Food & Nutrition Column

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
County Extension Director
Extension Educator Health Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County

I am sure many of you would agree that the holidays are one of your favorite times of the year for many reasons. I am confident that on your list of holiday favorites is the different kinds of holiday foods. The challenge that many of us face is enjoying too much holiday food and gaining weight. It doesn’t happen overnight; it starts with Thanksgiving and the extra calories from several days of overeating that all adds up to the winter clothing having shrunk in the closet.

Most of us know from day to day living that if don’t have a plan to prevent weight gain we easily gain 5 to 7 pounds enjoying holiday goodies. When you are eating all the extra food without a plan it is easy to consume 500 or more extra calories a day. Gaining weight is not a given during the holiday season. You’ll gain a significant amount of weight only if you consistently overeat.

The best way to avoid weight gain is to enjoy smaller amounts of the holiday foods that you really enjoy. Plan to get in your head that you really don’t have to try everything; really you don’t. Another thought is to try and go easy on foods higher in fat like rich deserts, cookies, pies, candies, cheese, nuts, gravy and fried foods. You can help control calories by sharing even small tastes too. Liquid calories can be high calories too. Keep in mind that the calories in alcoholic beverages can add up. Then there is the whole fat component in foods. Each tablespoon of butter, margarine, mayonnaise or oil provides about 100 calories. When preparing food you might try the low fat or nonfat versions or consider using half of the full fat and half of the lower fat or fat-free of these foods.

When you are working on your healthy eating plan always plan to select vegetables, fruits, and lean meats and poultry. Select lower fat and nonfat dairy products, and complex carbohydrate foods like whole wheat breads and whole grain products. When you follow these basic guidelines through the year you will be able to afford some of the extra calories during the holidays. The extra pounds will be a problem if you don’t limit what you eat for the entire five to six weeks of holiday festivities.

To avoid holiday weight gain, it helps to have realistic goals. Consider your objectives in each of the following areas. Dieting isn’t realistic over the holidays. It’s more reasonable to try to maintain your weight and then start with healthier eating in January. Second, look at your food choices. How realistic is it that you won’t eat any holiday goodies? It’s not; you’re better off planning to eat some goodies but spend the majority of your calories on foods that you really like. When you get to a party, check out the food, then select several of your favorites rather than having everything. Another idea you might try is calorie swapping which is cutting out a few items you would normally eat to make room for that extra cookie, piece of pie, or candy, just make sure the items you are swapping out are less nutritious items.

The last area in the goals is exercise. Don’t start an exercise program thinking you’ll exercise for an hour and half a day to work off those holiday calories. What’s important about exercise is doing it. Studies suggest that people who lose weight and keep if off plan exercise on a regular basis, but they are not fanatic about exercising every day or for unreasonable periods of time. I suggest you enjoy family, friends, lights, music, traditions, and gift giving but plan to keep the food in moderation and you will be happier in the new year!

All are welcome to stop by and say hello during our holiday Open House on Tuesday, December 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Our office is located inside gate 2 of the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds. Hope to see you there!