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HEALTHY MONDAY: Healthy holiday eating? It can be done
Dietician Mindy Bell talks to client Patsy Mullinax about a healthy diet. - photo by Tom Reed


Mindy Bell, a Northeast Georgia Health System dietician, talks about healthy eating during the holidays.

Healthy Monday
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The road to healthy eating during the holidays starts with the mind, not the knife and fork, says one area dietitian.

"Try and approach the holiday season and the eating that goes along with it with a positive mindset," said Mindy Bell, bariatric program dietitian for the Northeast Georgia Health System.

It would be easy to think that keeping off those extra pounds means staying away from the sugar cookies and thick slices of ham. Or that you can overly indulge yourself now, knowing that you can exert strong self-discipline soon with a New Year’s resolution.

But there’s a better, and healthier, way, Bell said.

Consider instead this thought: "This season, there’s going to be some of my favorites that I’m going to let myself enjoy in moderation while trying to keep some consistency and balance in my eating habits," she said.

Holiday get-togethers can be a real challenge for many, with tables of food and drink at easy reach.

"I suggest trying to practice mindful eating," Bell said. "Go along, pick your favorites ... and get those things on your plate, sit down and try to eat slowly, enjoy your meal, savor every bite without feeling guilty about it.

"Those first few bites are usually the best ones."

The point is to remain aware of your food and what you’re eating, rather than standing by the food table and "mindlessly eating" whatever you can get your fingers on, Bell said.

"It’s good also to know what your triggers are," she said. "If you know there are certain things you tend to overeat on or if you find  yourself in certain situations that lead you to overeat, you can plan ahead for it."

Eating without thinking can lead to feeling overstuffed "before our mind has even gotten the message that we’re full," Bell said.

"So, it’s good to pay attention to your body’s cues as to when it’s comfortably full. Put your fork down between bites, take a breath, enjoy the people that are there at the holiday get-together," she said.

"Most of the time, when you ask somebody the reason for the season, they’re not going to tell you, ‘Oh, the food,’" Bell said. "They’re going to say, ‘It’s the time with my family and my friends.’"

Mary Ann Clever, dietitian at The Longstreet Clinic, said she tells patients trying to lose weight to focus on at least maintaining their weight over the holidays.

"Just don’t go off the deep ahead and ... lose everything they have accomplished," she said.

She advised not going to a party hungry.

"I suggest maybe like a high-fiber or a healthy protein snack (beforehand) to give you that feeling of fullness, so you don’t feel like when you get there you’re just so hungry you want to eat everything in sight," Clever said.

Here are some other quick tips:

Congregate with people on the other side of the room and away from the food table.

Cut your portion size.

Bring a healthy dish. That way, you know there’s a least one food at the gathering you can eat without a guilt assault.

"I always like to put applesauce or soft blended bananas in place of oil when I’m making a holiday bread," Clever said. "You can increase the vanilla or cinnamon, which kind of gets a sweet taste but without the calories and sugar."

Hall County resident Pennie Eddy, who has participated in Northeast Georgia Health System’s "Living Lighter" program, committed to losing weight before the holidays and wants to stay on track through them.

She said she plans to "go ahead and sample (foods) on a small-portion basis," similar to what shoppers sometimes find when walking through grocery aisles.

Also, Eddy said she is going to make wise choices in what she eats at gatherings.

"The vegetables are always left at the end of a party. We eat less of the celery and carrots and broccoli, and more of the other."

Sandra Hogue, another Hall resident, also attended "Living Lighter" and said the eight-week program covered holiday eating.

"It has been really helpful to me," she said. "... People can really pack it on during the holidays."

Hogue said to aid in her commitment to eat better, she keeps a journal, writing down what she eats and just general thoughts and feelings about eating.

"Writing for me is more like having a friend than a duty," she said.