I have to admit, I cannot wait to go home for the holidays for the comfort and traditions of my Pennsylvania coal region family, where all of the cooking is still from scratch; my ethnic Slovak background comes out full-force with our traditional Holy Supper on Christmas Eve. The meal includes homemade pierogies; homemade mushroom, pea and sauerkraut soup; and bobalki (dough balls with honey and poppy seeds). Besides these once-a-year foods, going home for the holidays includes get-togethers with friends and family that always feature homemade cookies. Who can resist these tasty, baked traditional treats?
If your holidays are anything like mine, you will give plenty of thanks for the food you eat and the shared company of family and friends. Both of my grandfathers served during World War II, and they made it very clear to me to cherish the holidays with my loved ones, and to thank those who have served and who are unable to be with their loved ones during the holidays.
So, what are some strategies to beat that average weight gain of one to two pounds during the holidays? The MOVE weight management program at West Palm Beach VA Medical Center makes sure to include behavior, nutrition and exercise strategies — think “SMART,” specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely goals — to help you enjoy the holidays and stay focused on your weight goals. The “Keep Movin’” group has a holiday party where the alumni gather and share healthy potluck dishes and recipes. This annual celebration invites the group to bring in their family recipes so that we, as a class, can modify them to create a healthy holiday cookbook.
Here are a few tips for healthy holiday eating; you can find more tips on the MOVE! Special Occasion Eating Handout:
- Fill up on water and other low-calorie beverages throughout the day; these will keep you hydrated and feeling full.
- Try not to skip a meal prior to the holiday feast and festivities, which can lead to overeating at the event.
- Use a smaller plate, and fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Go for a walk before your gathering.
- Eat a small healthy meal before you go, which should be high in fiber; or better yet, bring a healthy appetizer such as fruits and vegetables with hummus.
- Keep your attention on your family, friends and the conversation, not the food.
- Don’t deny yourself the treats, but just watch the portions.
- Be the leader of a new healthy tradition in your family; bring the kids together to play a game, or walk or dance after your meal.
- Know your calories! Check out the Calorie Content of Common Holiday Treats and Snacks.
When I’m home for the holidays, I continue to use my fitness tracking device to keep track of my steps and sleep. You can use smartphone mobile apps to keep track of your weight, SMART goals and food intake. It’s okay if you go over the calorie budget for a day or two. The most important practice to keep in mind is to monitor your intake and stay focused on your long-term goal.
A 2008 study in the Journal Consult for Clinical Psychology found that successful weight losers work hard to manage their weight before and during the winter holiday season. However, despite their efforts, they appear susceptible to weight gain during this time. The greater their efforts to control their weight, the better the chances they had to avoid larger weight relapses.
With these strategies, tips and tools, I wish you a very happy and healthy holiday. For our Veterans, thank for your service.
Laura Dolena is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator who is the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program Manager at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. Laura has been helping Veterans change their lives and habits since 2010. She is passionate about physical activity and recently became certified as a Tai Chi Instructor. Laura is a spin instructor and accomplished her first marathon (26.2 miles) this October at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.