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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Holidays


Maintain, don’t gain, this holiday season

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Some communities are looking ahead to the coming holidays and starting their wellness challenges early, making them “Maintain, Don’t Gain, Holiday Wellness Challenges.” This type of challenge is just the ticket for anyone who wants to avoid “eater’s regret” after the parties, potlucks, food gifts and big sit-down dinners are enjoyed and over, but not forgotten.


The time to strategize ways to enjoy the holidays and stay healthy during them is before the feasting and food follies begin. According to National Institutes of Health studies, the average American gains only about a pound from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day—but if that happens every year, those pounds can add up! Think through strategies to control portion size, find healthier but still tasty options for old or new holiday favorites and plan plenty of physical activity to counterbalance any extra calories.


For portion control, plan ahead and be ready. For example, eating something before a party can reduce hunger and make it easier to eat less from the treats table. Or commit to going through the food line only once and mindfully appreciate smaller portions of favorite treats. Another tactic worth trying is to fill most of the plate with healthier foods like veggies or fruit, so there’s less room for those extra calories that may be regretted later. Be creative in finding ways to cut back while still enjoying the delicious foods that are readily available this time of year. And there is strength in numbers, so if there is someone else who is also trying to conscientiously manage food temptations, make a pact and encourage each other. It’s a good way to enjoy food while also enjoying the company of others.


Enjoy healthy holiday foods this season. For example, use whole wheat instead of white bread in a traditional recipe for dressing. Or better yet, make brown rice or wild rice the main ingredient in the dressing and then you can use less butter. Adding more flavorful veggies such as onions, garlic or shallots to the mix increases aroma and flavor, with fewer calories.


Also try expanding the focus so it’s on more than just the food. Food plays an important role in holiday events, but there are other activities that could also play a primary role. Many forms of physical activity can be incorporated into a festive event: dancing at a party, going for a walk after a dinner or playing a fun game of backyard ball.


Be creative this holiday season. See how many changes you can make to keep the festivities fun and at the same time keep all participants healthy now and in the days to come.


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Last update: Friday, December 16, 2016