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Festive food: Healthy habits for happy holidays Senior Airman Brittany Paerschke-O'Brien

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can cause people to skip meals, which can lead to overindulging. U.S. Air Force Capt. Ann Wilkins, 633rd Medical Group chief of clinical dietetics, advises holiday diners to instead eat a balanced meal or snack every three to four hours, which can improve weight loss and reduce unplanned eating. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany Paerschke-O'Brien/Released)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -Warm turkey, savory stuffing, rich green bean casserole… and don’t forget pumpkin pie. With the holiday season on the horizon and all of the food that comes along with it, it is important to know of what and how much we are eating.

Healthy eating habits are often overlooked during the holidays, potentially packing on the pounds for the new year. By following a few helpful tips that can be used year-round, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be easier than some may think.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Ann Wilkins, 633rd Medical Group chief of clinical dietetics, suggests planning and cooking as ways to maintain current body composition, explaining healthy eating habits and food preparation should be practiced year-round, not just during the holiday season. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, one of her biggest instructions is to not skip meals in order to avoid overindulging.

“Some people skip meals in order to allow ‘room’ for that big dinner, or go to a party and wind up overindulging more than if they had eaten healthy meal prior,” said Wilkins. “Being prepared for unexpected situations will reduce rash decisions and unhealthy choices. Carrying a healthy snack such as mixed nuts or a protein bar can satisfy hunger until the next meal, reducing weight-gaining choices.”

While running errands for that large Thanksgiving meal, people tend to buy more when they are hungry, said Wilkins. Eating a balanced meal or snack every three to four hours typically improves weight loss and reduces unplanned eating.

“Our bodies are like a high-performance vehicle; if you put bad fuel in a Ferrari it isn’t going to run well,” said Wilkins. “If you put bad fuel into your body, it will not run as well as you would like it to.”

A helpful guideline for cooking healthier versions of comfort foods is to find alternative ingredients, such as baking with healthier oils or oil replacements such as sugar-free applesauce, said Wilkins. If recipe alteration is not an option, smaller portions can also support healthy choices.

“Options such as stuffing or macaroni and cheese baked in a muffin cup will produce a tasty, [and healthier], individual portion,” said Wilkins.

Portion control is important when trying to stay in shape, said Wilkins. Each meal should include a protein, vegetable, fruit and a grain, which should each be the size of your fist. By simply controlling portions, you can prevent over eating, she said.

“Sometimes, even when we control portions we graze due to distractions; reducing the feeling of being full”, said Wilkins.

Consolidating meals to one distinct eating time and holding true to basic healthy eating choices can help prevent overeating.

“When you eat too fast you can barely remember what you ate,” said Wilkins. “Enjoy your meal and save some for left overs instead of all at one time. It is easy to get off track during the holidays. We want to fill the plate but by remembering that we can go back for leftovers in three to four hours will allow us to control our portions and what we intake.”

Maintaining health through the holiday is important and planning physical activities is a fun and healthy way to spend time with one another, said Wilkins. Standing while visiting, taking family walks or a football game in the backyard are all ways to get exercise during the holiday season.

“We should think of the holidays as ‘weight maintenance,’” said Wilkins. “Overcoming all the challenges of delicious comfort foods and being able to maintain your weight is a huge accomplishment. I recommend you allow yourself to indulge but control the portion and have it be as a part of your balanced meal.”

Traveling or hosting family from out of town shouldn’t prevent us from making healthy choices, she said. If it does change, let it be the exception not the rule. Healthy habits and a healthy body composition is a lifelong journey, said Wilkins.

With these helpful tips, being healthy during the holidays should be easy, allowing health and fitness goals to stay on track for the new year.


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This work, Festive food: Healthy habits for happy holidays, by SrA Brittany Paerschke-O'Brien, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:11.22.2013

Date Posted:11.22.2013 11:49

Location:LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, VA, USGlobe

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