Surviving the Holidays

  1. Here are some tips on staying healthy this holiday season

    By Nicole Benkert

    Walking down the hall to check on Mr. Davis in room 214, you grab one-maybe two-of the chocolate chip cookies a patient's granddaughter baked for the staff. Later, while rushing to finish paperwork, you munch on some holiday chocolates left by your favorite doctor.

    After work, it's off to the mall to try to find the perfect gift for your cousin and finish shopping for your mother-in-law. You grab a quick meal in the food court then rush off to a PTA meeting where your neighbor offers a tray of fresh-baked brownies. When you finally get home, you barely have enough energy to turn on the TV, let alone spend time on the treadmill.

    This time of year can be tough-racing to various social functions while trying to finish buying gifts for loved ones, or working overtime and hurrying home to clean the house for out-of-town arrivals. With all the treats, quick meals and stress of the season, maintaining a healthy diet can be very difficult. Here are some tips on working all the food groups-and some exercise-into your hectic schedule.

    Don't Shatter Your Visions Of Sugarplums

    While turning into Ebenezer Scrooge might seem the only way to make it to New Year's without jumping to the next clothing size, you can enjoy the best the holidays have to offer without jeopardizing your waistline. When you're at holiday parties, here are some ways you can control what you're eating.

    Plan ahead. With the extra calories we're all consuming this time of year, cutting back on what you eat at your regular meals can help, said Jo Ann Carson, PhD, RD, associate professor of Clinical Nutrition at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Only eating half a sandwich at lunch or passing on the roll with a hot meal are two easy ways to cut back, she said.

    Be cognizant. Awareness of what you're consuming-limiting alcohol and stopping to think about what you're eating-can help you regulate your caloric intake, suggested Dr. Carson.

    Go for color. "Typically, the more naturally colorful a food is the better it is for you," explained Mara Vitolins, P.H., RD, assistant professor of Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Picking more colorful food for your plate means you're more likely to cover it with fruits and vegetables than with fried or fatty foods.

    Bring your own dish. When going to a party, bring along a dish of your choosing, such as a relish tray. People welcome additional food, explained Dr. Vitolins, and it allows you to continue to follow your diet.

    Be selective. Dr. Vitolins recommends concentrating on holiday foods, like cranberries or pumpkins, rather than foods available year-round, like rolls with butter. While holiday-specific foods may be higher in fat, you're only going to have them for a limited time, she added.

    Save some treats for later. One option is to take some of the treats home to share with your children, suggested Dr. Carson. Baked goods can also be frozen and heated in the microwave in January when not as many treats abound.

    Practice portion control. "Try everything if you want to, but limit the amount you take," Dr. Vitolins said. One tip Dr. Carson shared is to not eat and drink - if you have a drink in hand, don't munch on something and vice versa.

    Avoid seconds. If you find something you liked, ask for the recipe. You can make a small portion so it's lower in fat, Dr. Vitolins suggested.

    Don't graze. When it comes to holiday eating, people lack awareness about "how many extra calories they can be consuming over the period of time from Thanksgiving through New Year's," Dr. Carson said. She suggested coordinating with coworkers to set one day a week for bringing homemade treats so indulgences aren't around all the time.

    A Cup of Holiday Cheer

    "You can drink quite a few calories without knowing it," warned Dr. Vitolins. At holiday parties, alcohol is often served, reducing inhibitions and making you more likely to overeat and drink.

    "Hot apple cider instead of eggnog cuts the calories in third," Dr. Carson said. Other alternatives include a spiced tea, or punch made with lower-calorie alternatives like diet lemon-lime soda and fruit juice. Eggnog can have more than 350 calories and upwards of 23 grams of fat in a serving. Looking in cookbooks or online can provide lower-calorie recipes for this seasonal drink.

    "Water is one of the forgotten nutrients," Dr. Vitolins stressed. Try to maintain a good fluid balance, she added, explaining, "When you're thirsty, your body can be confused and you feel hungry when in fact you're just thirsty."

    Water also offers a low-cal option at parties. "Having a cup of water in your hands will give you something to drink and something to do with your hands," explained Dr. Carson.

    Eating on the Go

    Holiday eating isn't just about parties or snacking around the office. It includes what you do while you're running around trying to get in all your holiday shopping and errands.

    "It's our craving for the quick energy hit to get us through that gets us into trouble," said Dr. Vitolins. Putting a bag of apples or breakfast bars in the car makes for a quick-and healthy-snack when you're running errands, Dr. Vitolins added.

    Try to take time to eat at home before you go shopping. "You can probably get healthier food at home than at the mall food court," Dr. Carson said.

    Jingle Bell Walk

    "This is one of the best times of year to get exercise-there's never any close parking!" said Dr. Vitolins. She suggested looking for a distant parking spot to help get some extra exercise.

    When walking around the mall, she said, be inefficient when going from store to store-don't just go from one store to the one next to it, but walk around to the other side and then back again.

    Instead of taking the elevator or escalator, use steps when possible, suggested Cathryn R. Dooly, PhD, FACSM, associate professor of physical education and director of the Adult Physical Fitness Laboratory and Center at Ball State University, Muncie, IN.

    "Regardless of age, lifestyle or condition, walking is a great form of exercise. Including walking into your daily schedule is actually easy, you just have to find time to do it and you have to think about it," said Dr. Dooly. One change she suggests is to walk down the hall to talk to co-workers rather than sending e-mail. This simple act can help increase your activity throughout the day.

    Get in at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, Dr. Dooly said, adding that it can be done in 10-minute periods. Taking the dog for a walk or playing outside with children benefits them as well as you. Low-level activity like yard work-raking leaves, pushing the lawnmower-can add up through the day.

    You can incorporate physical activity into your holiday traditions as well, said Dr. Carson. Chop down your own Christmas tree, go caroling with a group or get the family together for a backyard football game to get everybody moving, she suggested.

    Traveling will affect your routine, but taking your walking shoes with you can help. If you can't walk outside because of ice and snow, you can walk in the malls or at a local college gymnasium, Dr. Dooly suggested.

    Your local weather will determine your activity choices, but here are some options you can look for, according to Dr. Dooly:

    Ice-skating, in-line skating and roller-skating are great choices for younger people and those without balance problems.
    Cycling-whether outside or on a stationary bike-is a good activity regardless of age. Spinning classes offer a vigorous workout.
    Swimming classes, such as aqua aerobics, are another option. Some classes are geared towards those with arthritis and osteoporosis.
    Aerobics classes are great for younger people trying to expend calories around the holidays.
    Nicole Benkert is associate Web editor for ADVANCE.
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  3. by   cactus wren
    Now wouldn`t that author be a real gas to go party with??

    To heck with`s Christmas....and if did all that....then what in heck would we have to make for a New Years Resolution???

    Pass the eggnog....with double dose of brandy please...and are those homemade...tamales? fudge? hand em over.....
  4. by   emily_mom
    I second that wren! What a party pooper!

  5. by   emily_mom
    If I wanted to drink water at a party, I would have been born a camel!!!