Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

The holidays are often associated with unwanted weight gain, but they don’t have to be. Following a few simple steps can help you stave off unwanted pounds while still enjoying the holiday festivities. Check out our list of do’s and don’ts.


It’s no secret that the holidays are full of delicious food like home-cooked favorites, special desserts, and rich comfort foods. With all of the joy and celebration centered on food, it is especially important to have some tips to help you keep within your calorie goal and prevent unnecessary weight gain.  

Do: Plan, plan, plan.  One major key to success is being prepared and having a plan. Big office party this weekend? Plan ahead by moderating (not restricting) your calorie intake for a few days leading up to it. The difference between moderating and restricting is that moderating means limiting portion size, but not excluding any specific foods. Restricting is when you eliminate entire food groups (e.g. dessert).  Restricting is more likely to lead to a binge and feelings of guilt and more emotional eating.

Don’t: Starve yourself the day of a party or event; this will only set you up for failure because you will be overly hungry when presented with a buffet of food and more likely to overeat. Be sure to have a balanced intake instead.

Do: Fill up on vegetable dishes, lean proteins, and lighter fare before having richer dishes.  This way, you are already somewhat full and less likely to overdo it on higher calorie options, but you can still enjoy sampling if you wish.

Don’t: Stand next to the food.  Try and mingle with friends and family, and walk around the room rather than standing in the kitchen or next to the food table. This way you are less likely to mindlessly snack.

Do: Drink plenty of water.  Oftentimes, dehydration can be confused with hunger. Sip water throughout the day and during the gathering to keep hydrated and help you feel full. 

Don’t: Drink alcohol on an empty stomach.  If you know you will be consuming alcohol, be sure to have a healthy meal beforehand and alternate alcoholic beverages with a glass of water to slow yourself down and stay hydrated. By limiting alcohol intake, you are more likely to stay in control of your decisions around food. Alcohol lowers blood sugar, which results in hunger and potential overeating (due to lack of inhibition); therefore, it is especially important to moderate alcohol intake if you want to keep within your calorie target this holiday season. 

Do: Offer to bring a healthy dish (or two!) to all occasions so that you know there will be something healthy available at all times.

Don’t: Stress about every bite.  Keep in mind that the holidays are about family, friends, and being thankful, not about food, so find a balance between enjoying yourself and having those special treats that are reserved for this time of year.  “Letting yourself go” for a few weeks is what results in holiday weight gain, and it will be harder to get back on track in the long run; therefore, if you do happen to slip up, just remember to get right back on track at the next meal.

Physical Activity

The holidays are full of delicious feasts, turkey dinners, and plenty of sweets. It is important to increase your physical activity throughout the holiday season to combat the extra calories and additional stress that could arise.  

Do: Start out at a moderate intensity level and progress slowly. The recommended intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people. The intensity of physical activity depends on your previous exercise experience and your relative level of fitness. Exercising every other day will help you keep a regular exercise schedule during the holidays and still allow efficient amount of time to enjoy the holiday season.

Don’t: Increase your level of activity too fast.  It is important to start slowly and gradually increase your level of activity. Start by taking an afternoon walk every day. Try to walk for at least 20-30 minutes. If you’re on the road a lot, try to stop at rest areas and walk around for at least 5 minutes.

Do: Engage in physical activity 3 to 4 times a weekThat's especially important when you're eating more which is easy to happen during the holidays. Remember to have fun. Choose an activity you enjoy, so that it seems more like fun and less like a chore. You'll be more likely to stick with an exercise program throughout the new year if you enjoy the activity. For example, a fun holiday activity like a family ski trip or ice skating.

Don’t: Engage in physical activity too soon after eating (10 to 15 minutes after a snack or 20 to 60 minutes after a meal). During the holidays it is easy to snack all day. Make sure to time your exercise correctly to your meals. 

Do: Encourage and participate in physical activity with your entire family.  The holidays are here, and that means spending time with your family and friends. Encouraging your family to be physically active each day can help them develop heathy habits and develop a positive attitude towards themselves. Squeezing in some physical activity, like taking a walk after lunch, can be a great way to maximize your time together. 

Don’t: Exercise in extreme weather if you’re not prepared.  Participating in physical activity in extreme heat, cold, or humidity when you’re not properly dressed or haven’t properly trained for exercise in extreme weather is a recipe for disaster. Always dress for the weather conditions and wear protective footwear.

Sleep & Mind/Body

With the kids out of school and many adults off work, it’s easy to get off track from your normal sleep routine. Many may not realize how off track they are until they head back to school/work and find themselves sleep deprived and stressed out well into the New Year.

Do: Catch up on your sleep. The key is to go to bed and get up at the same time- even when you don’t have school/work. Your body’s natural sleep cycle loves a good, consistent routine! Additionally, you will be better equipped emotionally to handle all the holiday strain.

Don’t: Hit the snooze.  Snoozing is disruptive to your natural sleep cycle and increases your sleep inertia-the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come from awakening from a deep sleep. If you have to set an alarm, set it for a later time.

Do: Enjoy a holiday spirit (or two).  ‘Tis the season for moderation, not overindulging!

Don’t: Sip caffeinated or alcohol based drinks late into the evening.  Avoid these types of drinks 6 hours prior to bedtime in order to minimize their negative effect on sleep.

Do: Continue to be physically active.  Physical activity helps regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle, especially when you are exposed to natural sunlight in the morning. Exercise also releases endorphins.  These happy feeling hormones will leave you feeling less like a scrooge and more like the little drummer boy.

Don’t: Exercise at night.  Exercising too late at night will keep you energized well into the night. Try a morning walk or jog instead. It can be a great way to soak up the sun while also serving as a de-stressor. Try lower intensity activity at night. A walking tour of neighborhood Christmas lights is one example of this that also serves as a mood booster. 

Mindful Eating

Not only can mindfulness help reduce stress and improve mood, but it can also help you become more aware of your eating habits and food intake.  There are many ways you can incorporate mindfulness techniques into your everyday routine to help you become more aware of your eating behaviors.  Mindful eating can also be a helpful tool in managing your weight loss or weight maintenance goals. 

Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily do on auto pilot. It is a systematic approach to our own inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight. These capacities not only help us change our behavior and habits, but can significantly enhance our quality of life. 

Mindful eating begins with learning how to listen and react to your body. Are you actually hungry or are you craving that cookie because you’re bored? Taking a more mindful approach to eating means tuning in to your body’s cues so you know when to start and stop eating by listening to your body.

Next time you sit down for a meal, use these 5 steps recommended by Dr. Susan Albers to guide your mindful approach to eating.

  1. Aware. Being aware of your food means noting the flavor present in each bite. When you are aware, you are fully noticing the qualities of each food rather than mindlessly chewing.
  2. Savor. Savoring food means paying attention to the unique details of each food. Notice the texture, aroma, and flavor. Is it sweet, crunchy, or spicy?   
  3. Observe.  Notice the different between when you are truly hungry and when you are craving food out of boredom or stress.  Listen to your body’s cues. Is your stomach growling? Do you feel low energy? Or perhaps you are feeling full and become aware that it’s time to stop eating.
  4. In the moment. Being in the moment means taking the time to sit down and eat without any distractions. No TV, no cell phone….just enjoying your meal. 
  5. NonjudgementAllow feelings (good or bad) to come into your mind and pass peacefully. Try not to focus on rigid rules or let guilt weight you down. For example, if you are feeling stressed and craving a cookie, acknowledge that you are stressed and that it’s ok to feel stressed. 

Seeing the Glass as Half Full: It’s a Practice

Everyone wants to be happy, especially around the holidays. While the holiday season can be a time of good food and good times with family and friends, for many, it’s a time of increased financial burdens, unwanted guests,  and increased stress overall. Luckily, being a happier person is largely within our control. According to Psychology Today, approximately 40% of our happiness comes from perspective. Since happiness is relative to perspective, there are ways you can change your behaviors in order to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. Here is what is known about the practices of generally happy folks:

Practice Curbing Gossip & Negative Chatter

Gossip almost never has a good outcome. Usually, ill-willed statements about others are rooted from some form of jealousy or insecurity. Talking negatively about someone else may seem like it could make you feel better, but in reality, it does the opposite. Ultimately, you end up internalizing your own bad mojo. Try this. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It is as true for adults as it is for children. If you have a problem with someone, try to work it out in a constructive way with that person directly, not behind their back. Blowing negative steam basically only puts more negative mojo out actually solves nothing. As far as conversation in general, instead, try to think of something you are happy about or proud of and talk about that. Happy people are always lifting others up or talking about their own dreams and passions. Their positive energy often emerges from within and can be seen easily from the outside. It’s genuine.

Practice Letting Go of Self-Comparison 

Comparing yourself to others will almost always result in negative feelings. As Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparing yourself to others is the thief of joy”. Everyone comes from a different background, has different life experiences, looks different, and is presently enduring a different set of circumstances. Comparing yourself to others is not a measure of success, but is often a measure of your own insecurities, and the practice of continual self-comparison is a way to continue to cultivate those insecurities.



Try this. Think of your most proud accomplishments. The only person you should compare yourself to is your past self. Think of all the things you have accomplished instead of all the things your friends have accomplished. Be grateful for how far you have come and your many endeavors. Celebrate and honor your own success in accomplishing milestones, no matter how great or small, towards your long term goals. When it comes to others, take pleasure in their success and celebrate their successes with them.

Practice Letting Go of Complaints 

When you’re unhappy, it seems that nothing can go your way and you want everyone to know it. Whether you complain about traffic, your in-laws, being sick, or your terrible job… it’s always something. It’s a slippery path to go down once you get used to complaining a lot. Unfortunately, complaining does not bring you any closer to a solution for what ails you, but creates a way of being that perpetuates constant negativity. As Buddha said, as we speak, so we become. 



Try this. Everyone has something they could complain about. The choice is yours. Once you make the decision to complain less, you will find your happiness increasing because you are cultivating something positive every time you speak- it’s a practice. Try setting some stipulations that you only verbally express a complaint if it is followed directly by a suggestion to mediate the situation. For example, “My coworker was in a bad mood today ….maybe she is having a hard time with something. I will ask her if she needs help with anything tomorrow”.

Practice Giving Thanks

It’s easy to think the word is an unfair place and nothing goes in your favor. If you are not this person, you probably know someone like this. Being ungrateful causes you to miss out on many opportunities for happiness because you are focusing on what you want or don’t have rather than what you already have. It’s not that happy people have so much more than unhappy people; it’s that they are able to recognize, acknowledge, and be thankful for what they already have on a daily basis…a continual practice. Try this. Start a gratitude journal or get in the habit of beginning or ending each day acknowledging (bringing into your mind) several things you are grateful for. Gratitude puts situations into perspective. It helps you realize what you have and, therefore, lessens our need for wanting more all the time- more of anything, e.g. physical needs, emotional needs, material desires. Gratitude strengthens relationships, improves health, reduces stress, and, in general, makes people happier.

On this thanksgiving, we should all shift our gratitude to the forefront of our minds and hearts.  We, at Army H.E.A.L.T.H., are particularly grateful for all our troops both at home and overseas. We are grateful to be able to spend time with our friends and family and are thinking of those who are deployed and will not be able to do the same. We encourage you to embrace the spirit of true thanksgiving and let yourself be a happier person this holiday season and beyond.  





Diabetes: What You Need to Know

Worldwide, 382 million people are diagnosed with diabetes.  Diabetes related deaths claim the lives of 1 American every 3 minutes and is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure and stroke. Besides the enormous physical and mental strain, people with diabetes face the huge cost to treat diabetes. The total cost of diagnosed diabetes has risen to $245 billion in 2012 from $174 billion in 2007 – according to the American Diabetes Association.

The Basics

All cells in the human body need energy.  When you eat or drink, food is broken down into glucose, a simple form of energy the body needs and uses.  Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps remove glucose from the blood stream where high levels cause the symptoms of diabetes. Think of insulin as the mediator that is required to carry glucose from the blood stream to the body’s cells where it can be utilized for energy.   Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with insulin production or activity and results in high blood sugar levels. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between type I and type 2 diabetes.  For our purpose in this blog, we will further examine Type 2 diabetes below.  

*Genetics contribute to both types of diabetes

What causes type 2 Diabetes?

Although we don’t know all of the causes of type 2 diabetes, we know that it is likely a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors.  The good news is that type 2 diabetes can often prevented and reversed through changes in lifestyle habits.  In this blog, we examine the relationship between four key areas of health and type 2 diabetes.   

Physical Activity

Lack of exercise is usually correlated with higher amounts of body fat- which interfere with the body’s ability to properly utilize insulin and, therefore, remove glucose from the blood stream.  During exercise the body is forced to use stored energy as fuel for the workout.  When we don’t exercise, our body is not able to utilize its fuel (glucose) as efficiently.  A higher waist circumference (aka “belly fat”) is also highly associated with increased instances of developing diabetes.  This is because excess abdominal fat produces hormones and other substances that cause harmful effects on the body such as an increase in the production of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), heart disease, and increased insulin resistance

How can I prevent/reverse it?  Move more.  Exercise decreases body fat and promotes weight loss.  Both of which have been shown to have a positive impact on diabetes management.  Unhealthy amounts of body fat can impair the system that regulates hormones involved with diabetes. Conversely, muscle helps the body improve the process of insulin and blood glucose regulation.  The recommended amount of physical activity for those with or approaching diabetes is the same as for those without diabetes: 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week.  Taking a brisk walk, bicycling, and swimming are all good examples of ways to meet this goal. 

Dietary Intake

The typical American diet is high in white bread, pasta, soda, highly processed food, and junk food.  Foods like this which are high in carbohydrates can have a negative impact on diabetes. When too many carbohydrates are consistently eaten, blood glucose levels remain high, and over time, the body becomes less efficient at utilizing insulin to reduce blood sugar levels.  The whole process starts to malfunction and this is the beginning of insulin resistance and diabetes.

How can I prevent/reverse it?  Focus on replacing, not eliminating food groups.  Carbohydrates have a much larger impact on blood sugar levels than fats or proteins, so that’s why it’s important for people with diabetes to be mindful of carbohydrate intake.  In spite of what is commonly said, managing diabetes isn't as much about completely eliminating foods from your diet. It’s more about replacing sugary, starchy food sources like, fried food, soda, and sweets with healthier choices like protein based dishes, low carb fruits and vegetables, and water.  Portion size is a key factor.  Typical meals should consist of a protein, a healthy fat, and a whole grain carbohydrate; a small sweet treat should be reserved for special occasions only. 


Research has demonstrated the correlation between sleep loss and risk for weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.  When sleep deprived, our body’s hormones are thrown out of balance.  For example, the stress hormone cortisol is higher when sleep is inadequate.  Elevated levels of cortisol can prompt insulin resistance which interferes with the body’s metabolism and ability to properly regulate blood glucose levels.  Reduced sleep has also been shown to reduce levels of the hormone leptin which is an appetite suppressant; and increase levels of the hormone ghrelin which is an appetite stimulant.  With these two key hunger hormones out of balance, it is more difficult to regulate dietary intake and this is when we often see overall increased caloric consumption as well as increased consumption of carbohydrates, specifically. 

How can I prevent/reverse it?  Prioritize Sleep. For some, improving sleep may be a matter of prioritizing an earlier bed time.  For others, a deeper delve into personal sleep habits may be needed.  One place to start is to make sure you are maintaining a regular schedule by getting up and going to bed at the same time every day. Secondly, make sure to eliminate all sources of caffeine (soda, coffee, tea, chocolate) at least 6 hours prior to bedtime.  Lastly, make your bedroom a haven for sleep.  A bedroom that is favorable to sleep is one that is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable. 


Both mental and physical stress can have an impact on people with diabetes.  Stress hormones like the aforementioned cortisol, and epinephrine can negatively impact diabetes.  Let’s think about the fight or flight process.  When we react to an urgent, stressful situation our body releases a series of hormones that start a cascade of processes that draw energy from our stores which increases blood glucose levels and allows us to utilize energy for our fight-or-flight response.  For people with diabetes, exposure to long term stress hormones decrease insulin’s ability to remove glucose from the blood stream and blood sugar levels become more imbalanced.  It can be a viscous cycle. 

What How can I prevent/reverse it?  Being more mindful of daily lifestyle habits is a good place to start.  According to the American Diabetes Association, you can decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle modifications like the ones listed below:

Veterans Day

What exactly do we celebrate on Veterans Day?

Veterans Day is a perfect time to celebrate and honor the many men and women who have served in the US Armed Forces. But honor them how, and for what? These questions can best be answered by looking at the history and understanding of the holiday. 

What’s the Difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

It’s easy to confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Both are national holidays set forth to honor our Armed Forces. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered this day, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military in both wartime and peacetime. Veterans Day is largely intended to thank all living veterans for their service and sacrifices they gave to defend our great country. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are over 19.6 million military veterans currently living today.


Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919. This became the first anniversary marking the end of World War I. In 1926, Congress resolved to officially call November 11th Armistice Day. Then in 1938, the day was named a national holiday. The first celebration using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1947. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized "National Veterans Day," which included a parade and other festivities, to honor all veterans. The event was held on November 11, which was technically still designated Armistice Day. Later, U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day.  This day now honors military veterans with parades and speeches across the nation. A national ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. every year on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.

Who is a Veteran

The origin of the word “veteran” comes from the latin word “vetus” which means “old” and is defined as a person who has had long service or experience in a particular occupation or field. A Veteran is someone who has served in both times of peace and/or war. A common misconception is that only those who have served in combat or those who have retired from active duty can be called military veterans.

Stop and Remember

Each Veterans Day should be a time when Americans stop and remember the history of this day and remember the Soldiers of the U.S. Armed forces that have sacrificed selfless service for the United States of America. As Dwight Eisenhower said after he signed Veterans Day into law,