Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas. It’s the holiday season and the season of excess.
Those New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more come to a screeching halt as the nog flows.
Yes, I will have a second helping of that pie, thank you.
For the 34 percent of Americans considered obese and the others just shy of that category, the holidays represent a very real threat to maintaining good health.
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But the holiday season doesn’t have to lead to stretchy pants and clogged arteries, says Beverly Utt, a wellness dietician at the Tacoma-based MultiCare Center for Healthy Living.
She helps people change the way they eat and the way they think about food.
We asked Utt for some insights on how to avoid holiday gluttony.
Question: What does this annual year-end overindulgence do to us?
Answer: Americans typically gain one to two pounds during the holiday season. While that doesn’t seem to be dramatic it tends to stick and accumulate. On the other hand, the holidays are our best excuse to get together and eat real food with friends and family.
Q: How many calories are in the typical Thanksgiving plate?
A: Thanksgiving dinner has 4,500 and that’s before eating breakfast, lunch and snacking after.
Q: And the average man and woman needs how many calories in one day?
A: Around 2,000.
Q: Aside from Thanksgiving why have American waistlines expanded so much over the years?
A: Part of the problem is portion control. When we eat out … the biggie-sizing, the super-sizing, the value-added concept has really done a number on what we think is the proper portion. Now, it’s in our brains that for something to have value, bigger is better. It’s not good for our health. It has biggie-sized us.
Q: What can overeating and obesity lead to?
A: Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic diseases tied to an inflammatory process going on inside our body. Overeating, eating the wrong kinds of foods, drinking too much — they all set us up to have these inflammatory diseases.
Q: Diabetes is No. 7 on the list of causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. The country panics when two people get Ebola, but we seem little concerned about diabetes. Why?
A: In 1980 to 1990, Americans gained collectively over 1 billion pounds. If it had been anything else, we would have called it an epidemic and had the reaction we did with Ebola. (Diabetes is) definitely tied to the obesity epidemic.
Another issue may be the amount of refined carbohydrates we’re eating. I’m all for eating carbohydrates, but good carbohydrates.
Q: Explain the difference.
A: Good carbohydrates are whole grains and, for diabetics, intact grains like a farro, wheat berry or quinoa salad. Eat the intact grain instead of processing it into flour. Fruit and vegetables, beans.
But Americans aren’t into eating much of that stuff. They are into eating white bread, white rice. French fries are their vegetable of choice.
Q: What makes us overeat?
A: Bottom line: If it’s there we will eat it. We are paying more attention to external cues than we are to internal cues. “I haven’t finished my plate and I paid for it.” The French and other cultures push away from the table when they are satisfied. We push away from the table when we can’t move.
Q: A lot of holiday celebrations take place at restaurants. What are some strategies to use there?
A: Definitely (do not eat at) all-you-can-eat buffets. Share appetizers. Share a whole entrée. Take half home.
Q: Aren’t beverages a sometimes unconsidered source of calories?
A: Absolutely. We should know how many calories the drinks we love have and whether we can handle that in our personal (calorie) budget. Alcoholic drinks range from 100 (calories) to a piña colada with almost 500.
Q: How do we keep from over imbibing during this season of excess?
A: At a party, pace yourself. Drink sparkling water. Drink when you eat. Decide ahead of time how much you’re going to allow yourself.
Q: Aside from alcohol, what are some alternatives to high-caloric soda pop and other surgery drinks?
A: At MultiCare, we offer what we call spa water, where you infuse herbs, fruits and veggies (in water). My personal favorite is pineapple and mint. During the holidays, you can do cranberries and mint. I’ve even put wedges of pumpkin and sage in it.
Q: What are strategies that work during mealtime?
A: Fill up on bulk foods: high-fiber, low-caloric foods like you’d find on a (vegetable) platter. Your brain’s appetite center responds to volume. Drink water or tea throughout the day. That volume concept works in feeling satiated.
Q: So, you’re suggesting we eat from the bottom of the food pyramid?
A: The food pyramid is gone. It’s now called My Plate (choosemyplate.gov). It’s the new recommendation. Half of the plate comes from fruit and veggies. A small portion comes from grains and starches. And a small portion from protein. There’s a calcium component and a healthy oil component.
Q: What are some other suggestions?
A: Turn tradition around and bring side dishes to center stage by prioritizing plants. Think big bold colors. Yellow from squash, orange from yams and sweet potatoes, (green from) Brussels sprouts, kale.
Then, don’t be afraid to navigate from your traditional sweet things. I make a sweet potato casserole that could be a dessert it has so many sweet and heavy things in it.
Q: But no marshmallows?
A: No marshmallows. This year I’m going to replace a lot of that brown sugar, butter and cream with coconut milk and Thai red curry paste. Making the switch from sweet to savory could be interesting.
Q: How do you eat healthy at Aunt Mildred’s holiday dinner complete with green Jell-O mold?
A: Take the best of what is offered, not all of what is offered. Outsmart the buffet by going for the smallest plate. We know that if people take more food, they will eat more. Drink out of tall slender cups, not squatty short cups. Squatty holds more volume. Never go to a party hungry.
Q: Then there’s the exercise component. Holiday office parties and Christmas dinners can cut into a person’s fitness schedule. How do you make up for lost time?
A: Find reasons to get up and walk at work. Sign up for holiday running/walking events. Plan for winter fun. I can’t wait to start snowshoeing. Don’t over-schedule yourself, so you can schedule in exercise.
Remember what exercise does for our brains. It’s associated with a drop in stress hormones, it improves our mood and increases our energy. Those are all things that we need during the holiday season.