Food & Fitness After 50: Surviving and Thriving the Holidays

Here come the holidays and with them lots of myths and misinformation about food and nutrition.

First, I want to be clear that we don’t need to restrict our enjoyment of traditional foods served during the holidays. But, some of us tend to go overboard and throw out all common sense when it comes to eating and exercising in the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. How many of us say, “I’ll start healthy eating and exercising on January 2?”

Let’s start with a holiday weight gain. What is the average amount of weight gained during the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day)?

  • None
  • 1-2 pounds
  • 5 pounds
  • More than 5 pounds

nihms663481f1The most common answer is 5 pounds, but no one really knew for sure. So, in 2000 a small study with about 200 adults was published and reported that the average weight gain was about 1 to 2 pounds.

However small the weight gain, it tended not be lost in the spring or summer and the researchers surmise that about 50% of annual weight gain is tied to the holiday period. One to two pounds doesn’t sound like much, but fast-forward 20 years and the extra weight adds up. During the holidays we might adopt a more carefree attitude when surrounded by so many social events featuring lots of special foods with greater variety and bigger portions. Couple that with less physical activity during the winter months and it is easy to see why we tend to gain a few pounds.

What can we do? A study with 111 adults randomly assigned to daily self-weighing or no weighing during the holiday period found that the group who self-weighed did not gain weight and the control group gained a few pounds. Interestingly, the individuals who were overweight and self-weighed lost a bit of weight. I’m an advocate of self-monitoring of weight. No one needs to obsess over the number on the scale, but for many it can be a motivator to maintain weight.

Is turkey coma a real thing?

We’ve all heard it and some of us have probably said it, the reason we are tired at the end of the Thanksgiving meal…. turkey coma! The origin story is clear. Turkey is rich in protein, protein is made of amino acids, and one of those amino acids is tryptophan which is a starting compound for making the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin has a calming effect. But here is where the connection between tryptophan from our turkey dinner and serotonin in the brain gets murky. First, our Thanksgiving dinner, including the turkey, contains many other amino acids and they compete for entry into the brain by sharing carriers that shuttle compounds across the blood brain barrier. If we only ate a meal with just tryptophan it could make you sleepy, but we don’t. And, chicken has the same amount of tryptophan as turkey, but we don’t talk about “chicken coma!”

5835c3211a00002500cc97f0So, what makes us sleepy? Most likely it is the large meal that we consume. As the big meal gets digested the small intestines stretch sending signals to “rest and digest.” Couple the big meal with a beverage choice for many of alcohol, which also has a sedative-like effect. and a perfect sleepy state is likely! So, don’t blame the poor turkey!

What about the pie?

Dessert abound at holidays, but from a nutritional standpoint, which is the best choice?

  • Apple pie
  • Pecan pie
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Sweet potato pie

OK, they all taste great, but the pumpkin and sweet potato pies are the nutritional champs. One slice has about 300 calories but about 80% of your daily need for vitamin A. I know, you don’t eat pie for vitamins, buy why not? Choosing nutrient-rich foods is always a smart idea. The apple and pecan pie weigh in at 400 and 540 calories, respectively. Enjoy a taste of any or all but remember that the second half the dessert tastes just like the first, so scale back your portions.

Don’t forget to be active

Keep your activity up during the holidays by engaging family and friends to move away from the televised football games for a game of touch football. And, many of you have pool tables, ping pong tables, or other game tables in your house or garage, so organize a fun tournament to get people off the couch. Check out local organized events, like Turkey Trots. Last year, my niece got us involved in a “Gobble Jog;” running or walking a 5-K event on Thanksgiving morning is a refreshing way to start the day.

Thanksgiving 2018

And, take “activity snacks” throughout the day. Set your fitness watch reminder to get up and move every hour. Even 5-minute activity snacks can add up to help meet exercise goals.

Happy, healthy holidays…from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, here’s hoping you enjoy the festive period. Let me know what you did to stay active or eat healthfully this year by responding to this post!

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.