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Dietitian recommends balance of nutrition, feasting during holidays

By Robert Goetz | Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | Dec. 13, 2012

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Keeping off unwanted pounds during the holiday season may seem like an impossible task, but it's entirely achievable - and it doesn't necessarily require abstaining from those bountiful buffets, either.

A nutrition specialist at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph's Health and Wellness Center said balancing holiday feasts and all those treats with a more wholesome diet the rest of the time is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy weight during the Christmas season.

"If you know you're going to overindulge, plan for that," Barbara Swanson, HAWC registered dietitian, said. "Enjoy the meal, but get back on your healthy plan. You have to eat poorly for seven days to gain one pound, so one day of overindulgence won't throw you under the bus."

Swanson said it takes 500 extra calories per day for one week - or 3,500 extra calories - to gain one pound.

"Weight gain is about chronically overindulging," she said.

Swanson said it's important that people don't overindulge throughout the holiday season.

"When some people overeat on one occasion, they say, 'I've already blown it, so I'll wait until January to get back on track,'" she said. "We have to get away from that thinking."

Swanson said the healthy approach is exemplified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate, which replaced the food guide pyramid in 2011 as a recommended total diet approach. MyPlate shows the food groups as portions on a plate, with fruits and vegetables taking up half the plate and grains and lean proteins the other half, complemented by a small portion of dairy. Proteins should include chicken breast, turkey breast, lean beef, fish and meat alternatives.

She recommends eating this way "a majority of the time."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend balance and moderation during the holidays, such as choosing fresh fruit as a substitute for candy and selecting just one or two favorites from a bounty of tempting foods.

Swanson said there are also ways to make holiday favorites healthier. Examples include adding grated vegetables to stuffing, using fat-free evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie and trying fat-free cream soup in the green bean casserole.

Staying active is another way to keep weight gain at bay during the holidays, Swanson said.

"Just move every day," she said. "Bicycling, walking, playing sports and dancing are all fun ways to stay active."

The CDC echoes that recommendation, suggesting that adults be active at least 2½ hours per week and that parents ensure their children are active at least one hour per day.