Healthy Choices Don’t Have to be on Hold during Holidays

AMES, Iowa — Heading into the final stretch of the holiday season, savory foods and rich desserts take center stage. Often the last thing anyone wants to think about is being physically active and eating well.  

Live Healthy Iowa“We think, ‘I’ll start being healthier on Jan. 1,’” said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist. “However, we can make smarter choices during these food-filled festivities without feeling deprived. Focus on two areas: calorie balance and enjoying your food, but eating less.”

Calorie balance is necessary to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, Francis said. One way to balance calories is to exercise, so during the upcoming holiday celebrations make time to be physically active.

“Not only will you burn an extra cookie or two, but being physically active may help lessen the stress commonly associated with this time of year,” Francis said.

Strive for 150 minutes of weekly moderate activity. Moderate activities are those that cause the heart to beat faster than normal and allow an individual to talk but not sing — such as fast walking, strength training, aerobics or swimming gently. These 150 minutes can be broken into 10-minute increments, Francis explained.

“Wake up 10 minutes earlier than usual to fit in a walk. Take 10 minutes during your lunch break to walk around your office building and take the stairs for a challenge. Walk another 10 minutes when you get home and you’ve squeezed 30 minutes of exercise into your day,” she said.

Another way to balance calories is to watch portion sizes. This doesn’t mean forgoing favorite holiday foods, but instead, eating less of them.

“An easy way to decrease your portions is by using smaller dishes. In the 1950s the average dinner plate size was about 9 inches across. In the 1980s it grew to 11 inches and today the average is 13 inches. Research has suggested that people who were given larger dishes and silverware were more likely to eat more than those who had smaller dishes and silverware. Remember, it only takes an extra 500 calories daily to lead to a 1-pound weekly weight gain. Using smaller dishware may help prevent this,” Francis said.

Another important thing to remember is to take time to savor the food while eating. Eating quickly or while distracted may cause a person to eat more than he or she needs to feel full, Francis said. Socializing during the holidays is as important as the food. Focus on the interaction between family and friends rather than what is on the dinner table.

Live Healthy Iowa

Join the Live Healthy Iowa 100-Day Challenge. This team-based weight loss and physical activity program helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. The 2012 program begins Jan. 23. For more information or to register visit Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

For more information on nutrition and health or to receive a weekly e-mail from ISU Extension and Outreach including a food, recipe and activity of the week, visit