Healthy Holiday Diet Tips Interview

Kathleen Roberts
Dr. Michael Fenster

If you're worried about what the holidays will do to your weight loss progress, check out these healthy holiday diet tips from cardiologist and chef Dr. Michael Fenster. Dr. Fenster's tips will help keep you on track while still enjoying the holidays, guilt-free.

Dr. Michael Fenster

Dr. Fenster is a Board Certified Interventional Cardiologist as well as a trained chef, having received his culinary degree from Ashworth University. Dr. Fenster speaks frequently on heart-healthy cooking and has appeared on various television shows and is also frequently featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Recently, LoveToKnow was able to speak to Dr. Fenster about healthy holiday diet tips and how you can incorporate them into special occasions without blowing your diet progress.

Healthy Holiday Diet Tips

LoveToKnow: Must people avoid all holiday treats to be healthy?

Dr. Fenster: Absolutely not! Studies have shown that over the long term, people are more productive at their jobs with daily breaks and with vacation time. Fitness programs yield better long term results with time for muscle groups to rest. A lifetime program of healthful eating can benefit from the occasional treat.

What makes the holiday season so difficult for so many people is that it is not just a weekend event like a Memorial Day backyard grill, but a non-stop barrage from October through January. We are inundated with offerings everywhere; in the media, at the workplace and every point in between. If we are not careful we can find ourselves caught back into a sugar-salt-fat vicious cycle.

To allow yourself some culinary holiday cheer without falling into the abyss, I recommend adapting some of our Grassroots Gourmet principles to combat the holiday treat temptation:

  • Timing and Proportion: We plan our vacation time, we budget for those special purchases; use those same practices to plan your indulgences. If you are attending gatherings and plan to sample the wares, mark that time and place. Once you arrive and see what is offered, make your decision and pace yourself. Think of the treats the way you would a wine tasting; a little sample of this and a little sample of that spaced out over the course of the event. Allowing at least 15 to 20 minutes between samplings will allow time for your stomach to signal the brain you've eaten some yummies. Before you know it, you'll feel satiated with a lot less than if you had come in and sampled everything all at once.
  • Be Fresh: Don't be tempted by the pre-packaged offerings. These are not only often higher in calories but loaded with food and flavor modifiers. If you're going indulge, hold out for that fresh, handmade treat--make it count!
  • Limit Your Exposure: There are plenty of enticements all around. Do not purchase pre-packaged treats to keep around the house. If it isn't there, you can't eat it.

Staying on Track

LoveToKnow: What tips can you offer to keep dieters on track over the holidays?

Dr. Fenster: Remember that dieting for weight loss is a different strategy than eating healthfully for maintenance. While food choices may be similar, weight loss usually involves caloric restriction. During the holidays, I recommend you plan to maintain your current weight, whatever that is. Enjoy the Holidays in a guilt free fashion--that's food for the soul! Consider not gaining excessive weight during the holidays your goal and getting back to the exercise and weight loss after the New Year will be much easier.

LoveToKnow: What kind of damage can be done if healthy eating habits are abandoned during the holidays?

Dr. Fenster: Nothing that can't be undone! The worst outcome from holiday indiscretions is to give up and give in to frustration. If you indulge too much, that's OK--human beings have failings. The worst thing to do is quit or give up because you have fallen down. Realize this is about a journey, and a journey requires that you "Keep Going!" It is not the times you fall down that matter, but the times you get back up.

LoveToKnow: What, besides food, can sabotage someone's healthy habits during the holidays and how can these be avoided?

Dr. Fenster: Alcohol is probably the greatest silent saboteur. I see many people have a drink and forgo a meal or dessert treat. Often they are back nibbling later. Alcohol acts as both an appetite stimulant and contains calories; at 7 kcal/gm it is second only to fat in terms of caloric content per gram. Therefore, if you are going to imbibe, do so responsibly and realize that the eggnog is essentially dessert in a glass.

Adjust Your Goals

LoveToKnow: How can dieters feel like they are indulging without ruining their diet progress?

Dr. Fenster: Like learning and evolution, there are plateaus and upward spurts. And like every good Superbowl victor, I recommend you play great defense. The holidays, for dieters, are about playing great defense and weathering the onslaught. Allow yourself some indulgence as we have elaborated. Your goal here is to maintain, play tough defense and not gain weight. No unnecessary temptations in the house, don't go to work hungry where the inducements lie waiting, steer clear of the media blitz of "special holiday offers"--hang tough. Keep to a plan of where, when and what you are going to enjoy. Be choosy. Enjoy. When you find your weight at the end of the holiday season exactly where you started, you've accomplished your goal.

LoveToKnow: What else can you share to help and inspire dieters over the holidays?

Dr. Fenster: Lose the guilt! Negative emotions have a powerful impact on our mind and our state of being. This, in turn, affects the secretion of various hormones and other neurotransmitters. These in turn affect our cardiovascular system, our immune system and all the other areas of bodily function including metabolism, fat utilization, etc. With a good solid plan and a well executed approach you can enjoy the holiday treats and the holiday season without fretting over every cookie or cake consumed.

When professional golfers reach some holes on a course, they know the smart game is to simply make par and move on--don't fall behind and lose strokes trying for a birdie where one doesn't exist. It is referred to as course management. The holiday season is your par hole; enjoy and look to maintain during this stretch. The goal is not weight loss but weight maintenance. Get your par and then after the New Year you can eat like a Birdie!

LoveToKnow would like to thank Dr. Michael Fenster for sharing these healthy holiday diet tips. By following his tips and keeping your goals reasonable, your holidays can be happy and healthy, too.

Healthy Holiday Diet Tips Interview