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.


Food & Fitness After 50: Being Thankful for Family and Friends

Kathy Maxine and brother Bill
Maxine with daughter Kathy and son, Bill

Originally, this post was to be titled “Like Mother, Like Daughter” because I interviewed two incredible women for this story. Maxine (aka “Granna”) aged 89 and her daughter, Kathy, who is in her mid-60s. The more I talked to them, the more I realized that this is perfect feel-good Thanksgiving post. And, I’m not talking about the “isn’t everybody happy and wonderful” kind of Facebook post. This is a story of maternal influence and family love.

The Value of Education

Maxine with 3 of 5 great grandaughers
Maxine with 3 of her great-grandaughers 

Maxine was born at the start of the Great Depression and her mother instilled in her the value of hard work and the importance of education. After high school graduation, she attended business school and moved from North Carolina to Georgia, where she met her husband.  Maxine’s work ethic and resilience lives on through her son, Bill, a retired dentist, and daughter Kathy, a retired educator and associate superintendent of a county school system. Today, she instills those same values in her six grandchildren, and soon to be nine great-grandchildren. She is a lifelong learner and while she didn’t exactly embrace new technology, she can’t image not owning a smart phone, so she can view pictures and videos of her family via texts and Instagram. And, facetime keeps her in close contact between visits.

Retirement and the freedom to be physically active

I first saw Maxine in a yoga class. Twice a week, there she was, second row from the front on the left side of the class…. regular as clockwork. I admired this woman who could hold the tree pose longer than I could. I asked her about her activity and she said, “oh, I’m not that active.” In addition to twice weekly yoga, she is a regular at strength-training class two days a week, walks two miles a day, and plays golf. I respectfully disagree that she is “not that active!”

For Kathy, while she had always walked and worked in her yard, her life centered around her work and family. Having four sons who were all active in sports from middle school through college, kept her busy. In fact, all four of her sons were captains of their school’s football teams. But, when she retired four years ago, she started walking with Maxine (who was 85 at the time) and her mother told her she “needed to start lifting weights to stay strong.” So, she started weight training alongside her mom. Being retired gave her the time to do more. She can be found at the local YMCA every morning for different classes: boot camp, strength training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga and dance aerobics…. she tries it all. Her attitude is “I’ll try any new exercise…no one is grading me so it’s fun to try something new that will nourish and foster a healthy, happy life.”

Family Meals

Kathy and Maxine with family 2015
Kathy with husband Bill and the 4 sons who enjoyed Granna’s cooking

Maxine grew up in a time when dinner was a “meat, a starch, and a vegetable” but today she is a little more flexible in her meal planning. She starts every day with a hearty bowl of Kashi cereal with added oat cereal, homemade granola, low-fat milk, and a banana with added cinnamon, a dash of olive oil, and sunflower seeds. After morning exercise, she snacks on almonds or peanuts for a protein boost. She makes incredible sourdough rolls (I was fortunate to be given some after our interview!) and she fed her grandsons and their football teammates for years. “There was always a giant submarine sandwich made with my sourdough bread in the refrigerator and the kids couldn’t get enough of it.” Kathy reminded her she always made cookies for the locker room before every home game…. with four grandsons playing football, that was a lot of cookies!

Kathy loves to good food and sometimes reminds herself to stop nibbling by going out for a walk or work in the yard. While she enjoys cooking and takes pride in preparing a simple meal, she gets more enjoyment out of being the sous chef for her husband. “Bill is a great and adventurous cook. He loves making Mexican and Thai dishes that the whole family enjoys.”


As Maxine near her 90th birthday, she says her appetite has diminished. She tries to eat more food early in the day because by evening she just doesn’t want to eat. Kathy helps her by inviting her for dinner and “not telling her what we’re cooking to surprise her.” That keeps her interest up.

For Kathy, the biggest challenge is setting her exercise goals too high. “If I tell myself I’ll walk a mile, even after exercising at the YMCA, I’m not happy unless I walk two miles.”

Words of advice

Maxine’s advice to others is simple and straightforward with a dash of good humor. “Get up and move! You have to look forward and you can’t back up!”

Kathy and Bill with grandkids
Kathy’s 2017 annual Thanksgiving photo; 2 more little grandsons will be in the 2018 photo. The little redhead is Maxwell, named after Maxine

Kathy’s advice echoes her mother’s words, “Being active is a conscious decision and commitment to do things that are productive, provides enjoyment, and leads to a positive health outcome.  My father always told me that what you put into to something is what you’ll get out, so I try to remember that in everything I do.” That applies not just to eating well and moving well, but to being well. “Working and building relationships is so important. When my sons got married I vowed to be a wonderful mother-in-law and the best one I could be!”

Maxine, Kathy, and the entire family spent many years on the “football caravan,” supporting their children at games even though it meant splitting up so someone could be at each game. Kathy’s son Ben was the star quarterback at Auburn University and in the 2000 football program he was interviewed and summed up the importance of family.

“I think my parents did a great job of making us realize the importance of family. All the support that I got from my parents, brothers, and grandmother is something that I’ll never be able to repay.”

Happy Thanksgiving!