Healthy Holiday Eating

The average American usually gains about five pounds between Thanksgiving and early January, according to the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. But Mohey Mowafy (HPER) says it is possible to maintain weight and come out of the holidays without feeling as stuffed as a turkey with blood as “rich” as eggnog.


“Having lived in this lovely place for nearly three decades, I have become familiar with our ritual of living the days and nights between Thanksgiving and the New Year as one perpetual party celebrated with food, drinks and friends,” Mowafy said. “Quite honestly, I would not want it any other way, but I also know that many end up having to deal with the wrath of food hangover, cloths that no longer fit, and pressing/depressing wishes of going on a diet, which may indeed lower their weight but will also add another stressor.”


Mowafy offers a few simple guidelines for reasonable, sane, delightful, and healthy holiday eating.


“You certainly do not have to follow them all, but you may want to pick and choose those that best fit you and the way you live and eat,” he adds. “And, as Julia used to say, Bon Appetit .”

  • Don't try to diet. Your goal should be to maintain weight, not lose it. Actually, it is a good idea not to diet any time. The “dieting” industry is the only one I know that is still in business despite a success rate of less than 5 percent.
  • A good, even, hearty breakfast is truly as important as we all heard from our grandmas, so never leave home without it.
  • To avoid indulging in high-fat fast food when your days become hectic, pre-plan several quick, healthy meals and have them readily available for reheating. I know that this doesn’t sound very exciting, but if you are willing to get creative, those meals are willing to become mouth-watering treats.
  • Don't try to cut out high-fat holiday favorites like ... Do I really need to list examples? Totally avoiding your favorites is not only unfair, it is unhealthy. Instead, choose small portions and fill your plate with lower fat and less sugary choices: apples, cranberry dishes, baked squash, pumpkin, high fiber breads, pastas, yogurt dips, beans, more beans, lean cold (or hot) meats, and glorious Lake Superior fish, for example.
  • Eat something before going to an event when alcohol will be served. The effects of alcohol are felt much more quickly on an empty stomach and can lead to overeating and overdrinking. Also try to drink one glass of water before each glass of an alcoholic beverage.
  • Offer to bring a favorite low-calorie dish to holiday parties, so you know there will be at least one "safe" item available. Arrive fashionably late and stand far away from buffets so you're not tempted to nibble constantly. Instead, indulge in conversation.
  • Remember that that your genes may have more to do with what, when and how much you eat than any other factor. Part of that genetic magic is our ability to regulate food intake so that our energy economy is never in the red. However, it is now well established that the human body is more successful in maintaining an appropriate weight by regulating satiety signals, not hunger signals. Learn how to feel the subtle signals of satiety (they start before the physical feeling of fullness sets in), and always stop eating before you have that famous Thanksgiving meal feeling that forces many of us to undo our belts so that we can breathe.
  • More important than anything, make the effort to continue a regular activity program, even in the midst of the holiday bustle. It is the best and most sure guarantee to maintaining good health, irrespective of what weight you carry. Twenty to 30 minutes of brisk walking four or five times a week ought to do it. It is even much better if you add to your program some stretching and some deep breathing exercises.
  • And, finally, try to mindfully enjoy every bite instead of just going through the motions of eating.




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Updated: April 23, 2004