Eating right and exercising consecutively is easier said than done on a regular basis, throwing the holidays into the mix can make it almost impossible. However, being able to keep up with your healthy-eating habits and regular exercise may just be what you need to have a happy and healthy holiday season.
“While lots of good food is available at parties and gatherings during the holidays, feeling the need to sample everything can get you in trouble, quick,” said Jameson Tade, clinical dietitian at the Fort Bliss, Texas, Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center.
Though the large variety may be hard to resist, Tade said you should think about which foods you want to try and limit yourself to a small portion, especially if you know some things are higher in calories than others. If you are the type of person who cannot have a small portion of something and will go back for seconds, then try avoiding that particular item altogether.
“Any amount of increased body fat – even as little as 3-5 pounds – can cause increased stress on the heart, joints and back, and can decrease the body’s ability to use blood sugar effectively,” he said. “Over time, this can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and chronic joint pain. Staying at a healthy weight can keep you feeling strong much later in life and that improves well-being and quality of life.”
Tade said moderation and balance is key. Though, ideally, we should be practicing healthy eating throughout the year, he knows there are days where overeating is almost inevitable.
“Most of us are going to overeat at least one day in our lives, dietitians included,” he said.
A good way to balance out the few days where you may overeat is by eating less the days leading up to and after those days and adding in extra exercise. Though it is difficult to expect to lose weight during the holidays, maintain your weight is just as important, he said.
“We’ll consider that a success and then start the hard work with you again in January,” Tade said. “In the meantime, enjoy the foods you like, but in smaller portions. There’s no joy in life if you can’t have delicious food.”
Tade said he understands for a lot of people pleasure can be found in eating the foods they love. So, if you’re able to work hard, exercise and eat right 6 days of the week, it’s okay to take a day or a few hours off and enjoy some unhealthy foods. Having an unhealthy meal or an unhealthy day once a week won’t ruin your weight loss or healthy eating progress, if you already have a successful routine, he said.
A good way to try and stay away from an excess of unhealthy foods is to focus on the foods you can eat as opposed to the foods you can’t eat. One thing Tade recommends is to fill up on vegetables before anything else. Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, salad mixes and carrots are low in calories and are a great source of fiber.
These vegetables are also high in vitamins and minerals. Fiber helps you feel full and can help reduce your food cravings before you get to the high-calorie items on your plate. Higher calorie foods like desserts, buttered mashed potatoes, and gravy should be consumed in moderation.
“Keep in mind that one slice of pie can take at least 30 minutes of running to burn off, so the calories come on a lot easier than they come off,” Tade said. “High calorie foods should only be eaten after you eat your vegetables.”
Also, buying fresh meats, vegetables and making pastries from scratch can help save some unwanted calories by limiting the amount of unnecessary ingredients to your foods.
Another good way to help you stay away from unhealthy foods is to focus on your friends and family rather than food. Schedule some activities to keep you busy that don’t revolve around food. Sign up for a local 5K, go hiking, play sports at the park, or go window shopping at the mall to stay active while enjoying your company and not focusing on the food. That will hopefully motivate you to consume less, Tade said.
WSMR Bell Gym Fitness Facility Manager Bill Velez said gym attendance during the holidays does usually go down but a lot of it has to do with an increase of travel during the holidays. He said attendance starts to pick up around January when New Year resolutions are in full swing.
Gym Recreation Assistant Demi Lager said people who cannot find time to make it to the gym during the holidays can still keep their activity level up by finding ways to increase standing and walking as Tade suggested.
Before starting your vacations, Lager also recommends researching different type body-weight workouts that can be done at home to create activity throughout your day.
“It is important to continue working out during the holidays because people typically eat more during this time and live a more sedentary lifestyle due to increase in travel,” she said. “Keeping your body active during the holidays will help you control your weight and your stress.”
Stress can play a major factor during the holidays, Velez recommends taking the time to focus on being positive and find ways to de-stress. Taking the time to do so will enhance your health and assist with you making it through the holidays on a high note, he said.
“Be smart, eat right, stay active to enjoy the holidays,” Velez said.
Tade said there are even ways you can make high calorie or unhealthy holiday items a little healthier by switching out some ingredients.
“You can take almost any recipe and make it healthier or lower calorie,” he said. “It’s a fun challenge.”
By replacing heavy cream in desserts with low-fat cream or low-fat Greek yogurt Tade said you can save upwards to 40-50 calories per serving and even limit the cholesterol you’re consuming. Choosing light meat turkey over the dark meat and skipping the skin is also a healthier alternative.
An alternative to mashed potatoes is using cauliflowers instead. Cook the cauliflowers until it’s soft and tender and mash it up like you would potatoes. Add in some low fat cheese and some Greek yogurt and you have yourself a much healthier version of mashed potatoes.
Try cooking with less sugar by using a sugar replacement like Splenda, the yellow packets, or replacing some of the granulated sugar with applesauce in things like muffins or cakes.
“These are just a few ideas, but you can get plenty more meal ideas by visiting your local friendly dietitian,” Tade said.