So you want to have a healthy holiday

Nov. 21, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

Watching portion size, exercise and staying away from sugar-sweetened beverages are three easy ways to maintain a healthy weight this holiday season. (D. Sharon Pruitt/Flickr Creative Commons)

'Tis the season to eat unhealthy food, become too busy to exercise and put on a pound or 12.

That may not jive with any traditional messages of holiday cheer, but it's true: Healthy habits tend to fall to the wayside this time of year, and even though it's hard to avoid, Dr. Linda Miramadi says "it's definitely not inevitable."

Miramadi is the the chief wellness officer and medical director of health education and weight management programs for Kaiser Permanente's West Los Angeles Medical Center.

"Probably the most common thing is people tend to shift away from their set priorities and their routine," she said. If those priorities and routines include physical activity or taking the time to cook healthy meals, it's not hard to see where the problem begins.

"During the holidays, people get very busy," she said. "They get stressed – there's too many holiday parties, they're shopping for gifts."

That stress can cause folks to reach for what Miramadi calls "empty-calorie foods."

"Many people eat to satisfy a need, and they reach for what they call comfort food," she said. "That makes them temporarily feel better, but in the long run, this is what contributes to being overweight and obesity."

Stress isn't a reason to drop all healthy habits, though – it just makes your inevitable New Year's resolution that much harder.

"It's not about depriving yourself," said Miramadi. "It's about having strategies on how to cope with it."

She's referring to strategies like:

1. Exercise. "We know that maintaining physical activity reduces stress," said Miramadi. It also counters all the glorious, glorious calories you'll be putting into your body.

2. Watch what you drink. "I think that the biggest thing I could recommend is not fill yourself up with the high-calorie, sugar-sweetened beverages," said the doctor. That includes soda, juice and some alcoholic drinks. Water, said Miramadi, "is the healthiest thing to hydrate your body with."

3. Preempt your hunger. "When you're about to leave your home for that holiday party, reach for a high-protein, low-fat food and eat it before you go," said Miramadi. Examples of that kind of food include non-fat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.

4. Watch your portion sizes. "Use a salad plate instead of a regular plate," suggested Miramadi.

For Thanksgiving in particular, Miramadi said there's "definitely food that is very high in fat and calories that doesn't have too much nutritious value":

1. "Stay away from the gravy," she said.

2. Turkey. "Breast content has less fat than the leg," said Miramadi. "Any of the white meat has lower fat content."

3. "Reach for fruits and vegetables and the salad," she said. For dressing? "Use olive oil and vinegar."

4. "You can have a little bread," said Miramadi, "but you have to watch the portion size."

5. And most heartbreakingly of all: "Of course all the pies – those are big offenders," said Miramadi.

Still not convinced that Miramadi's advice is worth following? Consider this: The Calorie Control Council estimates the average, traditional Thanksgiving meal to consist of about 4,500 calories and 220 grams of fat.

To put 4,500 calories in perspective, that's 8.2 Big Macs, 1.7 Meat Lover's pizzas from Pizza Hut or eight large orders of popcorn chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

As for the 220 grams of fat, that's 7.6 Big Macs, 1.5 Meat Lover's pizzas or 5.9 large orders of popcorn chicken.

That salad plate doesn't sound so bad now.

Once you have your healthy eating strategy for Thanksgiving set in stone, check out OnCentral's story on the health benefits of gratitude.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt via Flickr Creative Commons.

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