AgriLife Extension experts offer wellness tips for holidays

COLLEGE STATION – While the holidays are a time for joy and sharing, they can also be a time for stress and overeating. Proper management of food intake and potential “stressors” is key toward keeping more physically and emotionally fit during the yuletide season, said Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts in College Station.

“There are many behavioral and logistical changes you can make during the holidays to benefit your overall wellness,” said Dr. Mary Bielamowicz, AgriLife Extension nutrition specialist, and registered and licensed dietitian.

Overeating is one of the main obstacles to holiday wellness, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts. Managing food, along with finances and time, can reduce holiday stress and improve physical and emotional wellness during the yuletide season. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Bielamowicz said overeating is one of the biggest challenges to holiday wellness.

“Be aware of what and when you eat, and don’t think you have to starve yourself to make room for holiday meals,” she said. “In fact, eating too little can trigger your hunger and lead to overeating. Instead of skipping a meal or meals to prepare for a holiday feast, eat a snack or light meal to curb your appetite before you get to that big holiday meal.”

She also suggested eating smaller portions and cutting down on carbohydrate- and fat-loaded foods such as chips, dips, sauces and gravy, and sweets or sugar-containing beverages.

“It’s okay to eat what you like, just serve yourself smaller portions and don’t feel as though you have to pile your plate high, cover it with gravy and eat every bite,” she said.

Bielamowicz said when choosing what to eat during the holidays it’s best to make healthful food choices following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which can be found at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/guidelines/index.html.

“For persons with diabetes it is of particular importance for them to go easy on foods that will raise blood glucose levels, such as starches, fruit juices, dairy, sugars and other carbohydrates,” she said. “Such foods include bread and rolls, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, butter beans, fruit, candy, desserts, milk, sodas, sweetened tea and eggnog.”

Bielamowicz said the more carbs eaten at a meal, the greater increase in blood glucose after.

“So for most people, and especially for people managing with diabetes – a disease affecting carbohydrate metabolism – it’s best to space carbohydrate consumption fairly evenly throughout the day.”

She also suggested taking more generous portions of low-calorie salads and vegetables to increase the amount of fiber in a holiday meal and to reduce carbohydrate and fat calories, while providing a feeling of fullness.

“If you’re cooking, remember you can substitute higher-fat, higher-calorie ingredients with lower-fat and lower-calorie alternatives,” she said.

Bielamowicz said information on healthful food substitutions in recipes can be found in the AgriLife Extension publication “Altering Recipes for Good Health,” which can be downloaded at no cost from http://fcs.tamu.edu/food_and_nutrition/pdf/alteringrecipes.pdf.

“Eat only a small portion of a dessert, or use a non-caloric sweetener or other recipe substitution to reduce the caloric content of the food,” she said. “And remember that eggnog and other holiday beverages typically contain extra sweeteners and are usually high in fat and calories. Think about your meals and let moderation be your guide.”

Stress management is another important aspect of staying healthy during the holidays, said Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension specialist in family economics and resource management.

“Holiday stress can come about from interpersonal relationships, financial pressures, time management issues, lack of sleep and a variety of other stressors,” Cavanagh said. “Financial pressure and time restrictions are often the top stressors during the holidays, so be sure to prioritize and adequately plan your holiday shopping and family time.”

She said when shopping to budget for gifts and use cash whenever possible.

“When using credit, act as if you have far less than your actual credit limit,” she said. “And remember your credit card interest rate, as that will help remind you to be more frugal about buying goods on credit.”

Cavanagh said stress also occurs as a result of not adequately keeping track of purchases.

“Make note of what you’ve bought, how much you’ve spent and who you’ve already bought for,” she said. “Jot items and prices down on a note pad. If you have a smartphone, you can keep track of purchases on that.”

Cavanagh said a lot of time-management-related stress can be alleviated by allowing additional time when scheduling visits or entertaining others, and by asking for help with holiday activities.

“Try to avoid multiple visits and pad your time to provide flexibility and accommodate any unforeseen circumstances that may delay you,” she said. “If you’re in charge of planning and preparing a holiday meal, ask your guests to help by bringing a side dish, setting the table or assisting with the after-meal cleanup.”

Be sure to get adequate sleep and find a way to incorporate a walk or some other physical activity into your holiday activities, she added.

“Also incorporate a tradition, game, story-telling or other interactive activity to make your holiday gathering special,” she added. “Gifts are soon forgotten, but memories last a lifetime.”

Dr. Rick Peterson, an AgriLife Extension family life specialist, suggests reducing stress by identifying what’s most important and building in some down time during the holidays.

“First, prioritize what’s really important to you and your family by understanding what makes everyone tick, then plan your holiday activities with these priorities in mind,” Peterson said. “If someone is getting stressed, remember to keep communications in order to identify and get to the cause of that stress.”

Some people draw energy from being around others, while some find it stressful or draining, he continued.

“Whether you draw or discharge energy from being around others, it’s always wise to schedule in some relaxation time,” Peterson said. “Take a short nap or a walk, or do some reading – whatever you’d typically do to recharge your mind and body.”

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