By: Holly R. Layer
Instead of writing about the ills of overindulging this holiday season, let’s just be real and enjoy the holidays—Christmas comes but once a year. With all the hustle and bustle (a.k.a. stress) of the holiday season, it’s easy to seek relief in a vat of eggnog or a dozen Christmas cookies. Don’t do it! You’ll regret it, I promise.
What I will offer, however, is some nutritionally sound advice about navigating the holiday spread and some motivation to start planning those New Year’s Resolutions now, so you’re ready to hit the ground running (literally or figuratively) on January 1st.
The truth is, the holidays are not an ideal time to try to lose weight or stick to a super restrictive dieting plan. Even as a dietitian, I advocate for enjoying the deliciousness of the season, not self-deprivation. Your goal from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day should be weight maintenance, not weight loss. One way to do that: plan and prepare light, healthy meals for the majority of the week ahead of time so you can enjoy a cookie or glass of wine at the Christmas party guilt-free. Strike a balance somewhere between a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ for sugar and ‘eating all the things’ by only splurging on what’s truly worth it, like those holly wreath cookies or peppermint bark (or are those just my weaknesses?).
Now that’s I’ve given you permission to savor a cookie or two (max!), I challenge everyone to start thinking about ways to improve their health in the New Year. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” That phrase couldn’t be truer. Achieving optimal health is more than just relying on good genes or hoping that ‘one day’ things will change. Being healthy takes work, both in terms of what you eat and how you move.
Achieve a Healthy Weight:
With more than 68% of Americans in the overweight (BMI > 25) or obese category (BMI > 30), many of us could stand to lose a few pounds. Studies show that losing just 5-10% of your current weight yields numerous health benefits, including lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and your risk for various chronic diseases, like heart disease or diabetes. Even if you don’t need to lose weight, be sure to take steps to maintain your weight; our metabolisms slow down as we get older, which means we need take in fewer calories. I like the BMI calculator at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
Eat a Healthy Diet:
If you’re still eating Kraft Singles or think Fruit-on-the-Bottom yogurt is a health food, it’s time for a diet clean-up. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store to avoid packaged and processed foods, and instead fill your cart with as much produce as you’ll eat in a week, sources of protein (meat, fish, eggs) and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, olive oil). Limit your grain intake to whole grains (100% whole wheat bread, rice, oatmeal, air-popped popcorn) and choose dairy options that aren’t full of sugar (plain yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese sticks, low-fat milk). Consider meeting with a Registered Dietitian to figure out your individual calorie needs and come up with a meal plan that works for you. Go to the Western New York Dietetic Association’s website (www.eatrightwnyda.org) or email me!
Make Exercise a Priority:
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends 150 minutes (2 hrs, 30 mins) fo moderate activity per week for adults. Those who have been overweight and are maintaining their weight may need closer to 60 minutes per day to prevent weight gain. Whether you’re already a gym rat or currently a couch potato, consider challenging yourself in a new way this year; perhaps upping your speed or distance in a road race or simply beginning to walk on a treadmill. Be sure to include strength training with your cardio activity; increasing your muscle mass increases your metabolism. Group fitness classes are fun ways to exercise while getting to know others, making friends and having an overall better experience. Take steps NOW to set yourself up for success, such as researching upcoming local races or joining a gym. Many gyms offer special deals In January; the YMCA Buffalo Niagara is waving the join fee on Jan 1 (gyms are closed, join online and receive a free t-shirt) and in facilities on Jan 2; receive half-off the join fee Jan 3-31.
Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer. She works as a clinical dietitian at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and also provides nutritional counseling at Weigel Health Center at SUNY Buffalo State, as well as teaching fitness classes at the Southtowns Family Branch YMCA. She lives in East Aurora with her husband, Andrew, a village native. She blogs at thehealthypineapple.com and her work appears monthly in the online version of Refresh. Send her nutrition-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org