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Holiday Eating

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I went to my first holiday party of the season last night.  It was wonderful – beautiful people, great conversation, and an incredible assortment of holiday foods including my personal favorite, good old-fashioned cut-out sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles. It is definitely tricky to stay on track with healthy eating this time of year.  Rumor has it that a lot of folks gain all sorts of weight during the holiday season.  Research, however, indicates otherwise. While some people do put on five pounds or more, the average person puts on a pound or two.  The problem isn’t the amount of pounds gained as much as the fact that most people do not lose that weight after the New Year.  Over the course of many years, those holiday pounds (in addition to birthday, vacation, and other pounds) add up and stick with us.  “Weight gain over the holidays is a large part of the typical weight gain that adults have over the years,” says Dr. Jack Yanovski, head of the Unit on Growth and Obesity at the National Institutes of Health. He and his colleagues found that almost all the weight people had gained over the course of a year could be explained by the pounds they added over the holiday period. That’s why it’s particularly important to make sure you maintain your weight during the holiday season.

Of course, this is a bit difficult, when the buffet line is staring you in the face.  Understanding your choices ahead of time is the key to navigating the chow line.  For instance, when approaching the appetizer table, choose shrimp over stuffed mushrooms.  One stuffed mushroom may contain 70 calories versus 1 large shrimp with cocktail sauce is only 13 calories.  Also, decide on your drinks carefully.  Eggnog (8 oz.) is a whopping 400 calories; the same amount of red wine is almost 200 calories; while mulled cider weighs in at 120 calories.  And not all desserts are created equal.  One piece of pumpkin pie is 230 calories; however, that same size piece of pecan pie is 450 calories.  The humble sugar cookie (3-inch) on the other hand can be anywhere from 70 to 150 calories.

In addition to knowing your calorie counts ahead of time, the Cleveland Clinic and the NIH offer these tips for creating a healthy holiday season with minimal to no weight gain:

Get Moving.  Regular, sustained activity is one of the most effective ways to balance out calorie intake. (Exercise also helps ward off holiday stress.)

Cheat a little, but only once a day.  You don’t have to totally deny yourself treats.  Allow yourself one small serving or share a dessert with a friend or family member.

Control the risk for temptation.  Clear your office and home of tempting goodies.  When you bake, keep a small amount and share the rest.

Eat your veggies and fruits.  Aim for 7 or more servings of fruits and veggie each day. These contain no empty calories and the fiber will help you feel full.

Never go to a party hungry.  Eat a healthy snack such as fruit, yogurt, or nuts beforehand.  (Starving yourself all day for the evening party does not work.  Most people eat even more because they are so hungry from not eating all day.)

Be in charge of your party choices.  Choose a small plate.  Eat more veggies and fruits than treats.  Limit your alcohol and soda intake as both are full of calories.

Say no politely.  Just because it is offered, does not mean you have to eat it.

Focus on socializing, not food.  Conversation is calorie-free! Stand while chatting and offer to clean up.  Every little bit of movement helps.

Above all, enjoy the holidays.  For more information about healthy holiday eating, go to the American Heart Association’s site at http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@fc/documents/downloadable/ucm_455757.pdf, or the American Diabetes Association’s site at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/holiday-meal-planning/.  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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