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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2004

Eat well for a happy holiday

By Harry Jackson Jr.
Knight Ridder News Service

All year, Karen Zohner struggles to keep excess food and goodies out of her targeting radar. It helps her keep her health and weight under control. It's not easy maintaining a healthy diet while dealing with four children, 12 and younger, who eat like, well, four children 12 and younger.

Choose wisely — and go for a walk

Knight Ridder News Service

Dietitians admit that the festive time of year is hard on folks trying to watch their weight and health, but there are ways to make it easier.

• Make healthful substitutes: Replace empty calories with nutrition. Top baked apples with raisins instead of whipped cream or marshmallows. There may not be much difference in calories, but there's a tremendous difference in fiber and fat.

• Offer a variety of low-fat, high-fiber foods: That means fresh fruits and vegetables, grilled or broiled lean meats, fish, and turkey and chicken without the skin. Provide alternatives to mayonnaise, oil and butter. Increase fiber with whole-grain breads, peas, and beans.

• Cook and eat with color:

Mix up colorful foods, says Joy Short, director of St. Louis University's undergraduate programs in nutrition and dietetics. Put more fruits and vegetables on the table. They're nutritious, tasty and fill up those spaces where you want to fit extra servings of gravy. Think plums, apples, tomatoes, melons, peaches, avocados, spinach and other vegetables. Try to avoid the white and brown plate.

• Eat slowly and in smaller portions: Concentrate on the family time, the fellowship and seeing happy faces. Talk with family while eating. If you eat slowly, you'll fill up faster, enjoy your food just as much and won't be tempted to cram to the point of misery. Don't load up the plate — you won't eat as much, even if you return for second helpings.

• Mix well-being and pleasure. If you're snarfing down holiday goodies, the American Heart Association recommends you keep your body moving when you can. Go caroling with friends, walk through Christmas light displays in the parks, go dancing, park at the far end of the mall parking lot when shopping; whenever possible, find an opportunity to walk.

SOURCES: National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, American Heart Association

And then, like clockwork, the holidays make their annual appearance, starting with Halloween.

"I shop for the candy the day of," said Zohner, of Wildwood, Mo. "I can't have it sitting around my house. Then I hide it from myself. I put it in the oven."

She says it takes all of three weeks to shake the sugar shock — just in time for Thanksgiving, the annual family gathering where she hosts 20 people and one unfortunate turkey.

And then comes Christmas.

Zohner says she can gain as much as 10 pounds during this time, although nutritionists say that's unlikely — people simply feel as if they've put on 10 pounds.

"Oh, afterward, I feel miserable," Zohner said. "But what I've found is that it doesn't pay to double up on the aerobics the next week. I just go about things as normal — normal exercise, normal meals. That seems to work best."

And, say nutritionists, that's all right.


Health experts say to the Zohner family and everyone facing the same holiday challenge: Hey, don't sweat it.

The key is don't overdo it, and if you do, don't feel guilty about it. Just keep the rest of your life under control.

For one thing, studies have shown that people feel as if they gain more weight than they actually do. Experts know, in fact, that the average weight gain between Thanksgiving and Christmas is about ý pound to less than 2 pounds.


While there's less to worry about from one or two big meals, the concern is for the festive eating season: Thanksgiving and Christmas are the focus, but the reality is that the feasting season runs from the days of sugar-coma Halloween candy to the chili cheese dogs, chips and beer of the Super Bowl.

Add the office parties, visits to friends' homes and the holiday snacks around the house in case someone stops by. Then add to that, for those couples who must please two families, going to two holiday dinners in one day.

So what looks like a one-time feast is actually a seasonal Bacchanalia that lasts nearly three months.

"Splurging now and then isn't going to hurt," said Joy Short, director of St. Louis University's undergraduate programs in nutrition and dietetics. "But if you adopt that mentality over and over again, then that becomes a lifestyle pattern."

This prolonged period often accounts for the weight gain that's blamed on the one or two big meals of Thanksgiving and Christmas, experts say.

Still, the holiday weight gain is nowhere near what people fear, according to the experts.

"Even if you eat a huge meal, you have to remember it takes 3,500 calories more than your normal intake to make a pound, so you're not going to gain 10 pounds from that one meal," said Connie Diekman, chief dietitian at Washington University. "But if the floodgates open and you eat like that until New Year's, you're going to have a battle to get it back off."


Still, the mental-health benefits of a holiday often balance, to some extent, the overeating.

"Breaking bread together has always been meaningful," said Dr. Joan Lang, chairwoman of the department of psychiatry at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "Food is a deep source of comfort and social connection.

"When we get to the holidays, that gets even more loaded, because the holidays are such a time of ritual and tradition. We all kind of crave tradition and ritual. We really organize our social intercourse around food and drink. I think that's always been true. In that sense, it's healthy.

"Cherish and savor the tradition and the connection with others, the special treats. Remember that comfort foods are those that we associate with the good times with family."

The key is that when you break bread, don't inhale the entire loaf yourself.

"Don't make it all or nothing," Lang said. "It doesn't give you a license to go whole-hog."


All of the nutrition experts said to take charge of your home's traditions. Your family and guests will eat what you serve.

"There's no reason why changing the tradition won't work. Some people establish new traditions," said Amy Olson, a

dietitian with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. "Traditions start by changing something once. Change one thing, and that might become a tradition."

Diekman echoed the sentiment.

"Tradition isn't just about the food. It's about who you're with and the enjoyment of being together," Diekman said. "People need to think about that when they think about changing their menu. We've made food the central part of the tradition — we aren't using it for fuel, we're using it to be the celebration."