With the holidays upon us, patients often express concern about their tendency to gain weight over this time of celebrating with egg nog, mashed potatoes with gravy, and pumpkin pie. I often counsel them about the importance of portion control. Given the preponderance of Americans who tend to center their social activities around food and eating, many tend to overeat, especially during the holidays. Exercising portion control is a very important tool to help you stay healthy and avoid weight gain over the holidays.
Some studies show that the average American gains one to two pounds over the six-week holiday period. That may not seem like much, but if that weight is not lost it can add up over time and become a larger concern.
I encourage patients to eat the way that nature intended us to eat rather than to consume highly-processed foods, like many snack foods found in the middle of the supermarket. A healthful diet includes eating more natural foods — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Try to focus your shopping on the periphery of the store.
During the holidays, it may be a challenge to always eat healthy. Many family traditions involve sharing sweet holiday treats and meals filled with gravy and lots of butter. To avoid weight gain, you don't necessarily have to deprive yourself. Eat grandma's mashed potatoes, but don't eat a whole plate full.
Use heavy sauces and creams sparingly. Instead of smothering those mashed potatoes in gravy, just use a small amount to satisfy your taste buds. Eat a sliver of pie instead of a large slice à la mode.
One trick I recommend is to use a smaller plate. If you take a smaller plate, it will help you adjust your portions to a more appropriate size. And though you may be tempted, don't take second helpings. Have one helping, sit and relax or take a walk, and you may not want that second helping. Give your body time to catch up and digest. Take time to enjoy the event and the company and do not focus on how much you can eat.
Alcohol and other drinks can also be high in calories. Enjoy these items in moderation as well to avoid consuming empty calories.
When you can, make a well-balanced plate. Perk up most of the plate with fresh fruits or veggies in order to cut down on the amount of less healthful foods you will consume.
Keep this in mind after your holiday meals as well as with leftovers. Use lighter, more natural foods to reinvent those meals. Instead of making a turkey sandwich with mayo on white bread, use a fresh salad or steamed vegetables with leftover turkey. Change up your leftovers and find creative ways to use them in a healthier manner.
Eating in moderation and focusing on healthy meals throughout the year will help balance out those extra calories consumed this season. It can go a long way to help you avoid packing on those extra holiday pounds.
Remaining active will also help to balance out the extra calories you are consuming. During the winter months when it is cold outside and gets dark early in the evening, you may have to be creative to find ways to work activity into your day.
Include being active in your holiday plans. Walk extra laps through the mall during holiday shopping. Take a family outing to enjoy a fun activity like ice skating, skiing or other winter sports. Instead of going to the movies, go play laser tag, visit an indoor trampoline park, bundle up and take a walk through your local zoo. Get out and do something fun and active. You'll make wonderful family memories and stay healthy in the process.
Holiday season is also cold and flu season. Be sure to wash your hands often and practice good hygiene. If you don't feel well, stay home and rest. Your family and friends probably won't appreciate receiving the gift of the flu.
Above all else, enjoy this special time with family and friends. Just remember, the holidays do not have to interfere with your practice of a healthful lifestyle.
Dr. Alison Iser is a family practitioner at Saint Joseph Primary Care, part of KentuckyOne Health.