Rush Medical Center Home Page Information for healthcare Professionals Rush University

Bookmark This Page
Rush News Room A Healthful Approach to the Holidays

It's been estimated that the average American gains between one and four pounds over the holiday season with no significant loss by spring. This can add up over the years. For example, if you gain four pounds each holiday without losing that weight, you could be 20 pounds heavier in five quick years.

"For some people, it may seem like a contradiction to be able to enjoy the holidays and maintain a healthy weight, but it doesn’t have to be," says Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian and director of lifestyle programs at the Prevention Center at Rush. "By making a few small behavior changes, you can create new traditions and participate fully in the holidays while staying healthy."

Changing Your Mind

"The first part of your new tradition is a change in mindset," says Ventrelle. "We have to lose the notion that we can just wait until after the holidays are over to pay attention to our health. Taking a healthy approach throughout the holidays will not only make you feel good, but you'll also be able to avoid that yearly accumulation of extra pounds that can really start to cause problems with your long-term health."

Changing Your Approach

"It’s easy to forget that delicious holiday treats contain excess calories that you bring into your body. Instead of restricting yourself or feeling guilty about indulging in these treats, balance these extra calories with the energy that you use," Ventrelle says. "Create a new tradition to pay attention to what you eat, and for every extra indulgence, try to balance it with some extra moving to burn off those calories."

That can include an extra planned workout, or it might be something more fun like dancing to your favorite holiday music, walking a couple of extra laps in the mall before starting your holiday shopping or bundling up and getting outside with the kids to play in the snow.

Choosing Lighter, In-Between Holiday Meals

Many of us don’t want to make alterations to our special holiday dishes. Instead, consider changing what you eat between the holiday meals. You might try the following:

  • Flavor foods with herbs or spices instead of salt
  • Steam, baked or broil foods instead of frying
  • Vegetables and other foods steamed and seasoned or cooked in broth instead of oil
  • Hummus, yogurt dips, or low-fat salad dressings with fresh lemon or lime juice for raw veggies and salads
  • Low- or no-calorie drinks such as water or club soda with a twist of fresh lime or cucumber slices

"Also, keep in mind that alcohol and sweet drinks, like sodas and juices, have a surprising number of calories per serving," Ventrelle says.

Avoiding Hunger

"You should never go to a holiday event hungry," Ventrelle says. "Eat a healthy snack before you go. Choose something with fiber and protein, such as baby carrots, cucumber slices, bell pepper strips, cherry tomatoes and hummus with a low-fat cheese stick, half of a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread or fresh berries with one-half cup of non-fat Greek yogurt."

Avoiding Empty Calories

Empty calories refers to high calorie foods that have little nutritional value, such as:

  • Candy
  • Soda and other sweet drinks, like sweetened tea and lemonade (except for diet versions, which often have few or no calories
  • Alcohol

Staying Hydrated

Choose a low-calorie or nonalcoholic drink to stay hydrated. It’s also a good idea, when you’re at a party or other holiday function, to choose this type of drink to keep from eating too much. "A low-calorie drink is the perfect thing to keep your hands and mouth busy," says Ventrelle. "It may also keep your stomach feeling more satisfied, because the brain often doesn’t distinguish between hunger and thirst. You may be feeling hungry when your body is thirsty instead."

Taking Your Time – Mindful Eating

Eat slowly and enjoy the company of friends and family. "It takes 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that the stomach is full," says Ventrelle. "If you take your time at a meal, you’re more likely to eat less."

Being Mindful of Portion Sizes

"It’s less about what you eat and more about how much you eat," says Ventrelle. "You can enjoy your favorite holiday treats; try smaller portions. As a host, you can make things easier for your guests by having portions pre-cut into smaller pieces. Mini portions let your guests sample a number of options."

Sharing the Health

"If you're not sure what you'll be able to eat at a holiday event, bring a healthful dish to share. This way you can at least enjoy one healthy option that you’ve brought," says Ventrelle. Some ideas include the following:

  • Fresh fruit platter
  • Veggie platter with hummus, yogurt dip, or low-fat dressing
  • Baked chips and salsa or guacamole
  • Whole grain pita chips or pretzels and hummus
  • Salad with a variety of colorful, fresh vegetables and your favorite low-fat dresing

Balancing Your Day

Ventrelle suggests planning ahead for the likely overindulgences of a holiday get-together. "Eat small meals with fewer calories the day of a holiday event," says Ventrelle. Eating small meals during the day will not only keep you from eating too much at the event; it will also help keep your metabolism going, which helps you burn more calories.

Getting Physical

Make sure you balance your intake with something physically activity to make good use of those extra calories. "I think that walking is one of the easiest ways to increase your physical activity," says Ventrelle. "Try creating a new tradition to take a walk after meals. It doesn’t require equipment, it encourages social interaction and it’s something you can do with the whole family."

More Information at Your Fingertips:
Read more about Rush's Prevention Center, or you can call (312) 942-3133 or email for more information. Learn about how patients can benefit from from services at the Prevention Center.





Looking for a Doctor?

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, is a leader in caring for people of all ages, from newborns through older adults.

Just phone (888) 352-RUSH or (888) 352-7874 for help finding the Rush doctor who's right for you.

Looking for More Health Information?

Visit Discover Rush's Web Resource page to find articles on health topics and recent health news from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. You will also find many helpful links to other areas of our site.

Looking for Information About Medical Treatment and Services at Rush?

Visit the Clinical Services home page.

Looking for Clinical Trials at Rush?

Visit the Clinical Trials home page.







Promotional Information

News Room
Top Story Archives
A Healthful Approach to the Holidays

Find a Doctor | Patient & Visitor Services | Health Information
Clinical Services | Events & Classes | Rush News Room | Clinical Trials
Research At Rush
Disclaimer | Privacy Statement | Site Map

© Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois