Skip to main content

Staying healthy in the time of peppermint lattes, pies and greasy food

lots of food on table
December 16, 2013

Imagine that it’s New Year’s Eve. As you are devouring the last piece of that delicious apple pie, you promise yourself that beginning Jan. 1, 2014, you are going to lose all the extra calories consumed in the form of flavored lattes, cookies, potatoes, ribs, ham and more.

A month later, your motivation hits an all-time low, but not the calories that have found a comfortable home within you.

Professors Carol Johnston and Glenn Gaesser from Arizona State University’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion have a few tips that can help members of the Sun Devil community indulge themselves, yet stay away from unwanted calories during the holidays – and in 2014.

Watch the calories you drink. Drinking a tall cup of sweetened coffee or a large soda every day can add up to 300 empty calories to your daily diet. Limit the number of cups of sweetened coffee, soda, store-bought juice or other sweetened drinks and replace them with water, unsweetened coffee or tea, and diet drinks (only if you absolutely have to drink soda). 

Go vegetarian at least two days a week. According to Johnston, who directs the nutrition program at SNHP, moving toward a plant-based diet can be beneficial for staying healthy. But instead of adopting a vegetarian or a vegan diet permanently, meat eaters can choose to forego meat two days a week – a plan that will likely increase overall fruit and vegetable intake, as well as reduce unhealthy fats and calories. 

Eat only when you are hungry. “Babies are the perfect eaters because they are governed solely by their internal drive to eat,” said Gaesser, the director of SNHP’s Healthy Lifestyles Research Center.

According to him, the human body has an extraordinary capacity to determine its nutritional needs, but due to cultural norms, people tend to eat at fixed times, regardless of whether they actually feel hungry. Eating only when you are hungry helps limit overeating and the number of calories that get stored away.

Don’t eat out more than twice a week. Save eating out or take-out dinners for the weekend. Making your own meals at least four or five days a week will cut the amount of unhealthy fats – the secret behind most great-tasting restaurant food – in your diet.

Keep your portion size in check.  “I think we do a huge disservice by not training our children in proper serving sizes,” Johnston said. “Over the years, the sizes of our cups and plates has grown, and so have our portion sizes.” To put things in perspective, half a cup of cooked pasta, or half a bun or bagel, constitutes one serving size. Strive for one to two servings of grains per meal. Take smaller portions of meats, casseroles and sides when eating, and fill your plate with vegetables. 

Exercise, exercise, exercise! At the very minimum, get in about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, four or five times per week. Also, the 30 minutes do not have to be done all at once. Three 10-minute walks work just as well. Higher-intensity exercise may be even better. Try this intermittent exercise routine for starters: a minute of very brisk walking or jogging, followed by a minute of casual walking; repeat 10 times. This is a great cardiovascular workout, and helps with weight control.