During the holidays, many of us are tempted to go overboard—overeating, overspending, and overextending ourselves. But when it comes to our health, less may be better than more, especially during the busy holiday rush.
For instance, to avoid the weight gain that seems inevitable this time of year, try eating foods with less fat and added sugar. Less screen time for both children and adults may also help keep extra pounds at bay, especially if that time gets replaced with physical activity.
Although NIH research has shown the average holiday weight gain often isn’t as much as most people think—it’s less than a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day—even a pound a year can begin to add up over time, making it harder each year to lose the extra weight. And overweight and obesity—with which more than 70 percent of the U.S. adult population struggles—increase the chances of developing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.
No Holiday from Your Health
So how can you stay healthy this time of year? Don’t put your healthy habits on hold. Here are some tips to help you stay on track and lead you into a healthy new year.
Plan. Don’t go to a party hungry. Have a healthy snack before you leave—an apple, banana, or fat-free or nonfat yogurt—so you are less likely to overeat or make unhealthy food choices later on. If you’re concerned about not having healthy food options available, offer to bring a healthy dish to share.
Choose wisely. Go for the salads, cut-up vegetables and fruit, and lean protein, such as fish, chicken, or turkey breast without the skin. Try to avoid salad dressings, gravies, sour cream, and other toppings that can add extra sugar, salt, and fat. Select water, seltzer, or unsweetened tea when available. If you really want an alcoholic beverage, limit yourself to one. And if you want to enjoy the holiday treats, sample just one cookie or a small sliver of pie.
Focus on the festivities. Instead of lingering around the food table or bar, move around and meet someone new, catch up with friends or family, or participate in dancing or party games.
Sit less, move more. More than 2 hours of TV-watching a day has been linked to overweight and obesity. Turn off the TV, computer, and phone, and take a walk, play hide-and-seek, or toss a football around. If you’re shopping or running errands and time permits and it’s safe to do, park farther from where you’re going and walk the rest of the way.
Manage stress. Less stress is best, but when the holiday pressure is on, it can build and may lead to overeating. Physical activity can help relieve stress. Even if you’re pressed for time, squeezing three
10-minute walks into your busy day may make a difference.
Get enough sleep. Don’t sacrifice sleep to try to get more done. Some studies show that a lack of sleep may increase the risk of weight gain. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to maintain health.
Of course there will be temptations and setbacks, but don’t give up and don’t look back. If you overeat one day, get back on track the next—or as soon as you can. Recruit support from family and friends—they may share your goal of having a healthy holiday. With determination and support, you can achieve better health today, tomorrow, and for life.
The NIDDK website has tools and information to help you improve your health. You also can find healthy tips on our Facebook page and my weekly Healthy Moments radio broadcast. Learn more and listen to recorded episodes by searching “Healthy Moments” on the NIDDK home page.
Follow Dr. Rodgers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NIDDKgov