Happy holidays! Yes, it’s that time of year again. Are you preparing to lose yourself in Aunt Mable’s fried chicken, Cousin Linda’s macaroni and cheese, and Miss Rosa’s sweet potato pie at the family Christmas dinner? Be sure to enjoy good food and good company, but also beware of the holiday bulge. African Americans have the highest rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. During the holidays, it’s commonplace to put on extra weight thanks to a lack of moderation, which puts people at greater risk for having health problems. Did you know that you can lower your risk of weight related diseases by dropping as little as 10 pounds if you are overweight? This holiday season, don’t wait until the New Year to make a commitment to improving your health. Use these handy tips to help curb overindulging during the celebration and walk into 2011 without weight gain woes.
Tip 1: Stay on track: You don’t always notice those extra pounds creeping up on you during the holidays. So instead of vegging out in front of the tube after Christmas dinner, start a new tradition of taking a walk or playing touch football with family and friends. Stay on track to maintaining a healthy waist circumference, which for men is 40 inches or under and 35 inches or less for women.
Tip 2: Seeing is believing: Keep a daily food and physical activity log. You would be surprised at how writing down what you eat makes you more accountable for your daily intake. You’ll probably be less apt to have a helping of candied yams, turkey and dressing, five holiday cookies, and that cheesecake when you see it in black and white. As you log your holiday meals each week, take the time to mark off each day you exercise for 30 minutes or more. At the end of the week, you can look back and see if your food intake and physical activity contributed to weight gain, loss or maintenance.
Tip 3: Share the love: Cookies, cakes, and pies, oh my! ‘Tis the season for tempting treats. Instead of piling your plate up with the biggest slice of dessert on the treat table, share your dessert (slice of cake, piece of pie) with someone else. You still get the taste, but not the lion’s share of calories. Also if you can’t totally avoid extra toppings like whipped cream and ice cream, have the light or low-fat versions with your dessert.
Tip 4: Little things mean a lot: Try to eat five to six small healthy meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. Eating small meals helps to rev up your metabolism and has been known to curb overeating. Starting out, put yourself on a timed eating schedule (i.e. 8 a. m. 10 a.m., noon …) so you don’t get too busy and forget to grab a small bite. Eating small sensible meals will also ensure that you don’t show up hungry for the party. When you arrive at your holiday gathering, go for veggies with dip, fruit, nuts, and salad — first. If you still feel hungry, be sure to have a reduced portion of the foods you choose. Before you grab that big piece of fried chicken, keep in mind that the serving size for meat is about three ounces or the size of a deck of cards.
Tip 5: Don’t drink it In? What are the holidays without cocktails, especially egg nog? Holiday beverages can be high in calories, sugar, and even fat. But you don’t have to forego your favorite holiday libations if you consider partaking in the lighter fare. Instead of using whole eggs to make your egg nog, use one whole egg and several egg whites, fat free half and half, and 2 percent milk, in your recipe. Have hot cocoa with reduced fat half and half. If you’re going to have alcohol, try a glass of red wine or mix sparkling wine with a splash of fruit juice. The serving size for a glass of wine is four ounces, that’s 1/3 of the average 12-ounce drink we normally consume. Opting for wine may save you a couple hundred calories, and your waistline and your wallet will thank you. –dr. caree j. jackson
Tips by Dr. Caree J. Jackson, a Ph.D. in foods and nutrition from the University of Georgia. She’s also a registered dietitian and licensed esthetician. For more information, log on to www.drcaree.com.