By James Cotter, MD, Physician in Charge, Napa Medical Offices

Santa is not the only one who puts on weight eating all those cookies during the holidays. It’s no myth that people pack on the pounds. Most of us have a tendency to overeat–going to holiday parties and enjoying eggnog and festive fare. We load our plates to the brim with all the holiday trimmings—appetizers, baked goods, mashed potatoes, candied yams, ham, stuffing, turkey smothered in gravy, and then loosen our belts to make room for the fruit cake, pumpkin pie, cookies, and other treats.

Weight gain during the holidays is real. On average, people who are at normal weight will tend to put on one to two extra pounds, and those who are overweight will typically gain up to five pounds. This is weight that most of us won’t lose again, despite our New Year’s resolutions.  

Overindulgence is easier to handle for people who are young, healthy, and stay active, but for others—particularly those with diabetes or heart disease—this can lead to increased health risks. It’s easy to overdo salt, for example. High sodium content can be hidden in items like gravy, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Overeating can be especially dangerous for people with heart disease and high blood pressure. Following the holidays, we find many people ending up in our emergency rooms and hospitals.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people at risk for heart attack and stroke avoid side dishes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese, or mayonnaise and instead select side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter and extra dressing. Try substituting fruit for high-fat desserts, like cakes and pies.   

The key to staying fit is to eat less and to exercise more, but this can be difficult advice to follow—especially during the busy holiday season. One of the best things people can do is to take a brisk 30-minute walk after a large meal. Another way to avoid overindulgence is to focus on friends, family, and activities instead of food.

But if a table full of sweet and salty foods is too hard to resist, you can try to limit how much you eat and enjoy your favorite foods in moderation. Remember to avoid oversizing your portions. Push back from the table and don’t return to fill up again with seconds or thirds.

Here are some other healthy holiday tips:

  • Drink a full glass of water one hour before meals
  • Ditch the giant dinnerware and use a medium- to small-size plate
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables
  • Fill a quarter of the plate with skinless turkey, chicken, or other meat with the fat removed
  • Ideally, fill the remaining quarter with whole grains—small portions of dressing, mashed potatoes, yams, and desserts are OK
  • Go for a 30-minute walk after meals

James Cotter, MD, Physician in Charge, Napa Medical Offices and member of Solano Coalition for Better Health.