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Healthy Holidays

by Mindy Toran

Don’t let the season of overindulgence knock your health and wellness off track.

The holidays are a time for celebrations, gathering with family and friends and, yes, indulging in festive foods and beverages. Unfortunately, it can also be a time of stress, overindulgence and regret when it comes to staying on course with your diet, exercise, sleep schedule and overall health.

But there are ways to stay on track that won’t derail your efforts to stay fit and healthy into the new year, and help you avoid falling into bad habits that can be hard to break. By focusing on a healthy balance of food, activity and fun, you can enjoy your favorite treats, stay in shape and enjoy the holiday season.

“It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be perfect when it comes to eating and exercise around the holidays,” says David Duzenski, co-owner and fitness coach at Evolution Fitness in Cherry Hill. “If you work out on a regular basis, eat right, drink enough water and get enough sleep, you can allow yourself to have an occasional treat. The key is to stay motivated during the hectic holiday season and pay attention to what you’re putting in your body.”

Christian Lee, a certified trainer at Escape of Medford, agrees. “It’s important to prioritize exercise during the holidays,” he says. “Continue your daily routine and find time to exercise early in the day, even if it’s only for 20 to 30 minutes a day, to stay on track with your workouts. You need to be disciplined while also reducing your caloric intake so you don’t overindulge. Signing up for nutrition counseling as well as individualized training programs at your local gym is a great way to stay on track.”

Finding balance
When it comes to the holidays, it’s not just what you eat, but when and how much you eat that plays a role in your calorie consumption.

“During the holidays, it’s important to focus on balancing your day,” says Dr. Jesse Liebman, a chiropractor at Liebman Wellness Center in Marlton. “If you’re going to a holiday party, eat fewer carbohydrates and reduce your caloric intake earlier in the day. Eat more fruit and vegetables earlier in the day to compensate for heavier holiday meals and desserts later on. One strategy is to picture your dinner plate like a pie; keep your carbs to one quarter of the pie and fill the remaining three quarters with proteins and vegetables,” he suggests. “This way, you’re less likely to overindulge.”

Being aware of what you’re eating goes a long way when it comes to holiday parties.

“Never go to a party hungry,” stresses Vassiliki Lyras, a Tabernacle-based promoter of Body By Vi, a weight loss and fitness challenge program. “Always eat a healthy snack or drink a protein shake earlier in the day, which will reduce the risk of overeating at the party,” she says. “Once you’re there, try to eat more protein and veggies, and limit your intake of carbs and sweets. It’s also important to continue with your exercise routine and keep moving—take walks, use the stairs, focus on your core by doing push-ups, crunches and planks. Good nutrition and regular exercise are the keys to staying fit when you’re facing unhealthy temptations.”

Plan ahead
If possible, find out what’s on the menu before a party and decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat. Make sure the foods you choose fit into your diet or meal plan. In addition, you can contribute your own healthy dish to the holiday buffet so you know you’ll have something to eat that others will appreciate, as well.

“Make lighter versions of your favorite recipes so you don’t feel deprived,” says Lori Shiles, a nutritionist and co-owner of The Diet Center of Cherry Hill. “It’s important to do the best you can and make the best choices in challenging situations. You don’t have to be perfect, just do what’s perfect for you.”

“When it comes to the holidays, many people are emotional eaters,” says Maureen Matteis-Bilbee, a family therapist and co-owner of The Diet Center. “We focus on addressing clients’ emotional needs and motivations, as well as the healthy eating element. Eating is often a coping mechanism, and we need to understand what triggers overeating and weight gain and identify motivators for losing it. By being mentally prepared for the holidays, setting realistic and attainable goals and having a plan, you can find ways to get through the holidays without throwing your entire diet plan away.”

Knowing what to eat during the holidays is just as important as knowing when to eat. There are a number of healthy options such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, grilled or broiled lean meats, fish, turkey, and chicken without the skin. Vegetables like green beans—without the casserole—broccoli, peas and cauliflower are also healthy alternatives. In addition, you can increase your fiber intake with whole grain breads and beans.

“Focus on your diet as a lifestyle change rather than simply a means of losing weight,” says Shiles. “By eating right on a regular basis and having a support system when you’re feeling stressed, you can achieve your goals of losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle all year long.”

Keeping a clear head
Getting enough sleep and staying properly hydrated also play a role in staying healthy over the holidays.

“Not getting enough sleep, especially during the hectic holiday season, can lower your resistance and increase your appetite and caloric intake,” says Shiles. “Lack of sleep can cause you to feel sluggish and crave carbs and sugary foods, which may cause you to eat improperly. Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, to keep your body regulated.”

Drinking plenty of water will help you stay hydrated and reduce the likelihood of overeating. Caffeinated beverages can be full of calories and sugar, while alcohol can stimulate your appetite, disrupt your sleep and wreak havoc on your body.

“Don’t forget to relax and take some time for yourself during the holidays as well,” says Liebman. “Taking some time to decompress by doing yoga or meditation, taking a walk, continuing your exercise routine, and focusing on keeping your body structurally sound will go a long way toward making your holidays healthy and enjoyable.”


Visalus Sciences
Vassiliki Lyras
(609) 230-2951

The Diet Center of Cherry Hill
1426 Route 70 E.
Cherry Hill
(856) 429-3149

Escape Fitness
135 Route 70 E.
(609) 654-8900

Evolution Fitness
1990 Route 70 W.
Cherry Hill
(856) 751-1300

Liebman Wellness Center
100 W. Old Marlton Pike

Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 9 (November, 2013).
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