Use eating tactics to buoy holiday health

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

11/18/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As the saying goes, "A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips," and the holiday season provides a lot of tasteful minutes that often come back to haunt people when they step on the scale.

According to a 2000 Nutrition Review article, a study showed that people gain an average of about a pound during the holiday season from fall through winter. Even though the average gain is small, it contributes to cumulative weight gain year after year, the article reported, and in some, the gain was much more pronounced.

The secret to avoiding weight gain over Thanksgiving and Christmas, with its incredible bounty of potlucks and parties, is to exercise good habits, and exercise, said RoShanda Gaddis, registered dietitian with the Health and Wellness Center's health promotions. "It's hard this time of year with all the parties," she said, but a few tips should help holiday eating.

Drink water, said Gaddis. It's a no-calorie thirst quencher that helps control appetite by curbing the need for more high-calorie refreshments such as eggnog.

Use portion control. Don't pile your plate high, and don't feel you have to try every dish at the feast. "I focus on what do I really like versus trying everything," she said.

If you must drink alcohol, drink it sparingly. Besides its inebriating, unhealthy effects on the human body, "alcohol is pretty calorically dense" at 7 calories a gram, said Gaddis. Also drink in moderation other holiday drinks, such as eggnog, which are also loaded with calories.

Hosts can help their holiday guests eat healthier by diversifying what they serve, providing healthy options at holiday dinners and parties. "Use diet juices rather than full-calorie," she said. "Pay attention to the calorie counts in the recipes you cook."

Include fruit and vegetables among the traditional heavy hors d'oeuvres, and make sure to include lean meats and turkey. Gaddis also suggested including options for those who follow vegetarian and vegan diets. To cut the fat and calories, she often employs low-fat, low-calorie ingredient substitutes into her recipes - for instance, plain yogurt for sour cream and apple sauce instead of oil in dessert recipes. For healthy options, she recommened websites such as,, and

For the holidays, often it's the thought that counts, whether giving gifts or saying thanks, and she suggested focusing attention on people, rather than food, during holiday observances. "Eat and then move away from the food," Gaddis said.

Don't be afraid to ask for a "doggy bag," and take home some food for later to help assuage the need of hosts to feel like their offerings are being appreciated. "Plus on holidays, you go from house to house," so there is more food being offered than can reasonably be eaten, she said.

And in between holiday parties and holiday preparations, Gaddis said people need to find time to exercise - "keeping your routine going and not getting out of it. You should at least walk." Not only does it help burn those holiday calories, it helps people cope with holiday stress.