City of Residence: Perry
Occupation: Manager, Health Connections Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Houston Medical Center
QUESTION: Thanksgiving and Christmas arent the healthiest times of year are they?
ANSWER: Theyre wonderful, but not always healthy due to what we eat, how little we exercise and the stress involved.
QUESTION: Start with food. Whats the problem?
ANSWER: We tend to make things to eat we dont have at other times, mostly the desserts: lots of sugar, lots of fat, not a lot of fiber and whole wheat. We eat a lot of foods that arent so healthy, and we tend to eat more.
QUESTION: The holidays are usually family times, how does that figure in?
ANSWER: At family gatherings, work or friends gatherings, you tend to bring what tastes the best and is sweetest, and you bring a lot. A dish and a dessert turns into a dish and two desserts. Things we might usually avoid we tend to have at the end of the year.
QUESTION: But turkey is good for you, right?
ANSWER: Yes, but even turkey depends on how you purchase and prepare it. Everything depends on how you cook it. Its typically healthier to use fresh or frozen turkey you cook yourself rather than processed pre-cooked meats. If you dont cook it, you lose control over ingredients and should pay close attention to labeling and watch ingredients like sodium. Cooking at home is better, but you still have to watch your own ingredients.
QUESTION: If you go to someone elses house, theres not much you can do.
ANSWER: Thats when how much you eat becomes key. You cant help what goes on your plate, but you can control how much. Guard against super portions. Also, during the holidays you might go to a number of different meals at different family member or friends homes. Realize you shouldnt have a full holiday meal everywhere you go. Orchestrate it, so you have a full meal at one place then a light one elsewhere.
QUESTION: What youre saying keeps going back to ingredients and portions.
ANSWER: Thats it. Go with reduced fat items and use sugar substitutes. There are a lot you can bake with. You can even do half sugar and half sweetener if you have to. Dont over salt. Dont even put salt on the table. If you have to, use salt substitutes. Try to use whole wheat flour. There are other tricks like using apple sauce versus fat and oil. It gives a similar texture and taste. You may not be able to totally change the way you cook over the holidays, so it boils down to portions.
QUESTION: What about stress?
ANSWER: Stress adds to the problem. We usually get pretty stressed during the holidays over getting all the extra things done. Stress is bad for you and worse when youre not eating right.
QUESTION: Whats the solution?
ANSWER: You can learn stress reduction techniques you can use all year, but tips like preparing food ahead of time can really help. Fix things ahead, and spend more time making them as healthful as possible. Freeze them, and heat them up when needed. Its less stress, and you get to spend more time with family, sitting down or even going out for a walk or run.
QUESTION: Youre saying exercise. Thats not a holiday tradition for most.
ANSWER: Weight boils down to calories in versus calories burned. If you take them in and dont burn them, they go to fat. Exercise is always important, but if we take in more calories over the holidays, were going to gain weight. Exercise can help burn those extra holiday calories. Plus, if youve invested in exercising because you know youll be having a big meal later in the day, it might motivate you to not eat as much.
QUESTION: Would it be wise to start an exercise program during the holidays if you havent been doing any?
ANSWER: You should exercise. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, but its recommended you get 150 minutes of exercise a week. Thats about 30 minutes five days a week. Thats the minimum.
QUESTION: What exercises?
ANSWER: Something you enjoy -- that way youll do it. If you dont like running, dont. Dont like biking? Dont bike. Find something you like. The worst thing is to take on too much to start. Do what you can do. Maybe its just walking to the mailbox, but it could be a longer walk, running or whatever you do. Just get started even if its a little. Keep it up, and do more as youre able. Its progress over time that counts. We stress healthy weight loss, which is two to three pounds a week, not more. And dont forget, exercise is also a great way to relieve holiday stress.
Compiled by Michael W. Pannell.