Staying healthy for the holidays – don’t avoid your favorite food

Five tips for staying healthy for the holidays

The holidays are here again, bringing friends, family and food. While there is no harm overindulging in the company of friends and family, overindulging in food can leave us with extra pounds, some bad-habits and a longer list of resolutions for the new-year.

During the holidays, food can be challenging to avoid. Tasty dishes and decadent desserts seem to be at every celebration, leading many to believe it’s impossible to avoid the overabundance of seasonal sustenance.

Experts say it’s possible, and better yet, that it can be done without avoiding food and without super-human willpower.

Tucson Medical Center’s Director of Wellness Mary Atkinson shares five surprisingly easy tips for enjoying holiday treats without having to loosen your belt.

Incorporate activity into social plans

“When making holiday plans to meet at a restaurant or home, plan a family-based physical activity at a nearby location,” said Atkinson.

Planning physical activity does not mean scheduling a 5K before holiday supper. Rather, it means an easy activity that encourages both movement and socialization. This could include a family stroll at a nearby park, meeting friends for a quick tour of the botanical gardens or a brief walk around the neighborhood to view the holiday decorations.

Atkinson explained the benefits of movement go beyond boosting the metabolism. “When people are out and active it encourages them to continue making healthy choices, making it less likely they’ll overindulge at dinner.”

Don’t arrive stuffed or starved

“Eat a healthy snack before a big meal, but don’t show up starved or stuffed,” Atkinson said. “Arriving starved makes it much easier to take eating too far, and so does arriving full.  Even though you might eat fewer unhealthy foods if you are stuffed, you are still likely to overeat – which is not healthy.”

Find that happy medium and have a little something healthy that will take up some room, but won’t stop you from enjoying a few goodies.

Quench the craving – eat with purpose

Scrumptious pumpkin pie, creamy mashed potatoes with thick brown gravy, mouth-watering dressing and who could forget that sweet pecan pie topped with whipped cream?  We all have a favorite holiday dish, and Atkinson says it’s important not to avoid it.

“Eat with purpose. Acknowledge what you are going to eat, and enjoy it – don’t feel guilty or shame yourself.” Trying to avoid everything, especially a favorite, can encourage an “all or nothing” mentality. “When people try to avoiding everything, they feel badly if they indulge a little. This quickly becomes an excuse to continue eating badly, they figure they have ‘blown it’ and overeat.”

Eat slowly

This may not be a new suggestion but Atkinson explained why it is so important. “The brain does not receive the ‘full signal’ until 20 minutes after the body is actually full.” This is why people will continue to feel bloated and uncomfortable for some time after eating until full.

“Don’t hesitate to put your fork down between bites and really think about how you are feeling. It doesn’t hurt to engage in familial conversation and focus on other social interactions while eating.”

Brush your teeth

This may sound unorthodox, but it is an effective way to prevent one of the most common forms of overeating – going back for additional helpings.

“Once you have finished eating – brush your teeth. This sends a message to your mind and body that you are done, and you’ll be less likely to go back for more if you know you’ll have to brush again,” said Atkinson.

These tips can help people enjoy the seasonal treats without giving into overindulgence. Atkinson says staying healthy throughout the holidays will positively affect your waistline and your self-esteem. “It is a great feeling to start the new-year healthy and confident.”


Mary Atkinson, RD
Director of Wellness
Tucson Medical Center

Mary Atkinson has been the director of wellness at TMC for more than four years. She is a registered dietitian, and an expert on food and nutrition. Atkinson is engaged in building partnerships, sponsoring events and supporting initiatives to educate Pima County residents and foster better community health.



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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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