By: Tamal Hampton, Registered Dietitian, Director of Clinical Nutrition Services, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center

Preparing FoodThe holidays are a wonderful time of year. It's a time to gather and connect with family and friends. With these gatherings comes the possibility of unintentional weight gain though, as many Americans on average gain 1-2 pounds accidentally between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It is typically easier for most to gain weight rather than lose weight. Luckily, it’s possible to enjoy the holidays while still supporting our health.

Some healthy habits to implement this holiday season, and year-round, to maintain a healthy body weight include:

  • Exercise with aerobic or resistance training. Aim for 60 minutes of moderate activity 5 days per week or 30 minutes of vigorous activity 5 days per week. Discuss with your doctor to see what exercise is best for you and try to find exercise you enjoy!
  • Choose heart-healthy fats from plant-based sources such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and fatty fish.
  • Fill half your plate with color from non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruit. Set a goal to eat 3 - 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Create a pleasant mealtime environment that invites conversation with loved ones by turning the television off and removing distractions.
  • Slow down at mealtime. Chew your food well and set your utensils down between bites.
  • Stay hydrated with water and unsweetened beverages.

How to Exercise During the Holiday Rush

The holidays are a perfect time to increase physical activity and establish healthy habits. For example, if you are shopping for presents, parking in a spot further from the store is an easy way to get extra steps in. I’ve even seen some people walk laps in a mall, since it’s warm and well lit. Just adding a few low-impact extra minutes of walking a day can add up and make a big difference!

Incorporate morning or afternoon walks with family and friends. It’s a great way to catch up, while staying active and getting outdoors. Plus, walking after meals improves digestion and helps keep blood sugar at a normal level. Being outside, even when chilly, can also lend itself to increasing vitamin D levels and overall increase our happy hormone, serotonin.

How to Make Healthy Food Choices During the Holidays

At holiday parties, choose appetizers and dishes that contain fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Try to avoid fried options. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues too for portion control. If you are still hungry, try an extra scoop of a non-starchy vegetable, such as fresh green beans, for a lower calorie option rich in vitamins and minerals.

Avoid excess sweets to limit added sugar intake. If you choose to enjoy dessert, ask for a small slice or cut it in half. Like sweets, alcohol also has empty calories that won’t fill you up or sustain you for very long, making you more apt to overeat and consume extra, unnecessary calories.

Make a healthy plan and share it with your family and friends so they are aware of your personal goals. Sharing your goals will make it easier for them to support you! Starting healthy habits during the holidays with an aim to continue them promotes lasting, healthy patterns that will help you feel your best into the new year.

What Happens If I’m Underweight?

While most of us tend to gain weight as we age, there are a few of us that lose weight without trying. Unintentional weight loss can be alarming and may be caused from an underlying medical condition or certain medications. It is important to monitor weight and food intake to avoid malnutrition.

To prevent further unintentional weight loss and gain weight back:

  • Keep your house stocked with your favorite, nutritious foods that require little to no prep.
  • Explore farmer’s markets or stores in your area.
  • Eat small, frequent meals and stay hydrated with water.
  • Consider adding Ensure or Boost oral nutrition supplements between meals.
  • Choose balanced meals when dining out that contain protein, grains and heart-healthy fats.

These tips can help you restore weight, prevent further unintentional weight loss, and improve your overall quality of life.

If you experience a sudden fluctuation in your weight, whether increasing or decreasing too drastically, it is time to speak to your doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, you can contact a MemorialCare provider by visiting memorialcare.org/providers or call 800-MEMORIAL for more information. Have a healthy and safe holiday season!

Tamal Hampton is a Register Dietitian, who has more than 10 years of experience in nutrition. She is a Southern California native who received a B.S. degree in nutrition from California State University, Long Beach and a M.S. degree in nutrition from California State University, Northridge. She is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and has a passion for providing nutrition education to individuals & families in her community. She is currently the Director of Clinical Nutrition Services at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center.