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Fit Over 50 -
Survival Tips For The Holiday Season

By Susan Branco

It's that wonderful time of the year again, the holiday season is near. Between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, it's easy to forget about our regular diet and exercise routines as we enjoy six weeks of family gatherings, homemade cookies, holiday parties and numerous opportunities to add a few extra pounds.

The good news is that with a little planning, you can have a great time without packing on the pounds. At this stage in our lives, it is very easy to gain 5-10 lbs. over the holidays, and unfortunately, only a small percentage of those that do manage to ever lose the extra weight. If you do that for a few years in a row, you can easily add on an unhealthy 20 to 50 extra lbs.

Of course, the holidays wouldn't be quite as festive without all of the great food, but there are some simple steps we all can take, going into the season, that can help keep our weight under control. One healthy way to get started is to lose a few pounds before the season begins. This will not only help offset any extra weight you might gain over the season, but it will also be like training for the marathon of "all you can eat" opportunities you'll likely face over the holidays.

To get started, look closely at what you are now doing relative to eating, drinking and physical activity. If you plan to modify your caloric intake or the amount of exercise you're doing, it's always good to have a baseline. Think about portion control whenever you eat or prepare meals. Minimize fats and carbohydrates, especially fried foods, refined sugars and white potatoes. Shop wisely; you cannot eat what you do not have!

Drink a full glass of water or seltzer before eating and again during each meal; it will help you to eat less, yet feel full. Six or more glasses of water a day really helps.

Park farther away from your destination and walk briskly whenever practical. Use stairs if possible. Consider your additional walking as extra calories burned; the more the better.
Stand and sit several times or march in place during TV commercials. If you snack when watching TV, make wise (low fat, low salt, low sugar) choices. Reduce portion sizes to one serving, or when you can, skip the snacks altogether. Brush your teeth before watching TV, or anytime you wish to reduce the desire to snack or to eat more than you know you should.
If you generally, exercise or walk a given amount of time each week, do a little more than usual as you approach the holidays. Try to take a 20-30 minute walk everyday. If winter weather keeps you in, walk around the house or use an exercise video or DVD.

Once the holiday festivities begin, enjoy your favorite foods and holiday treats, savor the flavors and eat slowly, but be aware of your portions. A little bit of will power goes a long way. It's not healthy to over indulge to the point that you are uncomfortable.

Before you arrive at a party or social event, set a limit on how many alcoholic beverages you will consume. They are high in calories and can also stimulate your appetite. When you reach your limit, switch to a no calorie or low calorie alternative.

Eat a light snack before you leave home, so you are less tempted to overeat at the party.
Assess the buffet or diner table before filling your plate. Be selective, taste all of your favorites, but watch the amounts. Choose more of the foods that will help you to succeed and limit your portion size.

Distance yourself from those high calorie snacks literally. You'll eat less if you have to walk to them. Enjoy conversation with family and friends. The more you talk, the less you'll eat. If dancing is an option, dance up a storm. Have fun and burn up calories at the same time.

When at home, keep the tempting treats out of sight, except when you are actually serving them. Bowls of candy, cookies and nuts sitting on the table can be the source of extra calories that are not even realized, until your pants start feeling a little tight around the waist. Be cautious of the mindset that "You will lose whatever you gain, after the holidays." For most, it won't happen.

When preparing meals, consider the many low-fat and non-fat substitutes for the high fat dairy products that many traditional holiday recipes call for. Experiment and you will likely find lower calorie options that you will enjoy just as much. For example, try a half cup of whole milk and a half cup of skim milk in a recipe that calls for a cup of whole milk. Be creative, and you'll find that you can reduce the calorie content in most recipes with little change in the end result. You may even find that you enjoy the lighter versions more than the original.

There are many delicious, healthy menu items and recipes available to you when you are hosting a holiday celebration. You can find many low fat holiday recipes at

If you truly want to get through this holiday season enjoying yourself without adding unwanted pounds, take charge, eat and drink a little less, and exercise a little more. You can do it if you try, and in January, you'll be glad you did!

Wishing you all a healthy, happy holiday season and a joyous New Year.

Susan Branco

Susan Branco is a member of the National Council on Aging, the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Senior Fitness Association. She is an accomplished certified fitness professional, recognized for her work in the field of senior fitness. More information about the benefits of exercise and Be Fit Over Fifty videos are available at, or by contacting her at 239-514-5292 or


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