Healthy Eating Tips Can Lead to Happier Holidays
< Dec. 24, 2008 > -- Focus on keeping your weight steady with simple healthy eating strategies, rather than worry about gaining or losing weight during the holiday season.
"Trying to diet during the holidays is setting yourself up for failure and personal torture," says Jennifer Ventrelle, clinical nutritionist and registered dietitian at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Set an achievable goal: to maintain your weight through the holiday season."
"A decrease in physical activity is a prime contributor to holiday weight gain," Ventrelle says. "Without exercise, you burn fewer calories, and you're also likely to eat more." The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says that favorite seasonal desserts can still be enjoyed while consuming a limited amount of fat.
According to the ADA, people eat when they are not hungry during the holidays because of chaos and stress. Eating due to stress is a learned behavior. But many people do not associate stress as a cause of eating when they are not hungry.
The ADA suggests documenting what a person eats, how it tastes, and more importantly, how hungry the person was when the food was consumed. If the answer is "not hungry at all," the person may be eating due to stress. This behavior can be minimized by keeping a journal to monitor how a person is feeling when eating, what are they eating, and why are they eating. Eventually, a person will be able to recognize stress-related eating and effectively cope with this behavior.
Social Pressures Faced by the Obese
This time of the year is extremely difficult for overweight and obese people, because they struggle to control their eating habits and have to cope with misconceptions about obesity from others, according to an expert from Duke University. An honest approach to food can conquer fears of social pressure.
"Social situations make people feel self-conscious about what they wear and what they eat to the point where they feel they're being judged for every morsel that touches their lips," says Martin Binks, director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. "Some of the popular misconceptions about obesity are that people bring it on themselves, and that they look forward to the holidays so they can eat more," he says.
Overweight and obese people often become very nervous and anxious during the holiday season due to their lack of willpower to resist temptations. Some try to avoid social gatherings, certain foods, or eating triggers, and others say they can sense judgmental attitudes of other people.
"Even if they aren't being judged, they become so self-conscious that they think they are," says Binks, who noticed that an intense focus on food during the holidays increases challenges faced by overweight and obese people.
Eating Strategies for Holiday Parties
Since eating plays such a large role during the holiday season, Ventrelle recommends eating a healthy snack - such as yogurt or fruit, an apple and peanut butter, or a bowl of high-fiber cereal - to prevent gorging at parties. During the day, eating small, lower-calorie meals can offset the calorie load caused by going to a holiday party hungry.
Keeping portions small allows a person to eat their favorite foods without over indulging. Food can also be placed on plates as props, thus allowing more time to socialize without eating. Do not socialize in areas - kitchen, buffet table - where you may be tempted to nibble. If hosting a party, give leftovers to party guests to remove food temptations.
Ventrelle suggests bringing healthy dishes, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, to holiday parties. "Take a small first helping. That way, if your host expects you to take seconds, the total will be one normal-size dinner," Ventrelle says. If faced with food temptation, use portion control. Eat slow and use a small plate at parties.
Another strategy is to indulge in the inner spirit of the holidays, not the eating, as well as focusing on spending time with friends and family.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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Tips to Maintain a Healthy Weight
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 65 percent of US adults are overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important with conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, breast, or colon, and high total cholesterol levels.
If a person's weight is not in the healthy range for their height and build, the best way to lose weight is to set a reasonable goal and lose it slowly and gradually. It is important to develop a healthy pattern of eating and exercise that can be followed for life.
It is important to remember - a calorie is a calorie. High-fat foods generally have more calories than foods that are high in carbohydrates or protein, but the truth is, the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than what is burned each day.
Start the day off right by eating breakfast. Drink 100 percent fruit juice (canned, from a carton, or freshly squeezed) with breakfast, or take a can to drink at work. Take a piece of fruit to munch on during a commute to work.
Use butter and margarine sparingly and "lite" or low-fat dairy products (i.e., milk, cheese, yogurt, or sour cream). Use oils sparingly (try olive and canola oils). Bake chicken without the skin. Substitute a potato for french fries.
When making or buying a salad, a little bit of salad dressing, about 1 tablespoon, goes a long way. Even better, use "lite" or fat-free salad dressing. The same principle applies when using condiments, a little mayonnaise is all that is needed. Or use the "lite" or fat-free kind.
People should eat when they are hungry, and stop when they are full. Take smaller portions. Never go back for seconds. Typical restaurant servings are often twice the size of a single serving. When dining out or ordering in, ask for half of a serving or a "doggy bag."
Fast food does not have to be high in fat and calories. Try ordering a lean roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich. Keep the portions to regular and small. No "double" anything or "going large." Order items without the cheese.
Exercise is an important way to manage weight. Aerobic exercises and strengthening exercises burn calories by increasing heart rate. Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits.
Women of all ages benefit from a moderate amount of physical activity, preferably daily. The same moderate amount of activity can be obtained in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as 30 minutes of brisk walking) as in shorter sessions of more strenuous activities (such as 15 to 20 minutes of jogging). Previously sedentary women who begin physical activity programs should start with short intervals (5 to 10 minutes) of physical activity and gradually build up to the desired level of activity.
Women with chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, or those who are at high risk for these conditions should first consult their physician before beginning a new program of physical activity. Women over age 50 who plan to begin a new program of vigorous physical activity should first consult their physician to be sure they do not have heart disease or other health problems.
Always consult your physician for more information.