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Healthful Strategies to Navigate the Holidays

12.20.2011 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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By Jane Jakubczak, Washington Redskins Nutritionist

I have the great fortune of working with a group of amazing dietetic students at the University of Maryland. Their enthusiasm and dedication to healthy eating inspires me everyday. I asked them to share their wisdom with WOW members. Below you will find my students’ advice on how they navigate the holidays and maintain a healthy diet.

A schedule to keep you on track to a Healthy 2012 - The older I get, the more I believe in the concept of balance. I don’t think it is any mistake that a college student’s worst nightmare, exams, is followed by one of the most joyful times of the year, the holiday season. In the past, such extremes in environment have caused me to forget my structure with eating and sleeping and I have made some unhealthy choices. Despite some of my better efforts I have definitely been thrown off track health-wise in the stress of exams and then used the holidays to completely let loose. However, lately I’ve been making a mindful effort to avoid completely shifting the pendulum after exams into full fledge, carefree holiday mode. What I mean is that instead of sleeping my entire holiday away and eating anything I want, I plan healthy outings with my family and friends that allow me to have a schedule with structure so I am in a sense forced to stay healthy, eat regular meals and get a good night's sleep. Of course I only plan enjoyable adventures on my vacation. Some of my favorite holiday events are hiking Sugar Loaf Mountain near my house, going ice skating in D.C., running a 5K with my sisters and visiting my cousins in Annapolis. By planning day trips and events for my holiday I make the best use of my time and keep a schedule full of fun! I even write the fun things in my planner the way I would a test or homework assignment!

- Amy B.

Enjoy the holidays with wholesome home cooking - One of the first things I like to do after a long week of finals, a long drive home (usually in traffic), greeting my parents and dogs at the door is to head to the refrigerator. The best thing is coming home to a fully stocked fridge full of fruit, veggies and leftovers! Its not until you are away from home, making your own meals and grocery shopping with your own money for three months, that you really learn to appreciate leftovers! Stocking the fridge with healthy items is a great start to a healthy, happy holiday season! Celebrate at your kitchen table for the holidays instead of going out to eat. It will save calories and money, and be a great way to spend some quality time together!

- Dana M.

Plan physical activity into the holiday fun - The holidays usually mean some sort of combination of family, friends and food. As food lovers, get togethers and reunions end up around the kitchen table with never ending meals or at the local bar or restaurant having drinks and appetizers. All those social events mean extra calories, which can really add up. The great thing about the area I live in is the local parks and trails so when catching up with friends I try to suggest going for a walk or run together. You can even make a trip of it and go hiking. If going out to eat is on the agenda, meet up earlier for a walk together or take a walk afterwards to get that digestion rolling. Walking inside a mall and window-shopping is also a great way to get in some movement if the weather outside isn't so nice.

- Sooyoung U.

Enjoy “a taste” of your favorite traditional holiday fare - My family always has big holiday gatherings with A LOT of food. To avoid packing in the extra calories at the buffet line, I fill my plate with salad and veggies first. Then I take small “tasting” sized portions of the other foods I’m interested in and I stop eating when I’m full. Small portions add up and this way I’m able to try a variety of foods without overindulging. Same thing with drinks. I opt for sparking water with lemon or a glass of champagne. (At about 80 calories it’s a lot less than most other alcoholic beverages!)

- Caitlin F.

The holidays are for discovering new favorite foods - After three years of coming home for winter break, I’d like to think I’ve learned how to eat healthy during the winter break. One of the hardest parts about going home is negotiating meals with my mom. She always tries to bombard me with baked goods as a way to welcome me back, and I have a hard time saying no. So instead, we sit down with a cookbook and plan to make some healthy and delicious meals. We even go to the grocery store and pick things out together. This is great because it also gives me an opportunity to pick out foods that I like that my family wouldn’t typically purchase. For example, everyone in my family drinks 2 percent milk, but I like skim; instead of relying on my mom to pick up an atypical item, I can do it myself. This has been the really successful way I’ve stayed healthy over the break, while enjoying time with my family. It’s important to discuss this plan with your parents so you can get on the same page and so they won’t feel hurt or uncomfortable. The best advice I can give parents is to be open to your child’s suggestions to bring new types of food into the home. Encouraging your child is a great way to make them feel truly welcome as well as try some new dishes. You never know, you might actually like some of the things they bring home!

- Alex W.

Focus on the true meaning of the holidays: Friends and Family - During the holidays I stick to my regular eating schedule rather than letting the sudden change in activities influence it. I allow myself to enjoy the different foods that are available, while keeping in mind that going overboard will not be enjoyable in the end. I love cookies, but I know that I stop enjoying their taste after a certain point. When there are special gatherings in which food is involved, I eat regular meals beforehand so I don’t have a ravenous appetite when I get there. I love to stay active by running with my sister, and my focus remains more on friends and family rather than food.

- Lyndsay A.

We would love to hear how WOW members navigate the holidays. Please take a moment to share your strategies in the comment section below!

Goal for this week: practice mindfulness when it comes to holiday eating. Slow down and enjoy each bite! Balance holiday treats with nutritious meals and incorporate physical activity into your social schedule.

Happy Holidays!
- Jane

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