'Tis the season for tempting treats
But dont be afraid, say Berkeley nutritionists. Year-round healthy lifestyle is more important than gaining a few holiday pounds

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


06 December 00 | As the holiday social season gears up, so does the exposure to decadent food. These Yuletide temptations can send even the most stoic weight watcher into a panic.

Many succumb to the caloric temptations of cookies, eggnog, fudge and creamy casseroles, only to beat themselves up the next morning for their indulgence, nutritionists say. Others ruin their fun by denying themselves even the slightest morsel for fear of gaining a pound or two.

The key to enjoying holiday cuisine, say Berkeley nutritionists, is to have a good time and not worry about it so much.

"If one is eating well the rest of the year," said Gail Woodward Lopez of the Center for Weight and Health, "a little over-indulging during the holidays isn't a big problem."

Instead of punishing yourself with guilt or abstinence, a better approach, says Lopez, is to balance the kinds of foods that are eaten.

"It's important to listen to the signals your body sends you," says Joanne Ikeda, a nutrition education specialist with the College of Natural Resources' Cooperative Extension. "Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're satisfied, not stuffed."

"If you going to indulge in calorie-dense foods, choose ones that you really enjoy," Lopez said. "For example, eggnog is very high in calories, but a lot of people don't savor it that much. Instead, have a bit of chocolate, and don't feel guilty about it. Ask yourself, ‘how much do I enjoy this item?' and decide whether it's worth the calories."

Worrying about holiday weight gain is a non-issue, according to Ikeda.

"People are so obsessed over what they eat, to the point where they can't enjoy it anymore," she said. "Our society seems to have a love/hate relationship with food."

Instead of worrying about weight gain, the focus, says Ikeda, should be on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, that can be difficult during the holiday season.

"At this time of year, we get caught up in all the things that we have to do, like shopping, traveling, decorating and parties," she said. "As a result, we tend to eat more and exercise less. Eating to ensure good nutrition and getting enough physical activity can help deal with holiday stress.

" Our country's preoccupation with achieving a perfect body size and shape has little to do with being healthy, said Lopez.

"A healthy weight is not necessarily the aesthetic ideal put forth by the media and others," she said. "Enjoying life, food, friends and family - important holiday rituals - is much more meaningful than going from a size 14 to a size 8."

Adult obsession with size and weight can also have a profound influence on children, Ikeda said.

"When grown-ups make derogatory remarks about their body or say they could have perfect bodies if they just ate less and exercised more, kids hear this and begin to model themselves on these behaviors," said Ikeda. "As a result, we are seeing eating disorders at earlier ages then ever before, even in eight-year-old girls. This can negatively affect the development of their bodies and brains."

So, to keep the holidays happy and healthy, Ikeda and Lopez offer a couple of tips: don't obsess over weight gain, and try to fit in some exercise wherever possible, which can be as simple as taking walks with your family, dancing at parties, playing group sports or even walking briskly from store to store during holiday shopping.

Also, if one has a problem with overeating, Ikeda suggests starting with one tablespoon of everything being offered at a dinner or party. If hunger persists, then have another tablespoon of the most enjoyable foods until you are satisfied but not stuffed. But if you do over-eat, it's not the end of the world, they say. "Forgive yourself and move on," says Ikeda. "No one's perfect."






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