A Holly, Jolly, Healthy Holiday Season

by Kate Sullivan '15

The holiday season is here, and although it can be tempting to throw away all the rules and indulge, that decision will likely lead to weigh gain. On average, people gain one to two pounds per holiday season, some as much as five. Dietitian and nurse Catherine Heinlein, Ed.D., RD, M.S., CDE, RN, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, offers advice on how to stay healthy and still exercise during the holidays.

First, avoid complacency. “Don’t think to yourself, ‘It’s okay to eat whatever I want because it’s the holidays,” said Heinlein. “Once weight is gained, it is hard to get off, especially around the midsection. If you put weight on each holiday season, and don’t lose it during the year, the pounds add up.”

Heinlein suggests eating more vegetables and small quantities of high fat food. Take one-fourth cup of gravy, sauces, and other fatty foods, and a piece of turkey the size of a playing card. Also, instead of pouring gravy over everything, put it on the side for dipping. Other tips include substituting unsweetened applesauce for sugar and halving butter quantities in recipes.

Exercising during the holidays can prove challenging, especially with the cold weather and busy schedules. Heinlein recommends scheduling it. Organize family time that includes walking, playing an active game, or going to the park. Parents set the example. “If it is okay for parents to skip physical fitness, kids will follow suit. Don’t wait for your New Year’s Resolution to exercise. By then, it is almost too late because the weight is gained,” said Heinlein.

For those who attribute the loss of healthy habits to holiday stress, Heinlein offers some solutions, “Learn from other cultures who get together days or weeks before the holidays to prepare. It becomes a social event and stuff gets done.” Also, make things ahead of time and freeze them, so on busy days there is less to do. Put the whole family to work. Kids can mix salads; teenagers can chop vegetables and set tables. By making holiday prep a family affair, the sole responsibility does not rest on the host.

When New Year’s arrives, so do the inevitable resolutions. Heinlein advises setting realistic goals instead of lofty, overwhelming ones that discourage people and lead them to forego their resolutions. Some ideas include cutting out soda and fruit juice to reduce empty calories by about 200 a day or eliminating fatty foods such as bacon and cheese. “Pair diet modifications with physical activity for the best results,” said Heinlein.

Heinlein implemented the nutrition minor at APU. She holds a doctorate in organizational leadership and a master’s in nutrient science. “Nutrition and nursing are so complementary,” said Heinlein. “I have been a dietitian for 27 years, and started my first nutrition program 38 years ago. I never get tired of helping others make positive choices to lead healthy lives.”

To read Heinlein's insight on vitamins, see her article titled The Vitamin 411.