Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Healthier Holiday Season

One of the biggest challenges I have with patients over the holiday season is preventing weight gain. When you jump from Christmas party to Hanukkah party, it’s hard to avoid eating excessively in the month of December. It’s challenging for a dietitian too, trust me! However, with small simple changes and regular physical activity, it can be done…

Why have you done a good thing?

Between office treats, cookie parties, holiday cocktail parties, and festive dinners, it can feel impossible to avoid overeating. Luckily, there are tricks to ensure that you are practicing the “art of weight maintenance,” as I like to call it. By cutting back on just 100 calories per day, you can save yourself 10 lbs of weight gain per year and help maintain your weight. How motivating is that!

So, the 2 main areas I like to focus on with my patients to help with weight maintenance are 1) small diet changes; 2) physical activity. Research by Brian Wansink up at Cornell University suggests that small “mindless eating” strategies or small changes make a big difference and overall prevent your weight from yo-yoing. Additionally, living an active lifestyle (getting to 10,000 steps per day) and regular structured exercise (at least 30 minutes on 3-4 days per week) helps to burn extra calories and keep your metabolism rolling.

So rather than waiting until New Years to start your resolution, keep yourself in check all holiday season long, while still enjoying yourself and celebrating during this festive time. Here are my top 10 ways to prevent weight gain over the holidays:

  1. Exercise daily. Exercising daily such as taking a long walk during the holiday season helps to prevent weight gain and allow you to maintain your weight! Shopping luckily burns a lot of calories when you walk the mall as well...

  2. Treat yourself only once per day. When you are constantly surrounded by holiday parties and special sweet treats, it's hard to resist temptation. Allow yourself one special treat per day, whether it's a holiday cookie or small piece of candy. Be selective though and don’t waste your calories on something you don’t like/love! Limiting yourself to just one treat per day should allow you to maintain your weight, particularly if you exercise.

  3. Eat healthily whenever you can. On days you are not going to a holiday party or gathering, take advantage of the opportunity to eat your best! ½ plate full of vegetables, ¼ plate lean protein like chicken/turkey/fish/lean red meat/eggs/beans/lentils/tofu, and ¼ plate healthy starch or whole grain. Use 9” plates to keep portions small, as well as smaller serving spoons and dishes, and wine glasses.

  4. Keep a food diary. This is the single best way to keep pounds off and keep track of your special treats.

  5. Wear a pedometer. The more you move, the more calories you burn, helping you to maintain your weight. Try to get to 10,000 steps per day.

  6. Limit leaving treats around the house. If you see it you will eat it. Keep treats out of sight and out of mind. Limit trips to office kitchens to avoid mindless eating. At dinner, leave serving dishes on the counter instead of the table.

  7. Look for low-fat recipes. Explore healthier versions of holiday recipes from cookinglight.com and eatingwell.com to keep the calories down. Look out for our blog entries over this month for healthy recipes as well!

  8. Limit alcohol. Choose alcohol or dessert and keep alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day maximum. 1 drink is equal to 4 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of hard alcohol, or 12 oz of beer. Avoid high calorie, high sugar alcoholic and mixed drinks as much as possible.

  9. Limit stress. It's hard to stay calm around family at the holidays. Stress leads to weight gain and poor food choices. Help yourself to relax daily with exercise or something you truly enjoy, like taking a bath.

  10. Don't try to lose weight now. Aim for weight maintenance during the holiday season. Don't stress about small over-indulgences. Stay active and keep up the portion control and you should be fine.

**For more mindless eating tips, check out Brian Wansink’s book entitled “Mindless Eating”

So don’t despair; this year you can maintain your weight over the holidays! Happy Holiday season everyone!

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

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