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Staying healthy over the holidays: Two UMN experts weigh in

“Just one more piece- why not? It’s the holidays!” Many of us allow ourselves one more slice of pumpkin pie, or cup of eggnog over the holidays than we typically would during other parts of the year.

“What’s interesting, is people look at certain time periods, and associate that with not having to follow the rules, the holidays being one of those time periods” said Cardiologist Robert Ketroser, M.D., with University of Minnesota.

Ketroser says as long as you do it once, that’s not the worst way to look at it.

“The problem is,” stated Ketroser, “try to think of a time that we are not in one of those time periods: first it’s Thanksgiving, then it’s Christmas, then we are on vacation, then maybe the excuse is a bad day at work, or a reward for a good day of work. If we over indulge just once per year, we’re ok. But the problem is we don’t do that! We do it all the time!”

Ketroser explained that our bodies have no storage supply for sugar, so it converts it to fat. In this case, we are not talking about natural sugars, but rather added sugars. Ketroser warns his patients every year how easy it is to gain 10 pounds over the holidays, especially if you’re not thinking about it.

“So that’s what we need to do- be aware,” Ketroser emphasizes. “It takes 3,500 extra calories to put on a pound. So you would need to eat 35,000 extra calories to gain 10 pounds.”

A good way to keep that on the fore-front of your mind, Ketroser says is to step on a scale on a daily basis. He also advises to make a plan: know where you are going, and what types of food there will be. He says let yourself indulge a little but think about what you are eating.

Rasa Troup, M.S., R.D, C.S.S.D., licensed registered dietitian with University of Minnesota Health has a few additional tips to keep in mind as we head to holiday parties and events:

  • Avoid skipping meals, which may fuel over-eating and binge eating.
  • Focus on foods and meals that are healthy and nourishing rather than on what you should not eat. When we tell ourselves we cannot eat something, we typically gravitate towards that food or meal and tend to overeat.
  • Think about the holidays as being about people rather than about food. Food is just a part of it.

“We have a lot of misinformation on this topic.  Thus working with a registered dietitian (RD) to figure out your individualized eating philosophy can be extremely helpful.”

Troup, a former Olympic athlete, says it’s important that people educate themselves on healthy nutrition. That’s the part of her job she loves most.

“My own struggles with nutrition are what led me to become a dietitian,” shared Troup, “Now, I love seeing transformation in the client’s nutrition, and how that influences almost every aspect of their body and their health.”

Troup says you can also take steps to reduce your stress during this time of year, which can lead to over-eating, and make a conscience effort to be more active. She says the two biggest mistakes people often make this time of year is skipping meals, and planning to overeat.

“The Holiday meal is not the last supper,” said Troup, “Think about your meals as any other meal. It’s just more festive and has more people to share it with.”

While many people are wrapped up the short-term weight gain, there can be serious long-term consequences for routine over-eating.  Ketroser says the added sugars common during the holiday season have a negative effect on our heart health as well increasing our risk for diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, and many other health conditions. In addition, Troup explains that when we eat an excess of added sugars, it displaces foods that contain minerals, vitamins and nutrients such as fruits, veggies, whole grain, lean protein and healthy fat.

“I would go as far as saying that increased consumption of processed foods will influence every single organ system or function in our bodies,” said Troup.

But both Troup and Ketroser say a healthy holiday doesn’t have to be difficult. Troup summarizes simply, “Move your body, honor your body, be kind to yourself. If you make a mistake, respond by nourishing your body with respect and care in the upcoming meal or snack, rather than beating yourself up.”

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