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Q&A with Dr. Stella Volpe: Holiday Weight Gain

December 19, 2012

Stella Volpe

For some of us, holiday weight gain seems to be inevitable. Dr. Stella Volpe, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, studies obesity, diabetes prevention and exercise, among many other areas of nutrition sciences. Her focus on changing one’s environment to encourage healthy eating and exercise habits made her the perfect source for some DrexelNow tips on how to maintain—or even improve—health during the holidays.

What are the worst holiday food offenders? Drinks, desserts and entrees are plentiful, but is there one dish that stands out from the rest as being the most fattening or least nutritious?

There really is not just one holiday food offender. It's usually the amount we consume that results in weight gain over the holidays.  There are many foods that are high in fat, high in calories, and also not very nutritious; however, if we can work on portion control and in consuming more healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good protein foods), we will be less likely to gain weight—or at least gain less weight—over the holidays.  In addition, people often exercise less during the holiday season—so, be sure to maintain some type of exercise schedule, which will also help to maintain body weight.

Holiday menus are typically composed of foods high in carbohydrates and calories. Can you suggest some healthy alternatives or some tips for making better decisions at the holiday table?

Some tips for healthier holiday food choices include white turkey meat over dark meat, and go without gravy or use less gravy.  In addition, turkey is a better choice than ham as far as fat and nutrition content.

Make vegetables without sauces or butter—or at least decrease amounts of any sauces/butter that are used.

Try to use whole grains as much as possible, such as whole wheat bread for stuffing instead of white bread.

Reduce the amount of sugar or butter called for in some recipes; use skim milk instead of whole milk in some recipes—those small changes go a long way, and no one will notice the difference.

Drink water and snack on items like sliced apples with cinnamon sprinkled on top, instead of consuming higher fat snacks.

At parties, do not stand near the food table. Rather, take some food on your plate and walk away from reach of the food. 

Exercise tends to take a backseat during the busy holiday season. Do you have any tips on how readers can stick to their gym schedules, or at the very least, squeeze in some exercise during the coming weeks?

First and foremost, sticking to your normal exercise routine is the best option.  If that’s too difficult, try to exercise in the morning so the holiday parties and shopping do not get in the way of your exercise routine.

If exercise is really difficult to fit in, then when shopping, park farther away from the store. Make trips back to your car to put some of your purchases in the trunk, and then return to shopping.

Walk around the stores more than you actually need to, and walk the escalators instead of standing.  Take the stairs at work or at stores as much as possible.  Research has shown that people who take the stairs at work on a regular basis have a higher aerobic fitness level than those who do not.  The little things can add up.

Try to take walks with your family, even if just around the block in the evening.  It is a great de-stressor for all, and also provides some good family time together.  Dress warmly so that the cold will not be an excuse to end the walk too soon. If you are watching TV, do sit ups or push-ups or dance with family members during commercials.