Holiday Tips from Duke Medical Center
DURHAM, N.C. – One of the problems many people face around
the holidays is calorie consumption. Cookies, cakes, pies,
eggnog … one of the best, and certainly sweetest, parts of the
holidays are the traditional treats and meals available during
this social season.
"The most important step for people who are concerned about
holiday weight gain is to assess their health goals during the
holidays," says Terri Brownlee, nutrition director at the Duke
Diet and Fitness Center. "For most people in this category,
weight maintenance might be more appropriate than weight
According to Brownlee, the goal is to avoid additional
weight gain. By being realistic with yourself about your goals,
you can feel good about eating both seasonal "treats" and
healthy snacks during the holidays.
"Things can easily spin out of control for people who have
trouble sticking with goals," Brownlee notes. "While you cannot
control what people are serving at social functions, you can
control your home environment by keeping healthy snacks that
are quick and easy on hand."
Brownlee suggests maintaining a supply of fresh fruit, dry
cereal mixes, low-fat granola bars or single-serving sized bags
of pretzels or baked chips at home or work – wherever you are
liable to snack. "They're quick, healthy options that don't
require a lot of preparation," she says.
Taking into consideration the number of holiday engagements
you are planning to attend is a good way to gauge when to
splurge on special treats. If you are only going to a few
parties, give yourself permission to splurge on higher calorie
foods. If you have several engagements a week, however, you
will need to be more careful in your food choices.
One quick way to pack on calories is with holiday beverages.
An eight-ounce serving of plain fruit juice has about 120
calories. That number climbs when juices are mixed into punch,
especially if alcohol is added. Brownlee suggests alternating
those types of drinks with calorie-free options like sparkling
water. Sipping on high-calorie drinks can make the drink last
longer and ease the temptation to keep refilling your
The added festivities also may cut into exercise plans for
"Be creative in thinking of ways to be more active,"
suggests Brownlee. "Get to the mall a little earlier and walk
before you shop or try to park farther from your office and
take the stairs for some extra exercise."
The new year often brings new fitness resolutions. Experts
suggest the best way to maintain your motivation is by setting
"People tend to get lost in resolutions and then feel they
have failed," says Maria Nardini, an exercise physiologist with
the Duke Health and Fitness Center.
Nardini suggests focusing on short-term, small goals. "Try
to lose a few pounds at first, and look to progress. Small
steps add up over time. Anything you do to increase your
activity level is good, and it's better than what you had been
doing previously. That is a big accomplishment for many
people," she says.
Although a joyous time for most, the holidays can be
difficult for some people. This year, the economy has dipped,
terrorists have struck, and the nation is now at war. There is
a sense that pausing to celebrate the real meaning of the
holiday season is more important than ever.
In a "normal" year, the season brings increased stress from
social obligations, family visits, shopping for the "right"
gift, dealing with crowds, financial and time constraints,
balancing the demands of work with the holidays and finding
People deal with pressure in individualized ways, but
experts suggest there are practical ways to ease these
Jeff Brantley, director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress
Reduction program at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine,
recommends keeping things as simple as possible.
"The natural tendency for people is toward greater
complexity," says Brantley. "Looking for ways to simplify your
holiday giving, for example, can be enormously helpful, as can
scheduling 'down-time' for yourself. Don't feel as though you
have to do everything."
Because the holidays keep many of us from a normal routine,
Brantley suggests determining your own healthy routine and
sticking with it.
"We know ourselves best, so we should determine for
ourselves what we can and cannot do this time of year," he
says. "If exercise makes you feel better and helps you deal
with stress, then do that. If taking a nap does the trick, try
that instead. The most important way to manage your stress
level is to build in time for you."
Social engagements during the holiday season usually mean
additional driving time. Claudia McCormick, program director
for the Duke Trauma Center, has advice for all travelers.
"One of the most important steps people can take when they
get into a car is to make sure to fasten their seatbelt," says
McCormick. "If people are planning to travel out of town, they
need to plan ahead by being well rested and paying attention to
speed limits. It's a great time to get out and enjoy holiday
parties, but people should be extra cautious. Don't drink and
McCormick suggests arranging for a designated driver prior
to heading to parties where you think you might consume
"Holiday decorations are a wonderful way to celebrate the
season," she says. "But because many decorations are electrical
or flammable, it is important to follow some basic safety
-If you use a fresh tree to celebrate Christmas, make sure
to keep it watered.
-Turn off decorative lights when you leave home.
-Only use electrical decorations that are safety rated.
-Extinguish candles before going to sleep or leaving
-Use fireplace screens and do not leave fires
"If you have guests coming in from out of town, remind them
to keep all medications and tiny trinkets out of the reach of
small children," suggests McCormick. "Also, some popular
holiday plants are poisonous. Holly and amaryllis should be
kept away from young children and pets."
One of the most enjoyable parts of the season can be giving
gifts to children. "Make sure the toys you select are
age-appropriate and that clothing, especially pajamas, is
flame-retardant," says McCormick. "If you are unsure, ask a
knowledgeable salesperson to help you."
At a loss for gift ideas? Safety items make great gifts for
adults and children. Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are
necessities in every home. Bike helmets and other sports safety
equipment are important for kids and adults alike, but make
sure they fit correctly before using.
"Another great idea for a last-minute gift is a first-aid
kit," says McCormick. "They are affordable, readily available
and a good idea for the house, your car, even the office."