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Eating healthy around the holidays







© Dispatch file photo/Dispatch/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS
Take your dog for a walk to stay active during the holidays, experts say. [Dispatch file photo]

The Thanksgiving is here, signaling the start of the overindulgent eating season.

Just thinking about all those delicious holiday foods that will be plentiful until the new year — from gingerbread cookies to pecan pie — can make anyone loosen the belt in anticipation, begging the question: How can people stick to a diet or eat healthy during the holidays?

It’s OK to eat your favorite Christmas delicacies in moderation, regardless of the diet you might be following, said Dena Champion, a registered dietitian for Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. However, you shouldn’t overeat or treat yourself through the whole month of December.



a plate of food on a table: To cut down on high-calorie holiday foods, aim to fill half your plate with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. [Dispatch file photo]


© Dispatch file photo/Dispatch/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS
To cut down on high-calorie holiday foods, aim to fill half your plate with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. [Dispatch file photo]

“One day of eating your Christmas meal is really not a big deal,” but people can get carried away, she said.

When it comes to staying healthy around the holidays, Champion said it is important to know your weaknesses, whether it’s drinking too much alcohol at holiday parties or eating too many seasonal goodies in the break room at work. Alcohol is full of empty calories, and eating a lot of calorie-laden snacks might mean packing on pounds.



a woman smiling for the camera: Dena Champion is a registered dietitian for Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. [Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center]


© Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center/Dispatch/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS
Dena Champion is a registered dietitian for Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. [Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center]

Have a plan in place to avoid overeating or drinking too much is key, Champion said. You could take a walk when you’re tempted by Christmas cookies, for example, or drink only one cocktail before switching to sparkling water, she said.

Staying active also is important, she said, and can be as simple as taking the dog for a stroll or setting up a step goal with an exercise tracker such as Fitbit.

Subbing in healthier alternatives for high-calorie ingredients when cooking also can help, said Krista Barber, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association of Central Ohio.

She suggests using vegetable oil instead of butter when cooking, or swapping non-fat plain Greek yogurt for sour cream.

“There are a lot of things you can do that seem small, but when you do them a lot, they really add up,” Barber said.

Hilltop resident Nicky Duffy adheres to a ketogenic diet for most of the year but splurges on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“I do whatever I want at Christmas,” said the 37-year-old. “Unfortunately, I’ve found that it’s just ludicrous to try and do (a keto diet) when you’re having a family meal.”

Duffy started following a keto diet, which involves strictly limiting carbs to less than 50 grams a day and subsisting primarily on high-fat foods, about two years ago to control the amount of food she was eating after going through a divorce.

The popular but somewhat controversial diet contains high amounts of meat, fish, nuts and vegetables, while reducing the consumption of wheat, fruits, sugar and alcohol.

The reduction in carbohydrates puts your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. While in ketosis, your body uses fat instead of carbs for energy. The diet is effective for losing weight but can have downsides, including nutrient deficiencies, if it isn’t properly maintained.

Constipation, headaches and bad breath are other possible side effects, according to the Mayo Clinic.

After starting the diet, Duffy said, she instantly felt better.

“I wasn’t bloated anymore,” she said. “I noticed that I had plenty of energy even though I wasn’t eating carbs.”

Duffy celebrates Christmas with her mom’s side of the family in Cleveland and is looking forward to the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian meal of seafood served on Christmas Eve. Her family prepares seven kinds of fish and seafood, including crab-stuffed mushrooms.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “A lot of it is just over the top, very indulgent, delicious.”

People who restrict certain foods around the holidays and other times of the year typically end up binging, Champion said.

“They are denying themselves some of their favorite foods,” she said.

“To me, it’s all about moderation and still enjoying some of those favorite things, even if you are dieting.”

mhenry@dispatch.com

@megankhenry

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