Best ways to stay on a healthy diet during the holiday season

November 28th, 2017

holiday cookies on a cutting board with greenery

During the holidays, overeating is tempting. So how should we stay on a healthy diet when there are goodies galore? UCHealth reached out to Dr. David Rosenbaum, a general invasive cardiologist at UCHealth Memorial Hospital North who is board certified in cardiology and nuclear cardiology, to learn more.

Q: Why is it so tempting to overeat or eat the wrong things during the holidays? Sheer abundance? Rare treats? Emotional eating? Stress? People tend to overeat during the holidays for many reason.  It is such a festive time of year that people easily lose track of their behavior.  Daylight saving time has kicked in and we are adjusting to this. It is easy to overeat as we are not being as active as we are when the weather is warmer. Sticking to a plan of exercise and healthy diet choices will better allow one to enjoy those wonderful holiday gatherings with friends, family and coworkers.

Dr. David Rosenbaum
Dr. David Rosenbaum, cardiologist at UCHealth Memorial Hospital North.

Q: What are some of the worst things to indulge in? Alcohol is a calorie-dense beverage that in excess can also lead to heart rhythm problems (atrial fibrillation). Alcohol also lowers our inhibitions and then we may eat more than usual. Other poor choices are the all-you-can-eat buffets. Try sticking to healthier choices on the fruit and veggie trays. The more fruits/veggies we choose, the more fiber we are eating and the more full we may feel.

Q: Is alcohol a big factor in weight gain and heart risk? Alcohol is a definite risk for atrial fibrillation, hypertension, abnormal cholesterol. Although there is some observational research to suggest it may lower the risk of coronary artery disease, I suspect this is not completely true.  Limiting alcohol to 1-2 beverages per day is good advice to adhere to.

Q: What are some things you can do to avoid eating a heart-unhealthy diet this time of year? At parties, stay well-hydrated with water. Eat as much of the fruit/veggies as possible. Reward yourself with foods you enjoy but be careful with portion size. Be sure on other days of the week to be disciplined adhering to an exercise program.

Q: Can a single binge bring on a heart attack? This is unlikely.

More tips for maintaining a healthy holiday diet

Q: What do you tell your patients to do to stay on a healthy diet during the holidays? Most everyone knows just by looking at a food whether it is good for them. Use common sense and do not fill up your plate with unhealthy choices.

Q: Is it possible to actually lose weight during the holidays? I think it is possible. This requires a commitment to diet moderation and exercise at least 2.5 hours per week to burn calories that will offset diet choices. There is no magic solution to weight loss but a good rule is to burn more calories than you consume. If you have a 500-calorie deficit per day, then at based the end of one week you are likely to lose one pound (3500 calories).

Q: Say you are going to a holiday party with drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres — what do you choose to consume? Make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Try to limit you alcoholic beverage intake to two drinks or less. Be sure to eat plenty of the fruits/veggies offered.

Q: Does dieting after the holidays work? Lots of folks do it. New Year’s resolutions are a great time to set goals. The problem is that making meaningful diet and exercise changes is challenging to maintain. Try working on a plan with your spouse or friend so that you have a “buddy” to help keep you accountable. Having a “team” approach to this effort is more likely to lead to success.

Q: What is the long-term effect of gaining and losing weight on the heart? There is certainly research to suggest the yo-yo effects of losing/gaining weight can be damaging to our health. Fad diets that result in weight loss often fail once people go back to a more typical/mainstream approach to eating.  The key is finding a diet plan that you can adopt and stick with and slowly lose weight over time.  This is more likely to be successful.  Vegan diets, vegetarian diets, Mediterranean diets are likely the healthiest choices we can make to optimize our health.  There are many great books and cookbooks out there from which to get some great ideas.  And don’t forget our smartphones!  There are fitness trackers as well as diet-tracking apps to download that are great methods for following progress.  When someone is tracking everything they are eating with one of these diet apps, you are more likely to limit food intake.  Just being accountable to yourself by writing down what you are eating gives you a chance to pause and think if there is a better choice.

Enjoy the holidays with friends and family. It is such a special time of year that should be enjoyed!

About the author

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. With 24,000 employees, UCHealth includes 12 acute-care full-service hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.