Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Holiday Health

Holiday Health

The holiday season is fast approaching and, while that typically means ‘tis the season to be jolly, it is important to be mindful when it comes to how much “jolly” we are consuming.

The holidays are a time for celebration and family, not for weight gain. Why then, do we find ourselves needing stretchy pants during the Christmas holidays and a New Year’s resolution in January? The holiday season provides a certain festive hustle and bustle that many of us have come to enjoy, but is it making us less healthy?

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a person of normal weight tends to gain roughly one pound during the holiday season and that participants who had gained an excess of five pounds in holiday weight were more likely to have been overweight or obese prior to the holiday season. With over 50 percent of Americans struggling with being overweight or obese, it is important to be mindful of the temptations we will undoubtedly face as we enter into the holiday season.

Choosing healthier behaviors throughout the year and especially during the holidays has benefits for everyone, especially for diabetics and cancer survivors. Studies have shown that a healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce cancer survivor’s undesirable side effects and new evidence suggests that healthy lifestyle practices can protect against recurrence and cancer-specific mortality. The American Cancer Society recommends a particular set healthy behaviors to reduce cancer recurrence, mortality and improve quality of life.

The holiday season might not be the best time to lose weight or start a new exercise routine, but it doesn't have to be a time to lose your health. Celebration doesn't have to mean gluttonous eating, or deprivation for that matter. It's time to bring the focus back to the purpose of the holiday. So, enjoy the pumpkin pie, eggnog and Christmas cookies – all in moderation. Enjoy your friends and family, the time off of work.

Don't wait until the New Year to start being healthy – it is possible over the holidays.

Here are some tips from the American Heart Association on how to maintain control of your weight during the holiday season:
  • Control portions
  • Eat when you’re hungry
  • Plan; bring a healthy snack while running errands
  • Slow down, chew your food and enjoy the flavors of the holiday
  • Pay attention, avoid eating while watching television or talking on the phone.
  • Use technology or keep a food diary; keep track of what you consume by using a phone application
  • Stay active and plan a post-meal walk with family and guests as part of the festivities

If you are a breast cancer survivor in Texas, you may be eligible to participate in a study being conducted by researchers at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine. The TTUHSC researchers are looking at how changing unhealthy eating and exercise habits can affect blood biomarkers in breast cancer survivors. The study includes completing brief surveys and a system of text messages for social/mobile media that will provide ongoing reinforcement of desired behavior in breast cancer survivors. Participants will be assigned to one of two groups: one group may receive messages that will provide ongoing reinforcement of desired behavior in breast cancer survivors and the other group will receive placebo messages with facts about Texas. The reinforcement messages will focus on achieving compliance with the expert-developed nutrition and exercise recommendations of the American Cancer Society. The study is currently enrolling and will be ongoing through the holiday season. To see if you are eligible for the study, visit breastcancerstudy.weebly.com or visit the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/breastcancerstudyttu/ for more information.

Have the happiest and healthiest holiday season.

Leslie Shen, Ph.D., is a professor of the Department of Pathology at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.