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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The holiday season’s serious but avoidable heath challenges

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December is here, so Christmas roast beef, holiday cookies and New Year’s bubbly are just around the corner. Contrary to expectations, Christmas dinner and New Year’s parties do not pose too large a health risk. A more serious problem lies in people’s overall attitude toward health in the month of December. 

 “The size of an individual meal is really not an issue,” Loren Bertocci, director of Marian University’s exercise and sports science program, said.

The real health risk lies in how people act in the weeks leading up to those holiday meals. Bertocci asserts the holiday season features a bad health combination: less exercise due to cold weather, coupled with higher calorie food due to the festive mood. Decreased exercise plus plenty of unhealthy food equals the entire holiday season becoming a time of weight gain.

“It would not surprise me if the average person who had a fairly busy social time over the holidays gained five pounds,” Bertocci said.

Thankfully, nutritionists possess ways to keep holiday season consumption in control.

Tara Rochford, food blogger and Butler University’s registered dietitian, said the best thing to do is simply listen to your body. If you feel hungry, then eat. If you feel full, then stop. Don’t think you have to keep going until you reach a goal.

 “There’s no true award given for being part of the clean-plate club,” Rochford said. “Sometimes you might clean your plate, and sometimes you might not. Just because you served it to yourself doesn’t mean you have to eat it.”

To avoid the clean-plate club temptation all together, Christina Ferroli, extension educator with Purdue Extension-Marion County, recommends following MyPlate. MyPlate, the government’s update to the food pyramid, recommends half a plate of vegetables, a quarter plate of protein such as meat and a quarter plate of starchy food such as yams or whole grain breads. Ferroli likes thinking of MyPlate as an actual plate.

 “It’s 10 inches in diameter but you only fill it with a 9-inch diameter of food and only pile it high 1 inch,” Ferroli said via email. 

If you are in a party scenario and the MyPlate is difficult to visualize, Bertocci recommends eating from the vegetable tray and drinking water before indulging in the fun party food. That way you are already partially full on vegetables and water before eating unhealthy food.

Controlling calorie intake is vital, but food is only half of the healthy-living equation. Keeping up on exercise is essential to stay ahead of holiday-time calories.  

Bertocci asserts there are still exercise options even if running outside or visiting a gym is impossible. Walking or running on snowy grass when the roads are too icy, shoveling the driveway instead of hiring someone else and choosing the stairs instead of the elevator are all viable options. Even walking down the hall every 15 minutes at work is better than nothing. 

“It kind of doesn’t matter what sort of exercise you do so long as you do something,” Bertocci said. “Now that’s a gross oversimplification, but for our purposes that’s fine.”


Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him @BenjaminLashar.

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