Rochelle Beckstine baked cookies with her kids over the holidays and openly admits she ate way too many tasty treats recently.
“I always bake a lot for Christmas. We buy pounds of butter and have Christmas eating for a couple of weeks,” said the Commerce, Ga., mother of three.
Beckstine said goodies at home weren’t the only holiday temptations she encountered.
“Parties always have tons of dips that are high in fat, making it hard to eat right because you are hungry, but there is nothing to eat but chips and dip,” Beckstine said. “When you get home you feel bloated and horrible.”
Now that holiday baking has ceased and party hopping stopped, Beckstine wants her family to get back to “regular eating.”
“It is just normal to go back to regular eating without the desserts in the new year,” she said. “I don’t buy cookies or chips so the kids get back to regular foods, too.”
Connie Crawley, a nutrition expert with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, says people should return to their pre-holiday eating -- if that diet was healthy.
“It is up to each person to do a self-assessment and determine if that diet was healthy,” Crawley said. “I encourage people to look at food items to substitute to start eating healthier items.”
She suggests fruit instead of cookies, milk instead of soft drinks, a garden salad instead of fries, and whole-grain bread instead of white bread.
“Slowly make healthier changes so it is more natural,” she said. “Make the changes that are easier for you first. If switching to whole grains will be something pretty simple to do, do that first. You can also make a change by not purchasing unhealthy items at the store, just leave the cookies and chips on the store shelf. If you’ve got the junk in the house or your office, you will eat it.”
Cutting back the amount of food you’ve been eating isn’t always the answer because if you drastically cut portions you may feel deprived and end up binging. But, if you ate too much over the holidays, eating smaller portions is a healthy move now, Crawley said.
“If you know you have been overeating, start by cutting back one fourth of your larger food portion,” Crawley said. “Then, if you still feel this is too much, cut back another fourth.”
To limit food intake in a more structured way, use a 9-inch salad plate as a dinner plate and divide the plate into sections. Fill half the plate with salad or green or orange vegetables. A quarter of the plate should hold a starch like bread or potatoes. The final quarter is reserved for a lean protein like lean meat, skinless poultry or fish. Add fruit for dessert.
“People are more satisfied with their meal if they drink milk,” Crawley said. “They can add some sugar-free chocolate mix to the milk for a little flavor. Just don’t drink sugary beverages like soda, tea or energy drinks.”
Milk is also a needed change in the winter because people may become vitamin D deficient due to spending less time outside, she said.
If you don’t like milk, add some non-fat yogurt or another dairy item to keep the calcium, protein and vitamin D up.
Eat 3 meals a day
Don’t skip meals, she said.
“If you skip breakfast, you lower your metabolic rate for the entire day,” Crawley said. “If you are too busy for breakfast, take it with you to work, but eat something before lunch.”
She suggests avoiding overly sweet and processed foods, like donuts and pre-packaged sweet rolls.
Try not to eat too late in the day either, ideally nothing after 7 p.m.
On average, Americans gain 1 to 3 pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. To lose the weight, combine a healthy eating plan with exercise.
“When you lower food intake by dieting, you lower your metabolic rate, and the only way to raise it back up is to exercise,” she said. “You need to combine aerobic exercise with weight training and flexibility to be effective.”
Exercise that raises the heart rate for at least 10 minutes is aerobic. Stretching after exercising will increase flexibility. Strength training will maintain muscle mass. Crawley suggests strength training only twice a week, with sessions at least 48 hours apart, to properly build and tone muscle.
“If you haven’t been exercising and then go to a strenuous boot camp or body attack program, you will likely injure yourself and not go back,” Crawley warns. “Work up to a healthy exercise routine.”
Try out some Wii games, join a gym, or turn on the radio and dance, she said.
“You don’t have to be good at it, just start getting more active and gradually work up to a total of 30-60 minutes a day at least five days a week,” she said.
(April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)