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Happy (and healthy) holidays

The holidays are here, and so is the yearly struggle to eat well and stay active. If you are hoping to avoid the need to make health or weight-related New Year’s resolutions, now is the time to focus on good habits.

The Christmas feast will be ready soon – not to mention the delicious cookies, candies, and other treats on offer this time of year – and early darkness and cold weather are barriers to getting enough exercise. Following a few tips will help keep you on the right track during the season of indulgence.

Holly Schmitz, registered dietitian at Community HealthCare System, says portion control should be your goal when you hit those holiday parties. “Use small plates at gatherings and avoid going back for seconds,” Schmitz said.

Also recognize that correct portions may differ widely from what you are accustomed to seeing on your plate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half of your plate should be vegetables. If you use your hand as a guide, 3 ounces of meat is just the palm, 1 cup of fruit vegetables as a serving is the size of your fist, and a tablespoon is just the tip of your thumb. Fill your plate with more lean proteins and colorful veggies and fruits and less of the starchy, sugary, or high-calorie foods. “If you really want something, moderation is the key,” Schmitz said. Bringing your own healthy dish to parties is a good way to make sure you’ll have a good choice available.

Schmitz recommends drinking plenty of water, which helps keep you full. If you struggle to drink enough water, try infusing it with lemon or cucumber slices, mint leaves, or other fresh fruits. No-calorie add-in products such as Crystal Light, Mio, Propel, Stur, or SweetLeaf can also help. Be sure to limit drinks that contain calories, and note that overindulging in alcohol can cause dehydration and increase your overall calorie intake. Grab a glass of water and mingle. “Visit with the people, not the food,” Schmitz said. “This will keep you from mindlessly eating.”

Finally, avoid skipping meals so you can eat more later. “Your body needs calories every few hours to keep your metabolism going strong, and it is not good for your blood sugar when you save up to eat later,” Schmitz said. Waiting to eat often results in higher calorie intake.

Along with watching your plate, be sure to get enough exercise during the holidays. Andrea Lutz, doctor of physical therapy and Community HealthCare System Director of Ancillary Services, says everyone should aim for 30 minutes of moderate exertion 5 days a week combined with resistance or weight training 3 days a week.

Lutz said prioritizing exercise during the pandemic has been difficult, but she sees many people returning to fitness routines. 

Lutz added that dedication is difficult. “Many have a hard time making the commitment to exercise and sticking to it and then taking a hard look at what you eat, when you eat, and what you drink.” But staying active pays dividends, because in addition to helping control weight, exercise improves overall sleep and mood and helps decrease blood sugar and blood pressure.

Many people struggle with motivation in the winter months. If you usually exercise outside and are hampered by winter weather, consider joining a gym or fitness center to gain access to indoor facilities and classes.

“Don’t let your fitness goals go into hibernation during the winter months. Take advantage of your local gym to increase your activity. Many gyms run discounts during these months to help incentivize your workout. Stop into a fitness center today to get more information,” Lutz said.

This holiday season, reach for the vegetables and exercise regularly, and you’ll be well on your way to a happy new year. 

Editor's note: This story was updated in December 2021.


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