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By Lisa Peterson
Extension: Nutrition & Wellness
The holidays are coming up quickly, and many Americans worry about holiday weight gain from November through January. The good news is, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, the average American gains, on average, one pound over the holiday season. The issue is what is gained over the holidays year after year accumulates, leading to health issues. So, what can you do to avoid that guilt after eating half of Uncle Gary’s famous pecan pie? Let’s talk about it! First, the holidays are all about balancing those seasonal foods with making healthy lifestyle choices.
As a nutrition educator, you will never hear me tell you not to eat something you love. It’s a matter of being strategic with how much variety you put on the plate. When arriving at a holiday gathering, take time to see all the food options. How can you make half your plate of fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the meal? Start by filling half the plate with green beans, salad, or delicious-smelling garlic roasted broccoli. These are filled with vitamins and minerals that will keep you healthy through the New Year’s celebration, and the high-fiber fruits and vegetables will prevent you from overeating.
Before jumping out of your seat for seconds, give yourself ten to twenty minutes. Taking a break between courses helps your brain catch up with your stomach and lets you know if you are still hungry. Spend time catching up with family members, friends, or drinking water, then gauge if you are ready for another serving, dessert, or a cocktail. Try sneaking in a glass of water in between that spiked eggnog or holiday cocktail. Alcohol can pack a punch of extra calories and lower inhibitions to control what and how much you eat.
The stress of the holidays may also heighten the risk of stress eating or emotional eating. Rather than going directly for the kitchen when under stress, try taking deep breaths, meditation, going for a 10-minute walk or writing down what you are grateful for that day. Exercise does not always mean a sweat session at the gym; spending 45 minutes cleaning windows and floors counts as moderate physical activity! Burning calories, reducing stress, and a clean house for guests is a holiday win!
Lastly, remember there is more to the holidays than just eating. Getting to see family and friends, quoting a holiday movie you know word-for-word and still laughing, or going ice skating as a family and watching Grandpa Charlie fly past you with grace on his skates! Find a balance and try little bouts of activity throughout the day. Be accountable to yourself and enjoy all the food in moderation. If you overeat on pecan pie or aren’t as active as you wanted, tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to jump back to a routine.