Tips from a nutritionist on preparing for the feast. Photo by The Vault DFW via Flickr.
Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen is a collaborative physician. Her patients, she believes, will be her best partners in providing diagnostic information—as long as they are asked the right questions. She also believes in consulting with the best medical minds on issues that require specialization or unique clinical experience. Today, pondering the temptations of the holiday weeks to come, she turns for healthy-eating suggestions to nutritionist Keri Gans.
Dear Dr. Pat:
Thanksgiving is the beginning of a weight-gaining season for me that lasts until January. I am now 50, and every year, by the end of the 6-week holiday season, I have gained about 7 pounds, Then I lose four of those seven pounds over the course of each year. Now I am 40 pounds overweight. My cholesterol is rising, my diabetes tests are slightly abnormal, and I know I have to change some things or the family history of heart attacks and diabetes with obesity will certainly become my epitaph.
I have a large extended family and everyone likes to cook, eat, and drink. We never get together without these elements as the center of the event. My family is not more or less difficult than other people’s families; the stress of my middle-class life is not more or less difficult than other people feel. I am not in a relationship. I have no children. I have a decent job and am not in debt. Why do I begin this eating binge each year, and how do I change my behavior?
You have taken the first step by asking for help. And, intellectually, you have everything sorted out. Now you need to internalize the urgent need to make this the first holiday season for the rest of your life where you will choose to eat/drink/and exercise in order to have the life you want, not the life your family’s behaviors and genetic makeup can create for you.
Announce to the family that you have health concerns that prevent you from drinking and overeating. Ask them to be part of your health-care team. Remind them that you cannot be present for events if the aggressive “food pushers” do not bridle their behaviors. “Oh, just taste these candied yams . . . you know how much you love them.” “But, Betty, this is your favorite pumpkin pie with extra whipped cream, just the way you like it.” Name them: “You are being a food pusher.” Change them: “I know you mean well, but I want to be healthy.”
Eat before you go to these events. A small serving of low-fat cottage cheese and an entire cucumber cut up with the cottage cheese, along with a bottle of water, means that your stomach is full and you won’t be really hungry physically. Arrive late. Leave early.
Force yourself to exercise every day during the six weeks of holiday temptation. The exercise won’t make you lose weight, but it will be a positive health change. Most people can’t eat a pumpkin pie while walking briskly for three miles a day!
Cut out the alcohol entirely for this six-week period. Alcohol increases the appetite and decreases the will. Alcohol has lots of calories, and you don’t need these if you are serious about stopping the annual weight gain and improving your health.
It is easy to tell someone how to stop gaining weight. But the decision about doing what is necessary for long-term health is always a personal one.
I have asked our resident dietician, Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., to give you (and all our readers) specific advice on how to avoid overeating during this season.
Good luck, Betty. The choice to be healthy is yours.
Registered Dietitian Keri Gans Responds:
Let’s be realistic. Thanksgiving is a DAY, a single DAY, not a weekend, not a week, and definitely not many weeks from New Year’s. Don’t use Thanksgiving as a springboard to create excuse after excuse about how you’ve stopped taking care of yourself just because it is the beginning of the holiday season.
Personally, I always wonder what it is about the holidays that causes so many people to forget about their health and begin weeks of overindulgence. Maybe just once, this time, we can all buckle down and keep our health, and weight, in check.
Here are 10 tips on how to approach the day smarter:
1. Don’t skip meals. If you think you must save calories for the big meal, you are surely mistaken. Basically you are saying to yourself that you will definitely overeat later.
2. Snack before you go. If your Thanksgiving meal is planned for the evening, you should have a snack before you leave the house. Not being starved when you get to your destination will help you to focus less on food.
3. Catch up with family and friends; isn’t that really what holidays should be about? It’s hard to do a lot of chatting if your mouth is always stuffed with food.
4. Plan an activity for the day. If you will be having company for the entire day, why not think of something to do besides just eating or sitting in front of the TV watching football. Why not go for a long walk, consider your own game of touch football or even a Ping-Pong competition.
5. Try making some of your old-time favorite dishes a drop healthier. How about swapping butter and cream for chicken broth in the mashed potatoes? Or sautéing stringbeans with a little olive oil and slivered almonds, rather than serving a creamy, rich casserole.
6. Make sure to include some healthy hors d’oeuvres in your mix, such as shrimp cocktail, hummus and veggies, or steamed edamame.
7. Make yourself comfortable away from the cocktail table and hors d’oeuvres—especially if only unhealthy options are available.
8. Keep in mind that cocktails have calories and should not be consumed like water.
9. Send your guests home with food, especially the desserts. Keep for yourself the turkey; it will make great sandwiches on whole wheat bread the next day.
10. If you are the guest, kindly refuse all leftovers offered. No need for repeat performances.
The most important tip of all is this: The following day, no matter what you ate and drank on Thanksgiving, GET BACK ON TRACK. Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all you have, including, most of all, your health. Don’t sabotage it.