Nutrition experts say keeping healthy snacks on hand will help you resist the urge to load-up on sweets during the holidays.
Photo by Marilyn Campbell.
Festive holidays are filled with sweet treats from eggnog and cider to fruitcake and chocolate bonbons. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to consuming holiday treats: potential weight gain.
A recent study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases showed that during the holiday season, people who are overweight gain about five pounds, while those of normal weight gain one pound. The same study showed that most people never lose those pounds, and in fact, they accumulate over the years and could contribute to obesity.
Local nutrition experts underscore the importance of avoiding the slippery slope of holiday weight gain, and offer a few tools in the battle of the holiday bulge.
Avoid missing meals to save calories. "Try not to skip meals for the sake of being able to indulge more at holiday parties,” said Joel Martin, an assistant professor of kinesiology at George Mason University in Fairfax. “The drastic change in calorie intake will cause adverse effects to your metabolism that will contribute to the weight gain. Eating 3,000 calories spread out during the day is better than eating 3,000 calories all at once.”
Avoid completely letting go of your healthy eating habits. “Don’t plan to diet in the new year because it gives you the mental excuse to eat whatever you want during the last few weeks of the year,” said Rosa Ganey, a nurse health educator for Fairfax County Health Network and a Burke, resident.
Beware of holiday drinks. "Make smart drink choices. Alcohol usually has empty calories and eggnog can be fattening,” said Ganey. “Try adding diet soda or tonic as a mixer to your alcoholic beverage or stick to wine or light beer. There are also low-fat eggnog recipes you can try.”
Check your holiday calendar and plan ahead. “If you know that you will indulge at a holiday function, exercise before the event. This will help speed up your metabolism and can also help reduce your appetite,” said Michelle Walters-Edwards, department chair and associate professor of Health and Human Performance at Marymount University in Arlington.
Don’t arrive at holiday celebrations on an empty stomach. “It helps if you eat something before going to a holiday party, even if it’s a light snack, so you don’t arrive starving,” said Ganey. “Drinking water during your meal will make you feel fuller faster and will help you eat less.”
Registered dietician Bonita Lillie of Dietetic Consultants of Northern Virginia in Alexandria said, “At the party, pick out 4-6 foods to enjoy in small portions. If you need to bring a dish, take something healthy and ask a friend to do likewise.”
Finally, experts say to keep plenty of nutritious foods on hand. “Stock the kitchen with healthy quick meals, fruits and vegetables,” said Lillie.