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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Life - November 2009

How to Stay Active and Eat Well at Holiday Gatherings
Holidays Can Be a Dietary Minefield, But Balance, Variety and Perspective Can Help

What are you looking forward to most this holiday season? The turkey and stuffing? Pumpkin pie? Aunt Marie's famous almond biscotti? Cousin Steve's sinful peanut butter fudge? Food is an important part of many celebrations, family and cultural traditions and many people gain a little (or a lot of) weight between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Odds are, you are going to be one of those people.

Many factors can lead to holiday overeating.According to studies, the average person gains just one pound during the winter holidays. While this doesn't sound bad, most people do not lose that pound and, year after year, it adds up. People who are already overweight tend to gain five pounds or more during the holidays, pounds they will not lose.

Many factors can lead to holiday overeating. Perhaps the most obvious is the ready availability of feasts and tempting treats. The traditional holiday dinner with appetizers can pack around 3,000 calories per person, possibly more with extra butter and fat. That's not counting dessert! Other factors that lead to overeating include the influence of family and friends and emotional eating from holiday stress, depression or even joy.

For most of us, some holiday indulgence isn't necessarily a bad thing and may be better than depriving ourselves of special holiday foods or feeling guilty when we overdo it. Balancing the good and bad, going for variety and keeping things in perspective are key to keeping your holiday eating from becoming a free-for-all.

  • Skip the dinner plates. The first step to eating less is to put less food on your plate. At a buffet, grab a dessert plate instead of a dinner plate; it will seem like you are eating more than you really are. At the dinner table, try covering part of your plate with a napkin or piece of lettuce.
  • Go for variety. Instead of eating a lot of a few things, eat a little of a lot of things. Grab healthy items like fruits and vegetables first, then fill in the spaces with small portions of meat and carbohydrates. Savor each bite and avoid seconds.
  • Snack at home before you go. Being hungry leads to overeating and drives us toward higher calorie foods. Eating a piece of fruit, a small carton of yogurt or a string cheese before you go to a party can put you in control of your appetite.
  • Make a plan. Think about what foods you really want to eat and what you probably can do without. Eat what you want most first, and avoid the rest if you're full.
  • Avoid recreational eating. We tend to eat (or keep eating) simply because food is there or because everyone else is noshing. When you are done with the meal, pop a mint or stick of gum in your mouth, get a tall glass of water to sip and move away from the buffet table or food trays.
  • Count your drinks. Liquors, sweet wines and sweet mixed drinks contain 150-450 calories per glass. If you choose to drink, select light wines and beers, and use low-calorie mixers such as water and diet soda. Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks per occasion. Watch for the calories in soda, fruit punch and eggnog, as well.

Maintaining healthy weight means striking a balance between diet and exercise. While most people increase the calories they consume during the holidays, they often don't increase the amount of physical activity they get. Worse, some may forego exercise altogether in the hustle and bustle of the season. Exercise burns calories, regulates appetite, relieves stress, boosts metabolism and improves your circulation - all factors that will help your body deal with Aunt Marie's biscotti and other goodies.

Make physical activity a part of your celebrations. Take your family for a walk after dinner. Go to an ice or roller skating rink instead of the movies. You can even play some fitness-related video games. The goal is to be physically active every day, even if it is just for 10 minutes at a time.

Most of all, maintain perspective. It takes days of overeating to gain weight. If you over-indulge at a single holiday meal, don't beat yourself up. Put it behind you and return to your usual eating plan the next day without guilt.