By Jeannie Gedeon, MPH, RDN/LDN, CAP/ICADC
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 you can eat well, drink in moderation, and be merry without making the scale your enemy.
Every year for the past 3½ 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, which is believed to be an important contributor to our nation’s obesity epidemic.1 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.2 The best fitness strategy is to avoid gaining in the first place.
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 these eating 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. Or 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 herbs, 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 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.
• Instead of noshing, give hugs to your loved ones!
Exercise boosts mood, feelings of self-esteem, body image, and alertness. It also relieves stress, which often escalates during the holidays with added demands of shopping, entertaining, parties, baking, etc. Working out is a great social opportunity – better than the social pastime called “snacking” – and it keeps cravings in check. It also improves sleep 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, taking the kids to the beach, or getting into the winter mood by heading to the ice skating rink.
• 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!
1. Nutr Rev 2000;58(12):378-9.]
2. N Eng J Med 2000;342(12):861-7.
Have a Compassionate Holiday: Save a Turkey
Do a turkey a favor and have a vegetarian or vegan holiday celebration. For ethical and health reasons, vegetarians don’t eat animals, including beef, poultry, pork, lamb, and fish. In addition to meat, vegans don’t eat animal products like milk, eggs, and cheese, or any foods that contain these ingredients.
A plant-based vegan feast will do far less damage nutritionally than the traditional Thanksgiving meat-based meal, as it cuts out a good deal of fat, sodium and all of the cholesterol, since cholesterol is found only in animal foods. Best of all, serving a cruelty-free holiday dinner will honor the animals customarily used as ingredients – a gentler way to gather with loved ones in the spirit of giving thanks for our lives, health, and happiness.
Here are some tips to avoid ruffling feathers this holiday:
Try a delicious “faux” turkey by checking out Gardein, Field Roast, Trader Joe’s, and Tofurkey products in your store’s freezer section.
Or update your main dish style with squash stuffed with legumes (beans, lentils) and veggies.
Make holiday gravy and stuffing using vegetable broth instead of meat-based broth.
Soy, almond, and coconut milk (unsweetened) are great swaps for milk in soup, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie filling, cookies, and other baked goods recipes.
Replace butter with margarine (Earth Balance has buttery spread and shortening versions) and eggs with egg replacer for your cooking
Search online for seasonal vegan recipes that offer compassionate alternatives to the conventional turkey dinner. All your faves can be found, including soups, breads, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin and pecan pies.
Thirty years ago Farm Sanctuary, an organization that rescues mistreated, abused, and neglected farm animals, challenged the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with an event that celebrated and cultivated kindness, encouraging people to “adopt” turkeys instead of eating them. This “first Thanksgiving” has grown into an organized movement in which sponsorships help fund the rescue of animals and provide care for them at various sanctuaries, as well as educate and advocate for farm animals everywhere.
To save even more lives this year, you can adopt a turkey with any farm animal sanctuary in the US that has adoption programs, including Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Lewis Oliver Farm Sanctuary, and others. And for the ultimate cool, original holiday gift of compassion, you can adopt farm animals for your loved ones and yourself, including cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alpacas, peacocks, ducks, geese, turkeys, and chickens by visiting
https://www.vegan.com/farm-sanctuaries, then visit your new adoptee on your next vacation.
Jeannie Gedeon is a nutrition therapist who specializes in counseling for eating, body image and weight issues and is an expert in the treatment of eating disorders. She is a Florida Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN) and Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN), the national credential by the Commission on Dietetic Registration/Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 1994. In addition, Jeannie is an addictions counselor (CAP/ICADC).
Delray Beach & West Palm Beach offices