't have to try all of the options on the table - choose the foods you love, and feel free to sample some new foods.
  • Make only one trip to the buffet. When you have filled your plate, station yourself away from the buffet table to prevent nibbling.
  • Be satisfied with small amounts. You've heard it before: the first taste is as good as it gets. Have one cookie instead of one of each kind.
  • Skip the cheese cubes, buffalo wings, and other fried foods. Fill up half your plate with salad and raw vegetables, and the other half with spoonfuls of low-calorie, energizing foods, like shrimp with a lemon squirt or cocktail sauce. Keep meat servings to a total of 3 ounces, and skip the gravy.
  • Pause between sampling. Make sure you still have room for more. If you go on to the dessert table, pick the healthiest choice, like an oatmeal cookie instead of a slab of cheesecake. Then dance the night away.
  • Keep hydrated, but go easy on the alcohol, as it adds 150 calories per drink. Try sparkling water with a twist, seltzer and fruit juice, or vegetable juice cocktail with a dash of hot sauce and a celery stick.
Holiday Fitness

Exercise boosts feelings of self-esteem, mood, body image, and alertness, and it relieves stress (which may be a-plenty during the holidays). Plus exercise provides a great social opportunity (better than the social pastime called "snacking"), and it keeps cravings in check. It also improves sleeping patterns, and, of course, improves general fitness by increasing fat loss, lowering blood pressure, and strengthening immunity.
  • Don't take a vacation from exercise. Sure, you have tons of commitments and you're stressed for time, but you'll be more productive and energized if you take exercise breaks. Consider a brisk walk, sledding with the kids, hiking in the woods, or ice skating.
  • Change your clothes rack back into the treadmill it once was. Then use it.
  • Get out your yoga mat, take the dog for a walk, and notice the joy you feel in moving your body!

Jeannie Gedeon, MPH, RD/CDN is a nutrition therapist who specializes in counseling for eating and weight issues and is an expert in the treatment of eating disorders. Jeannie works with patients recovering from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating, night eating syndrome, food addiction and compulsive exercise. Her offices are located in mid-town Manhattan and Huntington, NY.

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