Suggested Citation: Garko, M. G. (2014, November). Using small wins to staying healthy during the holidays. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.
Using Small Wins to Staying Healthy During the Holidays
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Syndicated Host & Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition
While the holiday season can be a joyous time of year, it can also be a time when one’s health and wellness can be put into jeopardy. For example, the holiday season is correlated with colds and flu, traveling nightmares, high stress levels, sleep deprivation, loneliness, emotional distress, depression, overindulging in unhealthy foods and beverages and abandoning healthy diet and lifestyle behaviors, all of which can undermine health and wellness and even put one’s life in danger.
It may seem hyperbolic to claim that the holidays can put one’s life in jeopardy. However, there is good evidence to support such a dire assertion. For example, Kloner et al. (1999) conducted a 12-year population-based study of more than 220,000 deaths resulting from coronary artery disease. The purpose of the study was to determine when during the year coronary artery disease-related deaths was the highest. Kloner et al. (1999) found that there was “a temporal relationship between coronary artery death throughout the year, with the highest number of deaths in December and January and the lowest numbers in summer and early fall” (p. 1632).
Some years later in an editorial entitled “The ‘Merry Christmas Coronary’ and ‘Happy New Year Heart Attack’ Phenomenon”, Kloner (2011) recognizing Phillips et al. (2011) for extending his work pointed out that when in his study daily rates of death from coronary heart disease (CHD) in Los Angeles were plotted the increase in deaths started around Thanksgiving, continued to climb through Christmas and peaked on New Year’s Day.
In the study by Phillips et al. (2011), entitled, “Cardiac Mortality Is Higher Around Christmas and New Year’s Than At Any Other Time: The Holidays as a Risk Factor for Death,” it was found, as the title of the article suggests, that “[f]or cardiac and noncardiac diseases, a spike in daily mortality occurred during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday season” (p. 3786). Phillips et al. (2011) make the observation that during the Christmas-New Year’s holiday season millions of people abruptly change their diet and lifestyle behavioral patterns (e.g., traveling, eating, drinking, exercising, working and vacationing). They believe that such large-scale diet and lifestyle changes may have an impact on cardiac-related deaths because they are stressful. Their hypothesis seems reasonable in that humans are creatures of habit, especially diet and lifestyle habits, and experiencing such changes can potentially put undue stress on a diseased cardiovascular system.
Given the potential of the holiday season to put their health and life in jeopardy, perhaps the best gift people can give themselves to stay healthy during the holidays is to achieve small wins in practicing healthy diet and lifestyle behaviors. In the November, 2014, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly, an argument is made that the theoretical strategy of small wins may provide a useful and effective way to stay healthy and well during the holiday season.
An early discussion of the concept of small wins appeared in a Stanford Ph.D. dissertation by Peters (1977) entitled “Patterns of Winning and Losing: Effects on Approach and Avoidance by Friends and Enemies.” Peter’s (1977) social psychological treatment of small wins was within a managerial-organizational context as applied to problem-solving.
Karl E. Weick (1984) further developed the concept of small wins in a seminal article entitled, “Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems.” As suggested by its title, Weick’s (1984) purpose in the article was to show how small wins possess the necessary theoretical and practical features to bring about change so as to help solve social problems (e.g., hunger, heart disease, crime, traffic congestion and pollution).
Scaling Larger Problems Downward
Weick (1984) contends that the massive scale on which social problems are approached serves as an impediment to innovative action in part because, as he puts it, “bounded rationality is exceeded and dysfunctional levels of arousal are induced” (p. 40). The tendency of people is to define problems in ways that end up overwhelming them and their ability to do anything about them or otherwise solving them (Weick, 1984).
For Weick (1984) it is a better strategy “to recast larger problems into smaller, less arousing problems” so that “people can identify a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results and that can be gathered into synoptic solutions” (p. 40). Paradoxically, people have a better chance of solving problems if they do not think of them as problems. Further, when the magnitude of problems is gauged upward for the purpose of mobilizing action, the quality of thought and action goes down, while frustration, arousal and helplessness go up. (see Weick, 1984).
Problem Solving and Arousal Levels
Weick (1984) pays particular attention to the concept of arousal, which can physiologically affect performance and decisions, especially when solving problems. His use of the term “arousal” is not associated with sexual arousal, a more common association made in everyday language use. Rather, “arousal is a physiological and psychological state of being awake or reactive to stimuli. It involves the activation of the reticular activating system in the brain stem, the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure and a condition of sensory alertness, mobility and readiness to respond” (Wikipedia, 2014, p. 1).
Weick (1084) emphasizes that scaling the magnitude of problems upward tends to raise arousal levels in people such that they have a more difficult time learning a novel response, brainstorming, concentrating, resisting old categories, performing complex responses, delegating, and resisting information supporting previously held positions. In short, highly aroused individuals have more difficulty solving problems. Scaling the magnitude of a problem downward or otherwise defining it as minor rather than serious, lowers arousal levels, which is useful if a person does not know what to do or is unable to do it. One way to lessen problem-related arousal is to work towards achieving small wins (Weick, 1984).
In contrast to suffering from too much problem-related arousal, there is also the case when there is not enough arousal when faced with solving a problem and things become depersonalized due to thinking too much or feeling too powerless. Weick (1984) contends that depersonalization of a problem “lowers arousal, leading to inactivity or apathetic performance” (p. 41). However, “[t]he prospect of small wins has an immediacy, tangibility, and controllability that could reverse these effects” (Weick, 1984, p. 41). Hence, it seems that small wins can adjust arousal levels up or down.
Characteristics of Small Wins
According to Weick (1984), “a small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance” (p. 43). A small win by itself could appear to be unimportant in solving a problem. However, achieving a series of wins in trying to accomplish small but significant problem-related tasks can become quite important in solving problems. As Weick (1984) points out, small wins serve as controllable opportunities leading to visible results.
Weick (1984) identifies special characteristics of small wins. First, their size can be organized along a continuum ranging from small to large.
Second, small wins serve as a specific and complete remedy for a set of problem-related limited conditions. For example, in an effort to reduce calorie intake so as to lose weight, one might practice eating slowly or waiting a few minutes before going back for seconds. Achieving either one or both at any given meal may seem insignificant but create a sense of accomplishment for the person trying to lose weight, which leads to a third feature of small wins.
One small win can set in motion forces that can lead to another small win. In others terms, a small win can be motivating such that it can spur people on to achieve their goal. This becomes especially important when people tend to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem and need to be reassured and motivated along the way that the problem is solvable. For example, trying to lose 50, 100 or more pounds can be a daunting goal for many overweight and obese people. Losing a pound a week, albeit a small win, can serve to motivate a person to lose another pound, and another and so on.
Fourth, “small wins do not combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal” (Weick, 1984, p. 43). Instead, the nature of small wins is that they tend to be scattered and join together only because they move in the general direction or gravitate away from some unacceptable condition (Weick, 1984). Weick (1984) emphasizes that each small win occurs within a particular context and situation, which are constantly changing. Each subsequent attempt at a small win occurs in a different context and that it is impossible to plot out a series of small wins because conditions do not remain constant. Thus, there is an “artfulness” in trying to achieve small wins involving an ability to notice small existing but unnoticed changes, which can influence whether a small win will be achieved or not.
Fifth, small wins are information-loaded, thereby, facilitating learning and adaptation. According to Weick (1984), “small wins are like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up” (p. 44). In other words, each small win can serve as insight into whether a particular problem-solving strategy has merit, along with shedding some light on previously unknown problem-related resources and barriers, all of which can be used in future small win attempts.
Sixth, small wins function like stable building blocks. Hence, stringing together a series of small wins tends to be more structurally sound than one large win.
Seventh, along the same lines, Weick (1984) describes small wins as being like “short stacks” and as such they tend to preserve gains, resist unraveling and require less coordination. Unlike attempting to achieve a large win where “if one crucial piece is missing, the attempted solution fails and has to be restarted” (Weick, 1984, p. 44), small wins are just one step in solving a problem and when they not achieved do not cancel out previous small wins and do not leave the problem solver of having to start from square one.
Small wins are specific, achievable/realizable and immediate. Taken together, the features of small wins implicate the idea that one large problem is constituted of smaller problems. In other words, large problems can be chunked into more manageable bits achievable through small wins.
Small Wins Applied to Holiday Health
Peters (1977) and Weick (1984) do not discuss small wins within a health and wellness context in terms of how they could be applied to help people create, sustain or reclaim their health or how they might use it during times when their health and wellness could be put into jeopardy such as during the holiday season, the focus of this article. However, it is contended here that the idea of small wins possesses important utility in terms of how people can solve health-related problems and effect behavioral change to meet and solve those problems.
Taken together, the features of small wins implicate the idea that one large problem is constituted of smaller problems. In other words, large problems can be chunked into more manageable bits achievable through small wins.
whether on an individual, group, organizational or societal level.
Since the publication of the two mentioned works, the concept of small wins
Further, it may not be just changes in either dietary violations or excess alcohol consumption alone that
recommends using the strategy of small wins applied within a context of health and wellness, generally, and used to stay healthy during the holidays.
Notwithstanding all of the temptations of holiday food, staying healthy throughout the holiday season is achievable, provided it is made a goal and there is a conscious attempt to put into practice dietary strategies designed to increase the chances of maintaining and enhancing health.
Practice Conscious Eating
Conscious eating means to think about what you are about to eat, before you eat it so as to avoid consuming high caloric, nutritionally void foods and beverages, eating too much, eating too fast and not eating enough, among other unhealthy eating behaviors.
Practice Portion Control
Portion control is about serving size and practicing moderation. It can help prevent overeating, gaining weight, putting undue metabolic stress on your body and surging blood glucose and insulin levels.
Practice Eating Slowly
Speed racing is one thing. Speed eating is and entirely different matter. It is now recognized that eating too fast leads to the over consumption of food, overweight and obesity.
Practice Waiting Before Going Back For Seconds
Wait a few minutes before going back for seconds to help moderate your intake of food, prevent overeating and creating metabolic stress. It takes a little bit of time for the brain to send the signal that you are full.
Practice Using Smaller Plates and Flatware
It is known that people will eat approximately 92% of the food they put on their plates. Using smaller plates would prohibit the piling on of too much food and, thereby, help with practicing portion control and eating less. While seemingly less intuitive, using smaller utensils can also help with eating less (see Georgia Institute of Technology, 2006).
Practice Dividing Your Plate into Thirds
Visualize your plate as being divided into thirds. One third should be lean protein (e.g., turkey, chicken, fish, etc.) and the other two thirds should be vegetables and fruit, with more vegetables than fruit on the plate. Fat can be included in the meal from such foods as olive oil, lean meat or fish.
Practice Staying Hydrated
During the holiday season there is a tendency to overindulge in alcohol, refined processed foods and sugar and fat laden foods. Water is a natural way to help detoxify the body, along with helping to prevent fatigue and hunger pangs which can create the desire to eat in order to feel energized and full, which in turn can result in consuming excess calories and weight gain.
Practice Limiting Intake of Refined, Processed Carbohydrates
Consuming refined processed carbohydrates (e.g., cakes, cookies, crackers, candy and colas) is what gets people into a lot of dietary and nutritional trouble during the holidays. The “bad” or unhealthy carbohydrates are found in highly processed foods and beverages.
Practice Limiting Intake of “Lethal” Liquid Calories
A nutritional trap people fall into is to assume that it is better to substitute liquid calories for calories from solid food. Liquid calories are stealth calories in that they add up without you knowing it.
Practice Eating More Fiber
Eat fiber rich foods or fiber supplements during the holidays. Soluble fiber will help create a feeling of fullness and insoluble fiber will help prevent constipation. Consume at least 35 grams of fiber daily by eating a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes so as to incorporate the two different types of fiber into one’s diet.
Practice Not Showing Up Hungry
Avoid falling into the trap of starving yourself, especially on those days when you will be attending some sort of holiday festivity. Skipping meals is a sure way to trigger an increase in appetite leading to binge eating and feeling lethargic.
Staying healthy throughout the holiday season is an achievable, provided it is made a goal and there is a conscious attempt to put into practice dietary strategies such as the ones discussed above to maintain and enhance
Dietary Holiday Strategies
The recommendations which follow are intended to provide readers with what would be the best dietary choices to make and why during the holiday season. The recommendations fall within two categories. One set of dietary strategies focuses on what should be kept in mind and practiced while eating and drinking during the holiday season. The other set emphasizes what foods and beverages to consume or avoid.
It is important to remember that for some people, certain dietary strategies may be more appealing and achievable than others. While this would be a good place to start, it might be too difficult for some to put into practice all of those more likeable and attainable dietary strategies. It might be more prudent to select a set of dietary strategies that fits your lifestyle during the holidays. Furthermore, it would be better not to dismiss out-of-hand those dietary strategies that may appear more difficult to put into practice for one reason or another. Even selecting and practicing one of the more challenging strategies would increase the chances of staying healthy through the holidays.
Practicing Conscious Eating
Generally speaking, “conscious eating” means to engage in mindful eating instead of the mindless consumption of food and beverages. Specifically, conscious eating means becoming informed and creating a plan constituted of the best dietary choices to make and then to put that plan into day-to-day behavioral action. In other words, think about what you are about to eat, before you eat it, especially during the holidays.
Unfortunately, mindless eating is a feature of holiday eating. In contrast to conscious eating, mindless eating more often than not reflects horrible habits of eating such as consuming high caloric, nutritionally void foods and beverages, eating too much, eating too fast and not eating enough, among other unhealthy eating behaviors.
Practicing Portion Control
Make it a special point during the holiday season to practice portion control to help prevent overeating, gaining weight, putting undue metabolic stress on your body and surging blood glucose and insulin levels. Portion control is about serving size and practicing moderation. If you are not accustomed to practicing portion control, it might take several attempts to change the behavior of eating large portions. Nutrition is behavioral and biochemical in nature.
The American Heart Association (2013) at provides information on what constitutes one serving size for particular foods in the categories of grain products, vegetables and fruits, dairy and cheese products and meat and alternatives.
Speed racing is one thing. Speed eating is and entirely different matter. Eating quickly tends to block the release of certain gut hormones (e.g., peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide – GLP) that create the feeling of satiety or feeling full (see Kokkinos et al., 2009). It is now recognized that eating too fast leads to the over consumption of food, overweight and obesity. It is important to remember the principle that nutrition is just as behavioral in nature as it is biochemical. It may take several attempts to learn to eat slowly.
Waiting Before Going Back For Seconds
In conjunction with eating slowly, wait a few minutes before going back for seconds to help moderate your intake of food, prevent overeating and creating metabolic stress. It takes a little bit of time for the brain to send the signal or create the feeling that you are satiated or full. Engage in mindful eating during the holidays instead of the mindless consumption of calories.
Using Smaller Plates and Flatware
It is known that people will eat approximately 92% of the food they put on their plates. Common sense would indicate that smaller plates would prohibit the piling on of too much food and, thereby, help with practicing portion control and eating less. Perhaps what seems less intuitive is that using smaller utensils can also help with eating less.
Nevertheless, in a study entitled, “Ice Cream Illusions: Bowls, Spoons, and Self-Served Portions” researchers discovered that when study participants were provided a 34-ounce bowl instead of a 17-ounce bowl they served themselves 31% more ice cream. Furthermore, their servings increased by 14.5% when they were provided a 3-ounce spoon compared to a 2-ounce utensil. When they were given a large spoon and big bowl, they served themselves 56.8% more ice cream but were unaware of the greater ice cream quantities (see Georgia Institute Of Technology, 2006).
Diving Your Plate into Thirds
Visualize your plate as being divided into thirds. One third should be lean protein (e.g., turkey, chicken, fish, etc.) and the other two thirds should be vegetables and fruit, with more vegetables than fruit on the plate. Fat can be included in the meal from such foods as olive oil, lean meat or fish.
Avoiding Going On A Diet
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to start a weight-loss diet during the holiday season, a time when food is in abundance and the opportunities to eat are many. Wait until after the holidays to start any new diet program.
It is easier to manage and maintain a current weight than to lose weight. Common sense dictates that it is better to wait to start a new diet until the holidays are over. Even if you are overweight, the holiday season is not a good time to begin a diet program. It will put you under too much biochemical, emotional and psychological stress. The better and healthier strategy is to maintain your present weight and not to attempt to lose weight.
Maintaining Healthy Eating Habits
You may already practice many of the nutritional recommendations outlined above. If you do, then keep on practicing them this holiday season. If your diet and approach to eating do not include the recommended dietary strategies, then it would be of great benefit to try and include as many of them as you can into your day-to-day nutritional life. Instead of trying to implement all of them at once, you might consider trying one or two at a time.
Water is essential for optimal health. The human body is made-up of at least two-thirds water. It is implicated in nearly every major bodily process (e.g., circulation, digestion, absorption, elimination, etc.) essential for sustaining life and maintaining good health. Therefore, if there is ever a time to drink adequate amounts of water (i.e., 6-8 eight ounce glasses a day), it is during the holidays. There are at least two good reasons to make drinking lots of water an essential strategy for staying healthy during the holiday season.
First, water is also a natural way to help with the detoxifying the body, which really is a holiday strategy in-and-of-itself to stay healthy. During the holiday season there is a tendency to overindulge in alcohol, refined processed foods, sugar and fat laden foods, which are toxic to the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body. Staying well hydrated will assist the detoxifying systems of the body such as the gastrointestinal system (i.e., liver, gallbladder, colon & entire gastrointestinal tract), respiratory system (i.e., lungs, bronchial tubes, throat, sinuses & nose), urinary system (i.e., kidneys, bladder & urethra), lymphatic system (i.e., lymph channels & nodes) and integumentary system (i.e., skin) to work more effectively in removing those impurities resulting from unhealthy holiday food choices.
Second, drinking lots of water during the holidays can help prevent dehydration. Dehydration can cause headaches, an inability to concentrate, drowsiness, constipation, impatience and irritability, among numerous other effects that can contribute to a poor sense of well-being and spoil the holidays. Dehydration can in at least two ways also contribute to the unwanted holiday gift of weight gain. It can cause fatigue which creates the desire to eat in order to feel energized, which in turn can result in consuming excess calories and weight gain. Furthermore, an insufficient amount of water can impede the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. This can lead to cravings and hunger pangs, which can result in consuming unnecessary calories to be stored as additional weight in the form of fat.
Eating A Balance of Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein
Throughout the holiday season make a concerted effort to eat a balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Diets high or low in one or the other of these macronutrients cause all sorts of health problems and nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. For example, eating a diet high in carbohydrates will trigger insulin release. High insulin levels tend to result in the body storing fat. Eating complex carbohydrates and “good: fats will serve to counterbalance or otherwise offset the carb-insulin get fat effect. Eating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat results in other potential problems, some of which one of which are low energy levels and feeling lethargic, constipation from an adequate amount of dietary fiber, an overworking of the liver and kidneys and diminished cognitive functioning from lack of proper nourishment (i.e., glucose & essential fatty acids) to the brain, all of which can be disrupt the flow of having a good time during the holidays.
Use common sense during the holidays and follow the old adage of eating a balanced diet. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2010) created the following guidelines for the consumption of macronutrients:
- 45%-65% of calories derived from carbohydrates
- 20%-35% of calories derived from fats
- 10%-35% of calories derived from protein
More information on the USDA’s recommendations dietary guidelines can be found at
Limiting Intake of Refined, Processed Carbohydrates
Consuming refined processed carbohydrates is what gets people into a lot of dietary and nutritional trouble during the holidays. Carbohydrates in and of themselves are not unhealthy. In fact, carbohydrates are essential to health and wellness. They are the master fuel for the body. Carbohydrates can provide the necessary “good” calories, vitamins, minerals and fiber needed to meet the energy demands of the holiday season and to stay healthy during this time of year. The dietary recommendation is to eat the “good” or complex carbohydrates derived from such foods fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
The “bad” or unhealthy carbohydrates are found in made from highly processed foods and beverages. Some of the usual and primary suspects of processed foods and drinks are cakes, cookies, crackers, candy and colas to name a few. These refined carbohydrate foods and beverages contain lots of empty, non-nutritional calories and are high on the glycemic index (GI) scale. Eating foods with a high GI index rating will cause a rapid spike in insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels leads to the body storing more fat than it normally would, resulting in weight gain.
Eating Low-Energy Dense Foods
According to Rolls and Barnett (2002) and their nutritional theory of Volumetrics, the feeling of fullness people experience after eating is more a function of the amount or volume of food consumed than the number of calories or grams of fat, carbohydrate or protein consumed. Rather than the calorie content of what they are eating, it is the volume or amount of food that signals people to either continue or stop eating. Thus, eating low-energy dense foods during the holidays will help create a sense of fullness and, thereby, consuming less food.
Starting With A Salad
As it turns out, salad greens and other vegetables put into salads (e.g., tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, etc.) are low-energy-dense foods. These foods provide fewer calories for larger portions of food and create a feeling of fullness. Starting a holiday meal (or a non-holiday meal for that matter) with a salad will help with eating less food, while consuming less calories.
Managing Sugar Cravings
Although this holiday strategy is an elaboration on limiting the intake of refined processed carbohydrates, managing sugar cravings deserves special attention. To say that sugar is toxic to the body is an understatement. The documented deleterious effects of sugar are almost too numerous to list. Nevertheless, some of the harmful consequences of consuming too much sugar on holiday health would include:
Suppressed immune system
Elevated blood glucose and insulin levels
Mineral imbalance (i.e., depletion of chromium and copper)
Interference with the absorption of calcium and magnesium
Interference with protein absorption
Increase in systolic blood pressure
Acidic digestive tract
Increase in sodium and water retention
Hyperactivity and anxiety
Increase in cholesterol, triglycerides, homocysteine
Increase in low density lipoproteins (LD)
Decrease in lipoproteins
Trigger food allergies
The B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, chromium, L-glutamine can help to modulate sugar cravings and assist in sugar withdrawals. Also, a diet made-up of complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains and vegetables) and protein will help to stabilize blood sugar levels and blunt the craving for sugar.
Limiting Intake of “Lethal” Liquid Calories
Another nutritional trap people fall into during the holidays is to assume that it is better to substitute liquid calories for calories from solid food. Liquid calories are stealth calories in that they add up without you knowing it. Going to a holiday party and just drinking alcohol, soft drinks, juices or other liquids loaded with calories will rack up the calories and make it more difficult for you to manage your weight during the holidays. Moreover, it is important to understand that the bio-chemical mechanisms controlling hunger and thirst are different. As it turns out, liquid calories do not cause the brain to send the signal that you are full. Hence, you will more than likely end up eating anyway and maybe even overeating, leading to the consumption of calories above and beyond the liquid calories you already consumed.
Liquid candy (e.g., soft drinks, juices, etc.) and liquid pleasure (i.e., alcohol) will make you gain weight. Again, it is recommended to remain mindful about what you are consuming in terms of calories during the holidays and know that liquid calories are lethal.
Consuming Alcohol In Moderation
Alcohol is not only lethal in terms of the calories it contains but it is also lethal in its overall nutritional and health impact on the body. For example, its diuretic effect promotes dehydration and the loss of nutrients. According to Haas (1992), “alcohol … uses nutrients that it does not provide for its own metabolism, impairs the metabolism of many others, and reduces liver stores of even more” (p. 952). Alcohol suppresses the immune system; it impairs the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the small intestine, especially the B-vitamins (e.g., B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, choline & folic acid); it impairs the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., Vitamins A, D, E & K) by the liver; and it impairs brain function. There are many other deleterious effects of alcohol on the body. Suffice it to say that consuming alcohol in moderation would go a long way in staying healthy during the holidays.
Increasing Intake of Dietary and Supplemental Fiber
Include fiber rich foods (i.e., grains, fruits, vegetables & legumes) or supplemental forms of fiber in your diet to increase the odds of staying healthy during the holidays. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Each type of fiber has its own unique chemical and physical properties, which provide certain health and gastrointestinal benefits that would be of special importance during the holiday season.
Some of the holiday health benefits of soluble fiber would be as follows:
- Helps regulate blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels by slowing down digestion in the stomach and small intestine, thereby, delaying the conversion of other carbohydrates into glucose which in turn delays the release and absorption of sugar and stabilizes blood glucose levels
- Helps increase the uptake of vitamins and minerals and other nutrients by slowing down the digestion in the stomach and small intestine and, thereby, allowing more time for food nutrients to remain in the digestive process and become absorbed
- Reduces blood cholesterol levels by dissolving in water and creating a thick gel which slows digestion and binds with cholesterol and bile salts preventing them from becoming absorbed
- Increases the feeling of satiety or fullness, thereby, helping to prevent overeating and weight gain
Some of the holiday health benefits of insoluble fiber would be as follows:
- Promotes regular bowel movements
- Helps to move bulk through the intestine
- Facilitates or speeds up the transit time in the colon by adding bulk to the stool allowing for a faster passage through the intestine, removing toxic waste material in less time and allowing for fermentation to take place along the entire length of the colon including the end
It is recommended that at least 35 grams of fiber be consumed daily. It is recommended further that a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes be eaten daily during the holidays so as to incorporate the two different types of fiber into one’s diet. In order to achieve the greatest health benefits from fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber need to be eaten daily in a ratio of 50:50. The following foods are good sources of insoluble fiber:
- Cereals made from bran or shredded wheat
- Crunchy vegetables
- Rye flour
- Wheat bran
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole wheat products
Good sources of soluble fiber include:
- Citrus fruits
- Dried beans
- Oat bran
- Raw cabbage
- Rye flour
Many people do not eat enough fiber rich foods to reach the goal of 35 grams of fiber a day. Therefore, using fiber supplements is a useful way to include fiber in the diet. Be sure to drink plenty of water when eating fiber to prevent constipation and improve digestion and elimination.
Taking Nutritional Supplements
It is important to take nutritional supplements during the holidays so that you can provide your body with the nutrients its needs to stay healthy or otherwise be at optimal nutritional status. At a minimum, it is recommended that you take a good multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Use the multiple as the foundation of your supplement protocol. Among other benefits, a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement will help restore those nutrients depleted by sugar (e.g., chromium & copper) and stress (e.g., Vitamin A, E & C, the B vitamins, zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, sulfur & molybdenum) and assist in keeping the body at an optimal nutritional level.
The multiple vitamin and mineral can be augmented with a greens supplement. This will assist in keeping the body in an alkaline state and providing the body with those phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, enzymes and other nutrients found in energizing green foods.
Augment the multiple vitamin and mineral formula with probiotics, digestive enzymes and a fiber supplement to help create a healthy digestive system. You are not just what you eat. You are also what you absorb. An unhealthy digestive system prohibits the proper absorption of nutrients to maintain an optimal nutritional status.
It is also recommended to take a potent antioxidant formula, immune formula and Omega 3 fish oil to keep the nutritional status of the body at an optimal level.
Not Showing Up Hungry
Avoid falling into the trap of starving yourself, especially on those days when you will be attending some sort of holiday festivity. It is better to eat at least three and preferably four to five small meals during the day. This will keep your metabolic rate up (thereby burning calories), create a feeling of satiety/fullness and help moderate blood glucose and insulin levels. Skipping meals is a sure way to trigger an increase in appetite leading to binge eating and feeling lethargic or as if you do not have any energy. In short, it is nutritionally smarter to eat less and more often throughout the day. If by chance you get hungry between meals, try eating raw fruits, berries and vegetables, along with some nuts. Also, meal replacement bars are an excellent way of eating small meals throughout the day. They are relatively low in calories and contain a good balance of macronutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates & fats) and micronutrients (i.e., vitamins & minerals).
Staying healthy throughout the holiday season is an achievable, provided it is made a goal and there is a conscious attempt to put into practice dietary strategies such as the ones discussed above to maintain and enhance health, especially during times of stress such as the holidays.
There is no single dietary strategy that will guarantee good health throughout the holiday season. Nevertheless, all of the discussed dietary strategies can in combination increase the chances of staying healthy during the holidays. Some of the strategies may be easier than others to adopt. Some may even be part of your daily health regimen already. The objective would be to put into practice as many as possible on a consistent basis throughout the holiday season. Even if there are days when you may falter, do not abandon your goal of achieving holiday health and keep putting into daily practice dietary strategies you believe will help keep you healthy throughout the holiday season.
The holiday season is a time for family, friends, food, festivities and faith. Stay healthy and allow yourself the opportunity to enjoy all of these wonderful holiday gifts.
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 The cases for the study were taken from Los Angeles, California, a part of the country where temperatures are relatively mild throughout the year At the time of the study, previous research suggested an increase in cardiac events during the winter months, while other studies found a correlation between such events and the summer months (see Kloner et al., 1999).