WFU expert says secret to holiday health is asking yourself one question

Wake Forest University nutrition expert Gary Miller says maintaining healthy eating habits during the holidays is as simple as asking one question.

“Ask yourself if it’s worth it,” says Miller, an associate professor of health and exercise science. “Save your calories for the foods and drinks that you really enjoy.”

Studies have shown that weight gain does occur during the holidays, Miller says, but for the person with an otherwise healthy diet, it normally is not that significant. Miller says the important thing is for people to continue an exercise routine and set realistic limits before the parties, dinners and onslaught of baked goods begin.

He suggests allowing one or two specialty sweets a day, or setting aside one day a week to be sweet-free. On the day of the company office party, eat lighter meals during the day, Miller says, but do not skip those meals. That will only encourage overindulgence on the typically higher-calorie finger foods at parties. It is also important to watch portion sizes, he says. “Be satisfied with smaller portions,” Miller says. “Eating slowly helps trigger that feeling of fullness sooner, meaning you eat less.”

Miller says many people also drink more alcohol during the holiday season. At around 100 calories per drink, alcohol can often be a forgotten source of calories.

“Alcohol can contribute to weight gain during the holidays,” Miller says. “Consider using fat-free cream or half-and-half for wintry mixed drinks, or choose a non-alcohol diet drink at parties.”

Other ingredient substitutions can also make holiday fare friendlier to the scales. Miller suggests using fat-free ingredients when cooking, lowering oil in baked goods by substituting apple sauce, or using skim milk in the eggnog. But, he says, substituting ingredients is not worth it if it takes more to satisfy the craving for the food or drink.

“You have to ask yourself if you’re sacrificing the taste,” Miller says. “If the lower-fat options don’t satisfy your craving, it’s not worth it because you’ll end up eating more.

“The most important thing is not to set unrealistic goals for yourself,” he says. “Find a balance between satisfying your holiday cravings and maintaining your otherwise healthy diet.”

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