Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

December 5, 1996

Balanced approach is key to holiday eating

A flexible attitude combined with a touch of creativity, a little movement and a little laughter are the keys to a healthy and happy holiday season.

And there is no need to count calories or forego any of the goodies that make their appearance around Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's.

"Change the way you think," said Janice Krouskop, author of "Happy Thoughts for a Healthy Life" and a registered dietitian. "Most of us have what I consider all or nothing thinking." Appearing on campus Nov. 21 as part of Pitt's faculty and staff wellness program, Krouskop said she has given up calorie-counting in favor of an overall healthy approach to the holidays that starts with a flexible attitude.

According to Krouskop, there is nothing wrong with indulging during the holidays. The problem is the all or nothing thinking that leads so many people to indulge for a solid month while promising themselves that they will to get back on track in January.

A far better approach is to indulge one day, or even one week, and then eat sensibly the following day or week.

The lighter approach to holiday eating means striving for balance and letting go of "guilt trip" thinking. Feeling guilty over eating candy, rolls, pies, cookies and big dinners, according to Krouskop, only feeds the "what the heck" mentality that says, "I already blew it by eating all this bad stuff. I may as well eat more. I'll start eating right again in January." Balanced eating is a much kinder approach, said Krouskop, that will work well during the holidays and into the new year.

One of the major problems in eating sensibly between Thanksgiving and New Year's is the amount of unsolicited calories that find their way into the home and the workplace.

"Even if you are a healthy eater, this is the toughest time of the year because even if you don't actively seek it out, the food is there," said Krouskop. "Everywhere you look somebody is offering you something, and it's not carrot sticks." Instead of taking plates of cookies and candy to friends' homes, parties and the office, Krouskop recommends giving healthier fare. Once she was the hit of a party because she brought a salad. Everybody else had brought desserts. People were sick of the rich food.

In place of cookies, Krouskop gives as gifts breakfast baskets and pasta baskets. She packs the baskets with herbal teas, specialty coffees and jellies, bagels, unusual pastas and breads. To spare co-workers the burden of an abundance of rich food, Krouskop gives excess candy and baked goods to food banks and homeless shelters whose clients seldom get such treats.

Availability of food may be the main reason people overeat during the holidays, but it is not the only one. Stress is another factor. Foods high in carbohydrates, such as cookies and pies, are particularly sought by people under stress because they stimulate chemicals in the body that have a calming effect on the brain.

Two far healthier coping mechanisms for handling stress, though, are exercise and laughter, Krouskop said.

With time at a premium during the holidays, structured exercise programs often are dropped. Rather than totally skipping exercise, Krouskop recommends replacing missed workouts with more spontaneous movement. "Walk around the neighborhood and look at the decorations, go out and play with the kids," she said. "Go skiing. Put your packages in one of those lockers they have at the mall and make a fast circuit around the mall. Park far from the mall entrance and walk." Perhaps the greatest stress-inducer during the holidays is the belief that certain things must be done for the season to be a success. Krouskop urged her audience to break the rules.

"Get rid of the perfection and you don't have to compete," she said. "Your holidays are not in competition with anybody else." And don't forget to take the time to laugh, she added. The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time. Don't take it all so seriously. Enjoy the moment.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 8

Leave a Reply