Health experts say holiday battle of the bulge can be won

November 17, 2011

The holiday season is upon us, and with it all the wonderful, rich food and drink temptations that threaten to steer us off our intended course of diet or at least moderation.

So, how to steer a safe course while still enjoying those holiday meals and parties? How to win the battle of the bulge?

“It really comes down to using common sense,” advised Dr. Mark Leavy, Mercy Medical Center internist.

“Yes, it really does,” agreed Caitlin Felice, out-patient dietician for St. Joseph Hospital’s Diabetes Management Center.

She notes, however, that diabetics need to be especially watchful of what and how much they eat and drink over the holidays.

“What tends to happen is that they eat out of their usual meal plan, and so they face an increased risk,” Felice said. “It’s not so much that they may overindulge on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s, but that it may become a seasonal problem, not just two or three days out of two months.”

In other words, treat yourself a little on those days but don’t let it become a habit.

According to a recent Weight Watchers report, the average American gains around 7-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, weight that is maintained from thereon despite promises to go on or back to a diet in January.

“People can still enjoy these holiday meals and not put their health at risk,” Leavy said, “if they simply take some common sense precautions such as limiting their meal portions and eating a variety of foods rather than simply stuffing themselves with meat and mashed potatoes.”

And, he said, exercise is important.

“Don’t just sit on the couch after that large meal; get up and do something, like play with the kids or play a little football rather than watch it,” he said.

For diabetics, Felice suggested using diabetic-friendly holiday recipes (many of which can be found on the Internet) that include using sugar substitutes.

“You can have ham, but it doesn’t have to be glazed ham, for example,” she said. “You can use something like diet Sprite instead of honey or sugar glaze. And, you can try mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. Most people can hardly tell the difference.”

Felice and Leavy offer some other tips.

– Try to control the amount of alcohol you consume and be aware that there are plenty of low-calorie beers and wine available.

– Always remember that rich, sugary foods have a nasty habit of making us crave yet more rich and sugary foods.

– Stock up on healthy snacks. When you go shopping, be sure to throw some healthy snacking items in to your cart. Fill up on raw vegetables, such as carrots or celery, which can make a simple snack in times of temptation.

– Be assertive. Don’t feel as though you have to say yes to everyone who offers you food and drink. If you are not hungry, then simply say so. Don’t let yourself be bullied into eating something that you really don’t want.

– Leave what you don’t want. Despite what your parents may have drummed into you as a child, don’t feel obliged to clear your plate. When you feel full, stop eating.

Neither Leavy nor Felice suggest that people, even those with health issues, should not enjoy the holidays and what they have to offer but, as Felice put it, “celebrate the day, not the season.”