Healthy Holidays! -- Part 2

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and your next challenge is surviving the onslaught of holiday cookies, gingerbread houses, and candy canes.

Last week in "Healthy Holidays! — Part 1" certified personal trainer Preston Boatright gave his health advice for the holidays. He emphasized the importance of nutrition, hydration, adequate sleep, and self love. This week I take a closer look at nutrition in particular with Bailey Parmelee, a registered dietician at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital.

Overindulgence, of course, is a major concern for Parmelee as the holiday season progresses. She explains that maintaining your weight during the holidays is much easier than gaining weight and then losing it afterward. Your body is homeostatic, meaning that it is self-stabilizing and generally resists change. By working to maintain your weight, you take advantage of your body’s tendency to maintain the status quo. However, this doesn’t mean maintaining your weight is effortless. "There is no magic pill," says Parmelee. Eating healthy takes dedication and self-control, but it shouldn’t be miserable either.

Eating a healthy diet can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be.

"I wish people understood that eating healthy doesn’t need to be hard," Parmelee said. And she offers several recommendations on how to get started. "Plan ahead," she says.

Taking the time to think ahead and plan out your meals during the holiday season is essential. Sometimes we fill up on treats because we haven’t taken the time to ensure healthy alternatives are always available. Foods that have plenty of protein and fiber will help satisfy your hunger and keep you from overdoing it with sugar-filled treats.

Planning ahead also helps when it comes to holiday parties. Parmelee concurs with Boatright’s advice from last week: eat before you go to parties. "Don’t save up," says Parmelee. She explains that fasting before parties to "save up" calories usually backfires and leads to more overeating than otherwise.

Parmelee also suggests bringing a healthier treat to share at parties. "Lean toward fruit," she says. Fruit with little to no sugar added is best, such as her recommendation of strawberries drizzled with chocolate. The sweetness of fruit allows you to satisfy your sweet tooth while also giving you the fiber you need to feel fuller for a longer period of time.

Calling food "good for you" or "bad for you" can be confusing. For example, sugar has acquired a bad name lately, yet fruit has sugar in it and it’s supposed to be healthy. So, is sugar bad for you or not? The simple answer is that sugar is not inherently bad for you, but too much is.

"There is no food or drink that you can’t have, just watch how much and how often you’re having it," Parmelee said.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to eat too much sugar. Not only is sugar not very good at making you feel full, but it also triggers a pleasure response in your brain so that you want to have more of it. A crucial difference that makes fruit a better choice than plain sugar is that fruit has fiber in it. Fiber makes you feel full and helps prevent you from eating too much. This difference also explains why dieticians recommend avoiding fruit juice. Fruit juice has the fiber removed, and all that is left is sugar without anything to make you feel full.

Learning about health and nutrition is foundational to living a healthy lifestyle. However, there is a great deal of conflicting, incomplete, and misleading information about health online. "Don’t believe everything you read on the internet," Parmelee says.

She encourages people to seek out information from trustworthy sources, such as websites ending in .gov, .org, and .edu. Some of her favorite websites for diet advice and healthy recipes include www.diabetesfoodhub.org, www.choosemyplate.gov, and https://recipes.heart.org.

Parmelee underscores the importance of educating children about nutrition as well. Parents play a big role in influencing their children’s eating behavior, making parents’ health choices doubly important. Parmelee reminds parents to remember that their children are watching them with the adage, "Actions speak louder than words."  

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