The Perspective

The shopping, the cooking, the traveling, the weight gain, the stress . . . the holidays

The holidays are a time for celebrating with families and friends, and for many of us that includes marathon shopping sessions, extra time in the kitchen, and added stress to our already busy lives. The good news is a 2000 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine debunked the idea that people gain between five and 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Instead the average person actually gains about one to two pounds during the holidays. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most people will not lose those additional pounds . . . and that means they could gain another two pounds the following year, and another two pounds the year after that.

That one- to two-pound gain isn’t inevitable. There are tricks and tips to minimize weight gain, ease stress and enjoy the season even more. You can have your cake and eat it too.

“Setting weight loss goals at this time of year adds unnecessary challenges to what is already a stressful time of year,” said Amanda Reichert, a Southern Nevada Health District health educator. “Instead, you can look for ways to maintain your weight by making a few adjustments during the holidays and allowing yourself to enjoy the season.”

Eliminating certain foods at the holidays is difficult and Reichert suggests portion control is key. She says at the buffet line, choose small plates rather than large dinner plates. Select vegetables and fruit, split dessert with a friend, and have a small healthy snack before heading out to the party to minimize the risk of overeating.

“It‘s not impossible and it can be done without feeling as if you’re sacrificing,” she said. She added that small adjustments throughout the year can lead to big changes in health. So what else can you do? .

First, shop healthy. Check nutrition labels and plan to include more fruit and vegetables on the holiday menu. Opt for lower fat items. These can help limit excess calories. Even in winter, there are plenty of produce options available. Check out the frozen food aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak freshness and THEN frozen.

Go light. Reduce the fat content of your stuffing by cooking it separately from the bird – which makes it dressing! Choose light meat over dark to save extra calories. Try herbs and seasonings to add flavor to your dishes instead of sauces, butter or cheese. If you’re passing around appetizers, select dishes with raw vegetables and low-fat dips. At the holiday party, select dishes that are simply prepared without heavy creams or sauces.

Make substitutions that lighten up the meal. For example, use three tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to replace an ounce of unsweetened chocolate when baking; use crushed graham crackers instead of pie crusts; use egg whites or egg substitutes to replace eggs; replace half of the oil in a dessert recipe with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce; use reduced- or non-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream on pies and cakes.

Choose whole grains. Whole wheat rolls and bread are a healthier choice than white bread. Substitute brown rice or wild rice, which is actually a healthy grain, for white rice. Foods rich in fiber can help fight cravings.

Offer healthier dessert selections. When making pumpkin pie, use non-fat evaporated milk and top with fat-free whipped topping. Or forego pie and cake, by serving fruity fondue or chocolate-covered strawberries.

Don’t forget the liquid calories. Eggnog can add 300 calories to your day. If you’re hosting the party, offer low calorie drinks or sparkling water. Remember that alcohol also has plenty of calories.

Give yourself time to enjoy the feast and let your brain remind you if you’re full and wait the recommended 20 minutes before heading back for a second helping.

Maintain a fitness routine. It’s easy to get sidetracked at this time of year. Mark exercise on the calendar and schedule it as if it were a regular, standing apointment. For travelers, check out the gym at the hotel and take a little time to work out. Airports offer plenty of opportunity to take a walk when dealing with layovers or delayed flights. Better to move around than sit and wait.

After dinner, and if weather permits, take a family stroll through the neighborhood to check out holiday lights. Head outside to play a round of family football or soccer. The health district’s Neon to Nature program can help identify trails or parks that are close to home.

“Sticking to your regular fitness routine can really help avoid gaining weight at the holidays and it’s also an excellent way to avoid stress,” said Reichert. “There are some very simple ways that you can add physical activity now and throughout the year.” More tips on how to stay active are available on the Get Moving section of the health district’s website.

ENJOY and Happy Holidays!

The health district’s Get Healthy Clark County website has tips, videos and information about healthy shopping, portion sizes, and tips to incorporate more physical activity. For additional information to keep the family safe and healthy during the holidays, visit CDC Healthy Holidays and CDC Portion Control Tips.

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