Increasing health, not waistlines, over the holidays


Lilly Carter

Starr’s Mill student enjoys an orange as a healthy snack alternative to chips or cookies. Eating fruits and vegetables, as well as drinking plenty of water, may help subdue an individual’s appetite between holiday meals.

Claire Goins, Staff Writer

The holiday season is famously known for family time, presents piling up under a sparkling tree, fresh cookies baking in the oven, and expanding waistlines. Food and treats can quickly transform from a holiday necessity to an ever-present burden on an individual’s health goals. However, this does not have to be the case.

Calorie and sugar-dense dishes are not meant to induce fear and guilt, but be savored in the presence of loved ones. “The holidays are full of flavorful foods to be shared with family and friends, so trying to deprive yourself of your favorite festive dishes can be a recipe for disaster, despite your best intentions,” local registered dietitian and nutritionist Laura Marchese said.

It is easy to fall into the trap of deprivation and guilt when it comes to eating traditional family dishes and indulging at Christmas parties, but the festival season is truly meant to be enjoyed, not dreaded. While one may feel the need to set strict limitations on eating or not eat at all in preparation for a big meal, these often have an effect that is the opposite of any good intentions, such as overeating.

“To avoid overindulging at your next holiday party or social gathering, plan to eat a light, healthy snack to take the edge off of your hunger before you go,¨ Marchese said. Healthy snacks can help manage a large appetite rather than being tempted by the dessert table at a holiday gathering.

Focus should be shifted from the food on a plate to the company that surrounds. Rather than attempting to avoid “unhealthy” foods altogether, it is easier to choose a few favorite dishes and enjoy smaller portions of each. Eating a slice of grandma’s famous pie will not cause the end of all health and fitness goals. Food is a key element of social gatherings that should be taken advantage of rather than inviting self-deprivation into the mix.

Simple ways to avoid depriving oneself may include looking at food in a new light. “Try to avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but rather ‘always-foods’ and ‘sometimes-foods,’” Marchese said. For example, cakes and cookies should not be thought of in a category of food to stay away from completely, but instead food to enjoy a little of every once in awhile.

It can quickly become unhealthy to set restrictions on every meal. Psychology Today discusses the many health benefits that come from indulging in foods that are often labeled “sinful” or a “guilty pleasure,” such as chocolate. Each body has different cravings and it is necessary and healthy to follow them every now and then.

Eating those crave-worthy foods, sitting on the couch, and watching movies do not have to be the extent of holiday festivities. A positive family bonding activity could include going for a walk through the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights or meeting up with friends for a workout.

Any form of movement or activity will help provide a balance with heavy foods that are traditional during this season. Also, heading to the gym can be a perfect excuse to take some time away from the bustling household full of relatives and friends.

“Add your own health and well-being to your long list of priorities this time of year and the payoff will last long after you ring in the new year,” Marchese said. Whether it is taking a week or two off from exercising or simply enjoying a plate of food, the holidays are for prioritizing relaxation, recovery, and quality time with loved ones.