Enjoy Healthy Holidays Without Tipping the Scales or Losing Sleep


Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.41.16 PMBy Dr. Nina Radcliff

Treat Yourself Right!!

It is that special time of year – where sugar plums not only “dance in our heads” but also join “Auntie’s” favorite pie along with tables filled with tempting delights, at every turn.  And if you have concerns about tipping the scales, it is for good reason as new research from Cornell University reports what other studies have underscored for years: Americans gain an average of 1.3 pounds from October to four days into the New Year.

Knowledge of the reality of the “gain factor” during the holidays can help us to take wiser, healthier actions.  But also truths being told, it is not only the 1.3 pound weight gain, it is also the unhealthy amounts of ingredients in the holiday foods we are entertaining that can impact our health. Holiday faire tends to have more sugar, more salt, saturated fats and other additives that can quickly add up – taking a toll on our health. 

Forewarned is forearmed. Yes, this is a “most wonderful” time of year – and keeping these facts in mind, there are a number of smart moves we can make to enjoy our holidays  – without the need for a weight loss program afterwards and in a manner that we can wake-up each morning feeling as healthy as possible.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know:  Enjoy Healthy Holidays Without Tipping the Scales or Losing Sleep

Control Holiday Binging:  We eat more during the holidays but understanding “why” is helpful in being prepared to fight back against splurges. Social pressures, irregular routines, not getting enough sleep, emotional associations, as well as stress are all cues to overeating. We need to think what may be stimulating our “binges” – and set goals as well as track our choices.

It can be a challenge balancing your health goals with desires to relax, have fun, and enjoy the festivities.  And too, it’s tempting sometimes to think, “I’ll eat what I want now and get back on track after January 1st.” Avoid this type of thinking as the facts are it rarely happens that way.  Make choices each day to stay healthy and to “feel good” with keeping a watchful eye on how much and what you are consuming. Plan now and add to this, good sleep and staying physically active routines. These are great gifts that only you can give yourself!!

Eat Before Joining the Party

Ghrelin is a hormone that is released by our stomach to stimulate our appetite; in fact, it is often dubbed the “hunger hormone.” And, it is regulated by food intake—when we have not eaten, ghrelin levels rise. Most of us have experienced how hunger clouds our minds and can cause us to crave, and reach, for high calorie, high fat, comfort foods to satiate us. By eating a sensible breakfast and lunch, and snacking sensibly, we can prevent surging levels of this hunger hormone at holiday festivities and make clear, unclouded choices about what we will consume.

Plate planning

As we celebrate, we may be tempted to indulge—after all, we are with loved ones and embracing the joys of the season. However, strategic plate planning can help us do so without the uncomfortable bulge or feelings of guilt afterwards. When filling our plates, the secret to determining appropriate serving sizes lies in our hands. In other words, an entrée serving should be the size of our palm (approximately 3 ounces) and veggies and grains the size of our fist (approximately 1 cup). Placing these items, in these amounts, on our plate do not preclude us from enjoying other items that we often only enjoy once a year—but it does help avoid overindulging.

Avoid “you must” eating indulges

Oftentimes we continue to eat when we are full because of the momentum “oh, go ahead” or “you must try” —a force that keeps us consuming—not because we are hungry.  Another helpful strategy to avoid stuffing ourselves is to eat slowly. It takes our stomach nearly 20 minutes to deliver the necessary signals to our brain that we are full and need to stop eating. To that extent, let’s make sure to savor our bites and truly enjoy our meal, as well as socialize with loved ones and share why we are thankful. Additionally, being stuffed can cause an uncomfortable feeling and even give us acid reflux that lasts several hours—both can prevent us from getting a good night of sleep.

Sweets – Sugar and Salt add up!

Pumpkin and pecan pie; special spiced cookies and the list goes on, oh my! Many of us look forward all year to eating the special treats at this time of year. (I know, I do!) Enjoy a reasonably sized serving and savor each bite. And if you are still craving for more, drink a glass of water, or choose a piece of fruit to satisfy that sweet craving.

Truth is that sugary treats can be hard on our health. however, I believe it is important to enjoy foods for whatever special occasion, but in moderation.  What you want to keep in mind is that increased sugar may not just be for a moment—it can be carried throughout the season and into the new year as we develop a sort of “sweet tooth.”

Sugar is addicting and it is important to monitor our sugar consumption. Moderation is the key; and at the end of our day (and our special celebrations seasons) – more sugar is not a “treat,” or “sweet” or “merry” for our health.

Additionally, excess salt consumption contributes to a number of chronic and debilitating illnesses. They include high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, sleep apnea, cancer, kidney disease, and even obesity.  Holiday foods often tend to have even more salt and so again, moderating our portions will help to control our salt intake – and please, think twice before adding salt.

Watch out for calories in alcohol

A glass of wine contains approximately 125 calories, a martini 130 calories, and a beer 153 calories. And many holiday parties offer the seasonal treat of eggnog. One cup of rum eggnog contains nearly 400 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 37 grams of carbohydrates! Additionally, alcohol lowers your inhibitions making you less likely to steer clear of calorie traps or avoid overeating.

Let’s remember that we want to be healthy – so let’s take action every day to fight back on the growing body of anxiety-inducing statistics (weight gain and stressed health during the holidays).  Commit to a holiday in which you manage not to gain any weight, to watch your sugar, salt, fat and alcohol intake. Plan too for restful sleep—it has been shown to support not only our health overall but too with warding off weight gain.  Give the gift of a healthy holiday to yourself!! Make wise choices without losing out on the cheer.  Happy holidays – Enjoy!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.