’Tis the season for weight gain, fatigue, and the blahs. Shorter days and less sunshine disrupt typical sleep-wake cycles, dismal weather makes the couch more enticing than the gym, and the season kick off a food frenzy. “With Thanksgiving, holiday parties, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day, there’s a constant stream of delectable delights,” says Randi Protter, M.D., medical director of the Capital Health Center for Women’s Health, in Hamilton, N.J. “It’s more than we would ever eat normally.”
An average gluttonous Turkey Day meal runs more than 3,000 calories and would take 13 hours of walking to burn off, she says, adding that holiday food and drink favorites can be particularly fat-filled and calorie-laden. For example, a glass of eggnog has 350 calories and 19 grams of fat; a serving of spinach-and-artichoke dip adds up to 310 calories and 19 grams of fat; and a slice of pecan pie contains a whopping 530 calories and 29 grams of fat.
Studies show holiday binging causes people to gain a pound a year—a conservative estimate, Dr. Protter says. In fact, folks generally never lose that weight, which adds up over time. “In 15 years, you’ve gained 15 pounds.” But don’t worry. A future of larger pants sizes isn’t a certainty. Dr. Protter offers three strategies for smart eating during the holidays, with food deprivation not among them. “You’re celebrating. You want to have fun,” she says.
Pregame | Before going to a party, drink 8 ounces of water, and eat a healthy snack, such as a unsalted nuts. This way, you won’t give in to insatiable hunger.
Substitute | Instead of eggnog, opt for hot cider or hot chocolate; nibble on hummus and carrots rather than crackers and dips; and drink just one glass of wine.
Portion control | Have just one cookie, and move along. “If there are three cakes you absolutely want, just have a bite of each one rather than a slice of each,” she says.”
People can make better food choices at home, too. Substitute in whole-grain pasta and low-fat milk. “You can outsmart yourself and still be satisfied and get the right amount of nutrition,” she says. She also recommends loading up on antioxidant- and fiber-rich winter veggies, like beets, kale, and carrots.
Eating right makes up just one crucial component of staying healthy in winter. Exercise at least 20 minutes a day, which is just enough to reduce stress and boost serotonin, the feel-good hormone in the brain. For outdoor exercise, be mindful of ice and wear sunblock, she advises. For indoor activities, do sets of jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups. Turn up the music, and dance around the house, or walk around the mall. “Just leave the credit cards at home,” Dr. Protter says with a laugh.
Dr. Protter’s Survival Tips
Get Some Sleep
Strive for eight hours of sleep, but understand that some people need less than that, some need more, Dr. Protter says.
Use hand sanitizer frequently, and have dispensers everywhere for easy access: purse, car, office.
Take Your Vitamins
Take 2,000 international units (IU) daily of vitamin D3. Dr. Protter doesn’t generally recommend vitamins and supplements, but this is one vitamin people can’t get enough of through food.
Shots, Shots, Shots
Get a flu shot, keeping in mind that it takes about two weeks for the immunity to build up after the injection.