Category Archives: Holidays

Put Your Knowledge to the Test with this Holiday Wellness Quiz

The WellMASS blog will be taking a break for the holidays during the next two weeks, but before we sign off for the year, let’s have some fun.  Below are ten holiday-themed trivia questions that will put your wellness smarts to the test (answers are at the bottom of this post).  Thanks for supporting WellMASS this past year – see you in 2016!

  1. It would take one hour of which activity to burn off the calories contained in three gingerbread men?
    a.  Shoveling snow
    b.  Downhill skiing
    c.  Chopping wood
    d.  Any of the above 
  1. Which holiday beverage is lowest in calories?
    a.  Hot chocolate
    b.  Hot buttered rum
    c.  Champagne
    d.  Eggnog
  1. How many pounds does the average American gain over the holidays?
    a.  Less than one
    b.  2-3
    c.  5-7
    d.  More than ten
  1. Which holiday side dish typically has the lowest glycemic index?
    a.  Mashed potatoes
    b.  Sweet potato casserole
    c.  Roasted carrots
    d.  Green bean casserole
  1. Which latke (potato pancake) topping has the fewest calories?
    a.  Sour cream
    b.  Plain Greek yogurt
    c.  Unsweetened applesauce
    d.  Smoked salmon
  2. Which of these strategies has been proven to help you eat fewer calories during a holiday meal?
    a.  Filling half your plate with veggies
    b.  Using a bread plate instead of a dinner plate
    c.  Drinking water with your meal
    d.  Skipping breakfast the morning of the big meal
  3. Which of these can be used as a substitute for butter in most cookie recipes?
    a.  Applesauce
    b.  Canola oil
    c.  Mashed avocado
    d.  Greek yogurt
    e.  All of the above
  1. Which fruit is not in season in December?
    a.  Clementines
    b.  Grapefruit
    c.  Cranberries
    d.  Pears
    e.  Persimmons
  1. Which vegetable is not in season in December?
    a.  Butternut squash
    b.  Kale
    c.  Brussels sprouts
    d.  Turnips
    e.  Leeks
  1. Which holiday color scheme is most likely to stimulate appetite?
    a.  Blue
    b.  White
    c.  Green
    d.  Red
    e.  Gold

 

Answers:  1.d; 2.c; 3.a; 4.c; 5.c; 6.d; 7.e; 8.c; 9.a; 10.d

You Ate Too Much – Now What?

The holidays are a time of overindulgence.  In the past, I’ve shared tips to help you eat right during this celebration-filled time of year, but let’s face it – sometimes you end up giving in to temptation and overdoing it at the office party or cookie swap.  Until the day comes when you’re able to hop in a time machine and go back to undo the damage of eating one (or ten) too many cookies, here’s what you can do to make yourself feel better (both physically and mentally) after overeating:

  • Hydrate.  In an ideal situation, you’d be drinking lots of water before surrounding yourself with holiday treats, and all that water would instill a sense of satiety that would prevent you from overeating.  However, once the damage has already been done, water still has benefits, and you should drink it copiously.  Water flushes out sodium and speeds up the process of digestion, both of which will help you feel less bloated after a large meal or treat binge.
  • Stay upright. Although you may be tempted to immediately transition into nap mode after overindulging, giving into this urge may do more harm than good.  Remaining seated (or better yet, getting up and moving – more on that next) after eating will help prevent indigestion and acid reflux, both of which often crop up after eating too much.
  • Get moving. Performing light exercise, such as walking, after a large meal (or any meal, for that matter), has several benefits, including the release of feel-good endorphins that may help counteract the bad feelings you experience after overeating.  Exercise also burns calories, and new research shows that it may help stabilize blood sugar for hours after you eat.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Overeating happens to the best of us, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to feel bad enough about your choices that you turn to eating more unhealthy food in order to feel better.  Once you realize that tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to start fresh and get back into your typical healthy habits, you’ll be able to use your adventures in overeating as a teachable moment.
  • Fill up on the good (for you) stuff. On those days when you’re not overdoing it at holiday gatherings, aim to eat as many good-for-you foods as possible, both to emphasize healthy eating habits and provide your body with the nutrition it needs to help you feel your best.  In the long run, eating a balance of whole grains, lean protein, heart-healthy fat, and lots of fruits and vegetables will help you feel more satisfied than a plate of cookies ever can.

These tips neither serve as an excuse to overeat, nor as an admonition to not enjoy the food that goes along with holiday celebrations.  It’s okay to be naughty every once in awhile – but you can still feel nice afterward if you come armed with the strategies above.

Turn Your Holiday Shopping Trip into a Workout

When it comes to shopping for holiday presents, people generally fall into one of two camps:  they love it and take any opportunity they can to hit the stores; or they hate it and try to put it off until the last minute, if not avoid it all together.  Coincidentally, the same can be said for people’s feelings on exercise.  Whichever camp you most identify with for either activity, try thinking outside of the box this holiday season to combine shopping and exercise for a win-win situation that will benefit your family and friends and your body.  Here are some tips to help you increase your heart rate and calorie burn while you’re out decking the malls this holiday season:

  • Step it up. Challenge yourself to meet a daily goal of 10,000 steps by wearing a pedometer, comfortable clothes, and sneakers while you’re out and about. You’ll have an easier time racking up the steps if you’re comfortable and have a tool to instantly track your progress.
  • Go the distance. To add extra steps to your trip, park your car as far away from the store or mall entrance as you can.  Once inside, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, and talk a lap around before deciding what you’d like to purchase.
  • Fit in a strength training workout. Think of your shopping bags as weights – the more filled with presents they are, the better workout you’re going to get.  As you’re carrying them around the mall or back to your car, slightly lift your shopping bags then lower them for an instant workout for your biceps and triceps.
  • Work your lower body. See an item you like on a higher shelf? Do some calf raises by stretching to reach or look at it.  For items at floor level, squat down to pick up or view them.

Neither holiday shopping nor working out need to feel like chores if you approach them with a positive attitude and the belief that you’ll be making others happy and improving your health in the process.

Maintain – Don’t Gain – This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving’s a week away, which marks the start of what I like to call “holiday eating season.”  If you’re like me, your days, nights, and weekends during the next six weeks will be filled with festivities that center around food.  While there are plenty of ways to take the focus off of food this holiday season, we all know that sometimes food-centric events are inevitable.  However, these events don’t have to mean the end of your healthy eating habits – nor should they be the beginning of a self-imposed regimen of deprivation.

A healthy way to look at all of the parties at work, home, or friends’ houses is as an opportunity to enjoy the season while challenging yourself to maintain your current weight.  This means you have room for regular indulgences, as long as you also incorporate time for regular exercise and balance out those indulgences with healthier options.  When you embrace the holiday season for all that it is – a time for socialization, good will, happiness, and all sorts of other positive emotions – you’re less likely to get hung up on the occasional “cheat day” and more likely to stick with healthy eating and activity patterns the rest of the time.

So how can you apply the concept of “maintain – don’t gain” during the next six weeks?  Here are some easy ways to enjoy the season without doing too much damage to all the healthy habits you follow the rest of the year:

  • Play favorites. When you first enter a party, scope out all of the food options available before filling your plate.  Once you have an idea of which foods you’d most like to eat, put them on your plate first, making sure to take large helpings of healthy options and smaller servings of less-healthy items.  Filling your plate with foods you know you’re going to enjoy helps prevent you from consuming excess calories from foods you threw on your plate “just because” that you feel you have to eat.
  • Health-ify it. Not-so-nutritious meals can be made healthier by adding healthy options alongside them.  Aim to include at least one (non-deep-fried) vegetable or fruit to every meal and snack.  Is pizza on the menu at your office party?  Make sure to accessorize your slices with a heaping helping of salad.  Tempted by your Grandmother’s famous pecan pie?  Have a small slice alongside a bowl of fresh fruit.  Not only will you get the beneficial vitamins and minerals your produce contains, you’ll also be adding a low-calorie, filling option to your plate, which will help prevent overindulging in higher-calorie foods.
  • Work it out. Use gatherings as an excuse to recruit other health-minded individuals to burn off those extra calories with you.  Go for a family walk before or after your meal or organize a friendly game of touch football.  If you’re having fun being active as part of a group, your calorie-burning activities won’t feel like a chore.  If group activity isn’t always an option, strike out on your own and incorporate brief walks whenever you can.  Take a lap around the office every few hours, get up and talk to your coworkers instead of calling or emailing them, or walk to errands close by instead of driving.  Little bouts of activity add up to increase calorie burn throughout the day.
  • Try the pie.  Let’s face it – most of us look forward to indulging in dessert at the end of a holiday meal.  If you want a slice of pie, or a cookie, or whatever else on the dessert table tickles your fancy, go for it.  Depriving yourself of a sought-after treat will only make you lose the willpower to make other healthy choices the rest of the day.  Remember, however, that you don’t need to eat the whole pie or plate of cookies:  It only takes three bites of any particular to feel satisfied, so stick to small portions of your favorite treats.

Have a Healthy Fourth of July with these Easy Cookout Swaps

Chances are, you’ll be hosting or attending a cookout this Fourth of July weekend.  While I’m all for enjoying your favorite summertime treats in moderation, I also think you can’t go wrong with making a few easy swaps to instantly make classic cookout fare a little bit healthier.  When planning your cookout (or scoping out the food table and planning what you’re going to put on your plate), try to employ at least one of the following strategies to boost the nutritional value of your meal:

  • Opt for grilled chicken, seafood, or Portobello mushroom caps instead of burgers and dogs. If you choose chicken or a mushroom cap, you’ll save at least 4g of saturated fat and between 35-150 calories (obviously, you’ll save the most by choosing the low-calorie Portobello).  You’re also likely to feel more satisfied by choosing one of these two options over a hamburger or hotdog.
  • Use whole grain buns for added fiber. The extra fiber in whole grain buns vs. white buns will make your meal seem more filling.
  • Avoid creamy condiments and salads. Anything containing mayonnaise or creamy sauces or dressings (whether they’re used on a burger or a potato, pasta, or green salad) is going to be high in empty calories.  Instead…
  • Choose lower-calorie condiments that give you the most bang for your buck. You can’t go wrong with including fresh vegetables on top of burgers or sandwiches, or almost anything else on your plate.  Mustard and ketchup (in low-sodium varieties if possible), salsa, and strong-flavored cheeses are also great ways to add a lot of flavor to your food without breaking the calorie bank.
  • Follow the MyPlate rule and fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein, and a quarter with whole grains. Fruits and veggies are great foods to have at a cookout, especially on a hot day, due to their high water content.  They’ll help keep you hydrated and fill you up thanks to their high fiber content.
  • Forgo unnecessary empty calories from beverages. The calories in soda, juice, lemonade, and alcohol can add up fast.  Smarter choices to help you stay hydrated include water, naturally-flavored seltzer, and unsweetened iced tea.  If you do choose to indulge in a higher-calorie beverage of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic variety, aim to alternate each one of these drinks with a glass of water.

As you can see, it’s certainly possible to enjoy all your favorite cookout foods while stealthily upping their nutritional value.  It’s easier than you think to make small changes toward improving your health, so why not give one or two of these swaps a try this holiday weekend?

Have a Stress-Free Holiday Season!

If your first reaction to the title of this post is, “That’s impossible!,” you’re not alone.  The holidays are a stressful time for many people, and they impact many aspects of our lives – financial, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual, to name a few.  While I don’t have a magical solution to get rid of your holiday stressors, I do have some ideas on how to manage them – and your life in general – so they don’t seem like stressors at all.

My main solution to managing the stress that accompanies this time of year is to make my everyday life as happy as possible by enjoying everything good that comes along with the season.  Since this is such a busy time, it’s also helpful for me to simplify my life and make time to take care of myself – because, after all, what fun will the holidays be (for me, and everyone around me) if I’m sick, tired, and all-around miserable?  Below are a few strategies I’ve used to manage my stress around the holidays, as well as a few new ones that I’m planning on trying this year.  Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season!

 

  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of low-impact exercise each day. Exercise produces endorphins, feel-good hormones that help counteract the negative effects of stress.
  • Purchase – and use – a yoga DVD. Yoga is a great way to relieve stress, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home!  If you’re new to the yoga world, try starting with the Hatha form of yoga, as it involves slow and controlled movements and is easy for beginners.
  • Go to bed one hour earlier than normal. Not getting enough sleep can leave you tired (obviously), cranky, hungry, prone to emotional eating, and more likely to get sick.
  • Make your beverages decaf – and non-alcoholic. Coffee and alcohol are stimulants, which means they can make you jittery and disrupt your sleep patterns, so you’re less likely to have a restful night’s sleep (see above).
  • Take a relaxing hot shower or bath for 20 minutes. Hot showers relax your muscles, while in turn relaxing your mind.
  • Spend time doing one fun activity or hobby that you enjoy. Remember to take care of yourself, too!
  • Get a massage. See above.  What better way to take care of yourself than by getting a relaxing massage?
  • Shop smart – go to the mall during the week instead of the weekend to do holiday shopping. A trip to the mall is a lot less stressful when the stores aren’t crowded!
  • Perform deep breathing exercises. Like yoga, deep breathing will help reduce your stress levels.  All you need to do is take a few deep breaths from your belly (making sure that your belly goes OUT as you breathe in, and it goes back IN when you breathe out) to instantly lower your stress level.
  • Make a list – and check it twice. This time of year can seem overwhelming.  Make a weekly list of everything you want or need to do, no matter how quick or insignificant the task may seem.  You’ll feel more organized and less frazzled once you start checking off all your accomplishments!

Take the Focus Off Food This Holiday Season

As a nutritionist, I love food – the healthier, the better (90% of the time, at least).  That being said, I also think it’s unhealthy to think about food constantly, to the point where cooking, shopping, and eating become chores and are no longer fun.   So, right before the biggest food holiday of the year, I thought it would be an appropriate time to help you think about focusing on something other than food!

Yes, Thanksgiving does mark the start of a month-long period of get-togethers that center mainly around eating.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I encourage you to attend these get-togethers and eat the foods you enjoy there.  What I don’t want you to do is obsess over everything that you eat, or feel like your whole world revolves around food for a month straight.  While the holidays are a great excuse to gather together over a big meal, they’re also the perfect time to engage in non-food-related activities with your family and friends.  Like most families, mine chooses to celebrate holidays with lots of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie; this year, however, we’ll also be creating some new traditions that don’t involve food.  Here’s what’s in store for my family this holiday season; maybe you can try some of these ideas with your own family or friends to make holiday gatherings a little less food-centric:

 

  • Turkey Trots and Holiday Hustles. My husband has recently gotten into distance running, and he’s already signed up for a few holiday-themed races.  On Thanksgiving morning, the first thing on his mind won’t be turkey and pie; rather, he’ll be thinking about the five miles he’s about to run in the Feaster Five road race.  Not a runner?  Most local races allow walkers to participate as well.  It doesn’t matter how fast you run or walk; all that matters is you’re moving, and enjoying a holiday event that actually burns calories!
  • Getting Crafty. Dessert is a big part of holiday celebrations in my family.  And while we’ll still be enjoying dessert after our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, we won’t be making a big deal of it.  This year, instead of gathering together for a full day of cookie-baking, the women in my family will be harnessing our creativity to make our own Christmas wreaths.  Getting the family involved in a holiday craft is a great way to get in the spirit, foster togetherness, and create something that won’t have an effect on your waistline.
  • Giving Back. My sister is passionate about volunteering, and she is looking forward to helping out at a local food pantry this holiday season.  While serving those in need does involve food, it’s in the most selfless sense.  Taking the time to think about what others don’t have, and all of things that you do have, is a great reminder of what the holiday season is really about.

Have a Healthy Holiday

In the past few weeks, I’ve shared some strategies for eating healthfully and keeping the weight off during the holidays.  However, staying healthy this time of year is about more than just eating right and exercising.  Physical and emotional health both play a part in your overall health status, and the added stress of the holiday season can take a toll on both.  Below are some strategies, courtesy of StayWell Online, to help you stay physically and emotionally healthy during the holidays, and all year long:

  • Don’t do too much. Give yourself some time to relax.
  • Share the workload. Let everyone play an active role; make the holidays a family affair so you’re not burdened with all the work.
  • Establish priorities. You can’t do everything; say no to some demands on your time.
  • Simplify your life. Be less elaborate this year. Relax your housekeeping and holiday preparations.
  • Continue to exercise. Don’t let your regular regimen lapse.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit your consumption of high-fat holiday treats. Serve healthy fare at your family’s holiday party.
  • Ask yourself if you really enjoy all the rituals or whether they have merely become habits. Try adopting less elaborate traditions of holidays past.
  • Don’t be afraid to scale down gift giving. You’ll probably receive a lot of support.
  • If your annual party is too much to handle, postpone it until after the holidays when you have more time to prepare. This also will help alleviate post-holiday letdown by giving you something fun to anticipate.
  • If you are unable to be with your family, get out around people. Plan to be with friends or volunteer to help others who also may be separated from their families.

The holidays can certainly be stressful, but it’s important not to let stress get the best of you.  Employ some of these strategies and enjoy the season as much as you can.

The WellMASS blog will be taking a break for the holidays, and will be updated again the first week of January.  Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays, and a healthy new year!

Keeping Weight Off During the Holidays

The holidays may not be the best time to start a weight loss program, but they are the perfect opportunity to work on maintaining your current weight.  Many Americans gain several pounds in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but you don’t have to be one of them if you follow a few simple strategies for keeping the weight off this holiday season.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol and non-diet sodas you consume.  Both are filled with empty calories and supply zero nutrients.  Instead of calorie-laden, non-nutritious beverages, choose water, 100% fruit juice, or low-fat milk.  Or, alternate between one glass of water and one glass of soda or alcoholic beverage – at least you’ll be cutting your calories in half!
  • When you travel away from home, pack healthy snacks that contain a mix of fiber and protein to keep you feeling satisfied for a long period of time.  Good snacks include fresh-cut fruit or veggies, string cheese and whole grain crackers, granola bars (try to choose ones with less than 10g of sugar), trail mix, and lightly salted nuts.
  • At a holiday dinner or party, fill your plate with only those foods you really enjoy, and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Skip toppings like gravy, cheese, and butter on mashed potatoes, vegetables, and turkey.
  • Send leftovers home with family, friends, or co-workers.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast so that you’re not starving – and likely to eat anything in sight – when it comes time to party.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day; take a walk before or after your meal or party at the very least.

When it comes to food choices:

  • White meat turkey has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat
  • Pumpkin pie has fewer calories (one slice contains around 300) and is generally lower in sugar than other pies.
  • Serve stuffing baked outside the turkey; stuffing baked inside the bird has double the calories!
  • Serve baked potatoes instead of candied sweet potatoes to save almost 100 calories.
  • Include at least one item at meals or parties that is very low in fat and calories, such as fruit salad or steamed green beans.

More tips can be found at the WellMASS website, including those contained in the article used as a source for this post:
A Prospective study of holiday weight gain. Yanovski, JA. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000, Issue 342, Edition 12, pp. 861-867.

If your current goal is weight maintenance, but your long-term goal is weight loss, then you may benefit from the upcoming WellMASS weight loss challenge.  Your agency’s Wellness Champion will have more details on this challenge in early January.

Burning Off Those Thanksgiving Calories

I just read that the average person consumes 2,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner.  This is a scary statistic given that most people should be eating 2,000 calories or less each day.  While I am all for indulging in the occasional treat during the holidays, I also believe that it’s a good idea to try to compensate for certain treats (especially big ones like a 2,500 calorie meal!) by adding a little extra physical activity to your day.  The WellMASS website includes a really handy Calories Burned calculator (Go to Learn & Share > Health Tools & Information > Calculators to find it – and don’t forget to take your health assessment while you’re there!) that you can use to calculate how many calories you burn doing all sorts of physical activity.  I used it to figure out just how much a 150-lb person would need to exercise to burn off some of their Thanksgiving treats.

Calorie information courtesy of www.sparkpeople.com.  Please note that calories burned calculations are just guidelines, and that someone who weighs less than 150 lbs will burn fewer calories, while someone whose weight is greater than 150 lbs will burn more calories. 

Sweet Potato Casserole

Serving size:  1 cup
Calories:  236
Exercise:  60 minutes of bowling

Mashed Potatoes

File:MashedPotatoes.jpg

Serving Size:  1 cup
Calories:  300
Exercise:  20 minutes of running at 8 min/mile

Turkey

File:RoastTurkey.jpg

Serving Size:  3 slices carved turkey breast
Calories:  135
Exercise:  30 minutes of raking leaves

Stuffing

Serving Size:  1 cup
Calories:  320
Exercise:  60 minutes of washing windows or your car

Pecan Pie

File:Pecan pie slice (cropped).jpg

Serving Size: 1 slice (1/8 of a pie)
Calories:  490
Exercise:  60 minutes of tennis

I hope that you can combine eating your favorite foods with a little extra physical activity this holiday season.  Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!