Holiday Habits

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The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are the most difficult weeks of the year to maintain your weight and stick with a healthy diet.

Many people take a holiday from healthy eating or put off nutrition concerns or efforts until after the holiday season.

However, we all know how long those New Year’s resolutions last! Emphasize to your clients that prevention is much easier than trying to diet or exercise away those excess pounds. Point out that there are five factors that contribute to weight gain during the holiday season: food gifts, traditional foods, Christmas parties, less time for exercise, and the “binge now, lose later” mindset.

Your clients need strategies for handling these five factors. Divide your group into five smaller groups. Give each group a sheet of paper with one of the following titles: What To Do With Food Gifts, Making The Traditional Holiday Meal Healthier, Eating Smart At Holiday Parties, Finding More Time To Exercise, and How To Change Your Mindset. Ask each group to brainstorm and come up with as many strategies for handling these situation as they can in 15 minutes.

As the group leader, you may need to circulate among the room and lead the group to some ideas. Here are some suggestions:

What To Do With Food Gifts: Ask friends not to give food as gifts. Take a food gift to work or to a holiday party so others can help you eat it. Share food gifts with charitable institutions, such as nursing homes, women’s shelters, or children’s homes. Freeze appropriate foods for later use.

Making The Traditional Holiday Meal Healthier: Baste the turkey with broth instead of butter. Use 1% or nonfat milk in recipes. Saute vegetables in broth or a small amount of olive oil instead of butter. Substitute nonfat evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie. Use sugar substitutes when possible. Substitute fat-free cream soups in recipes calling for cream soups. Use fat-free whipped toppings.Use less fat and sugar than recipes call for and substitute applesauce or pureed prunes. Substitute reduced-fat or nonfat sour cream or yogurt in recipes calling for sour cream. Avoid making too many casserole-type dishes which tend to be high in calories. Instead, serve more plain salads, fruits, and vegetables.

Eating Smart At Holiday Parties: Go prepared-bring your own low calorie snack foods. Never go to a party hungry. If you will be eating later than usual, eat a bowl of soup, a piece of fruit, or a salad before you go to the party. Look over the entire menu or buffet and choose which foods you really want to eat. Taste test various foods, and if the first bite isn’t fantastic, don’t waste calories eating the rest of it. Don’t waste calories on beverages; choose low-calorie or calorie-free drinks. Mingle more than you munch. Keep your hands occupied with low-calorie drink in one and a plate of lowfat goodies in the other so you aren’t tempted to snitch from the food table.

Finding More Time To Exercise: Exercise first thing in the morning before going to work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park far from store entrances. Take a walk after dinner. Ride a stationary bike during your favorite TV show. Spend your lunch hour walking or climbing stairs. After you finish shopping, walk an extra two laps around the mall.

How To Change Your Mindset: Beware of emotional eating during the holidays. Write down what you eat each day so you are truly aware of how much you are eating. Eat light and sensibly during the day and allow yourself to splurge a little at a party. Tell yourself that you can eat the foods you truly enjoy as long as you control portions. Use a small plate for meals and at parties to help control portions. Remind yourself that prevention is easier than trying to diet and exercise away extra pounds.

When each group completes their list, have one person from each group read their list out loud. If time and facilities permit, make a copy of the each of the lists for everyone in attendance.


1) Give each group a transparency and a variety of colored markers to make their list. Show each group’s list on an overhead projector.

2) Instead of having each group make a list, assign them to discuss one of the topics among themselves. Using a flip chart, you can write each group’s ideas about their topic for the group to see.

3) Provide poster paper, holiday stickers, and markers and let each group make a poster with their ideas. Use the posters to hang in your facility during the holidays.

By Beth Fontenot, MS, LDN, RD.

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