Nutritionist advise on maintaining and not gaining weight during Christmas holiday season

Durham, NC – I had a chance to sit down and have a discussion with UNC nutritionist Bonnie Wilson. We talked about the things folks can do to maintain their weight and not gain pounds during the festive Christmas season. Below is a transcript:

UNC nutritionist Bonnie Wilson provides hints on how to enjoy the holiday season without gaining lots of pounds.

Gene Galin: Hey there folks, Gene Galin here. I am with Bonnie Wilson. A registered, licensed dietician, plus you’re a coach aren’t you?

Bonnie Wilson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Certified health coach.

Gene: Verified health coach. And she’s here to talk about nutrition. Our topic today, maintain and gain, and let’s go ahead and start. Tell me a fun fact.

Bonnie: Did you know that you’re going to gain seven to ten pounds of fat over the holidays?

Gene: No way. Seven to ten pounds?

Bonnie: No, you’re right. That’s just what the media says. In reality, studies have shown that on average people only gain about one to two pounds throughout the holidays. Now, the unfortunate thing is, is that a lot of times we don’t end up losing it, so its accumulative gain of one to two pounds every year.

Bonnie: But that’s not necessarily … Does not have to be your fate.

Gene: That thing that you were throwing around, what exactly is that?

Bonnie:  This is what five pounds of fat would look like if it were all accumulated into one space. So, you know typically this is not what it looks like in our bodies. It’s more spread out, but yeah, and this is pretty big. So, this is how much room five pounds of fat would take up.

Bonnie: If this was muscle, it would be about a third of the space. So, muscle weights more than fat. I’m sure you’ve all heard that.

Gene: Okay. So, between Christmas and New Year’s, not probably the best time to start a diet?

Bonnie: Well, it can be a lot harder, but I think that for people that are able to maintain health goals over the holidays, those are going to be the more successful ones come the new year. You know, when they come … When they have their new years goals.

Bonnie: I will say that typically people do not start diets over the holidays. Just because it is very hard and there’s a lot of temptation. But hey, as you’ve seen firsthand, we’ve been going through the holidays and Mr. Gene here has been losing weight. So, it’s not impossible.

Gene: Yeah, she’s just saying that to make herself look good. Alright. So … Actually the topic was going to be maintain not gain, because as you said, that’s important. I think a lot of people kind of flog themselves because they may gain a few pounds.

Bonnie: Sure.

Gene: Why don’t we start off with some of the simple stuff. Stuff that’s common sense, and then practical advice, because … I mean, most people are going to be busy.

Bonnie: Yeah.

Gene: So, what kind of things should they be watching out for, and still enjoy the holidays, and Christmas, and new years with their family and friends?

Bonnie: Absolutely, because that’s important. Life is too short not to be able to enjoy the holidays, and enjoy the food that comes with the holidays. I would say that my best pieces of advice for people that are trying not to gain, even just to maintain throughout the holidays I think is a great success. The first one is always going to be stay hydrated. Water is going to be extremely important. You can always do things like sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, things like that.

Bonnie: But if we’re thirsty we can often confuse thirst cues with hunger cues, and we end up eating more. So, it’s very important to stay hydrated.

Gene: Let’s just stop there real quick.

Bonnie:                Okay. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gene:  Hydration! You hear all sorts of numbers as to how many glasses you need to be drinking a day.

Bonnie:                Yes.

Gene:                   What’s a general rule of thumb?

Bonnie:                Yeah, that’s a really great question. So, the eight glasses a day, that is totally outdated. We do not go by that anymore. So, what the average suggestion is for your typical adult male, is about three and a half liters, a little bit more. It’s 3.7 liters a day, and then for your average adult woman, it’s about 2.7 liters a day.

Gene:                   So, for us non-metric, hey, I got a glass on the counter ready to pour some water into it. What’s that equal?

Bonnie:                For men it would be about a gallon.

Gene:                   Alright. So, that’s how many glasses?

Bonnie:                A gallon was 128 ounces, eight ounces in a glass. Why you making me do math here today Gene? Okay. So, there’s…

Gene: …that’s like a dozen glasses.

Bonnie:                Yeah.

Gene:                   Okay, because most of us guys aren’t going to be walking around with a …

Bonnie:                Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Gene:                   Although I’ve seen it. A gallon full of water.

Bonnie:                But, that being said, you have to remember that there’s water in food.

Gene:                   Okay.

Bonnie:                So, if you’re eating the right amounts of fruits and vegetables, you know, the recommended amounts, you’re getting a lot of fluid there. So, it’s not actually just water. And other beverages that you drink throughout the day. Even coffee. Those count as fluids. There’s caffeine, which is going to make you go to the bathroom, but it still counts as a fluid.

Gene:                   Well, how about alcoholic beverages? Because we know some people partake.

Bonnie:                Yeah. I wouldn’t really count that towards my fluid intake. Just because it is a diuretic.

Gene:                   Okay. And what is exactly is a diuretic?

Bonnie:                It’s something that dehydrates you. So, it causes you to go to the bathroom.

Gene:                   Oh, okay. So, if we’re going to drink beer, you would recommend also accompanying it with water?

Bonnie:                Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and I think that’s a smart choice too, just to save calories. So, not only are you making sure to stay hydrated, but you’re saving yourself some calories there by doing the water in between.

Gene:                   Now, I mentioned to you that I like to have an occasional beer on the weekends, and you mentioned … And the question you asked me is, “Well, do you drink regular beer or do you drink craft beer?”

Bonnie:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gene:                   What is the difference?

Bonnie:                That’s a great question. So, I know that there are many craft beer lovers out there, and there’s a lot of great breweries in the area.

Gene:                   Right in Pittsboro we got the Carolina Brewery.

Bonnie:                Right in Pittsboro, yeah.

Gene:                   Bonnie’s folks live in …

Bonnie:                They do. They live in Briar Chapel.

Gene:                   Briar Chapel. And so, you can tell them what a great job she’s doing here.

Bonnie:                Yeah. Anybody that knows Pete and Trish Wilson, you guys tell them I say hi. So, craft beer is generally more caloric than something like domestic beer. And of course, your lighter beers are going to be the lowest calories. So, something like a Michelob Ultra, or a Bud Light, which is going to be closer to 100 calories versus a pint of a porter or a craft porter that I’m drinking. That could be like 250 calories in one glass.

Gene:                   Alright. So, the important part from this portion right now is, drink plenty of fluids, if you’re going to drink alcoholic beverages try to accompany it with water.

Bonnie:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gene:                   And just be careful about how much you partake.

Bonnie:                Yeah. Because if craft beer’s your thing, don’t go drinking the domestic just to save calories. Enjoy your craft beer. But yeah, make sure you accompany it with some water.

Gene:                   There you go. All right. Continue with… we talked about being hydrated. What are some of the other suggestions?

Bonnie:                Hydration. My second tip for you, especially when it comes to a big meal, your holiday meal, is to scan the table before making any choices and to automatically eliminate in your head the foods that you can have on any regular basis. So like, for me, rolls. I can have a dinner roll any time I want. That’s something that I’m not going to put on my plate during my Christmas dinner. Whereas something like sweet potato casserole, if that’s something that you can only get a couple times a year, or only make a couple times a year, that’s what you want to put on your plate. And you want to make sure to at least try to get some vegetables on there too. Because those are going to be very high in fiber, which are going to help to take up some room in your stomach because they’re so bulky. If you eat those first, you’re going to help yourself with portion control of the other foods like the starches and the desserts.

Gene:                   So when we fill up our plate, stay reasonable. Get some vegetables and try to eat some of those first. How about that suggestion sometimes you hear about hey, have a glass of water before you eat?

Bonnie:                Yeah, especially for people that have difficulty remember to drink water throughout the day, a lot of times, making sure to drink a glass of water before meals, like I mentioned before, we can confuse thirst and hunger cues, so by making sure to drink a glass of water before meals, helps to ensure that you’re only going to eat what you really want to eat, and what you really need to eat. So I think it’s a great idea. If you have trouble with fast eating, something that is really helpful for a lot of my patients, is in between bites, taking a sip of water. So, some people…

Gene:                   Fast eating?

Bonnie:                Fast eating like…

Gene:                   Okay, not like fasting before you eat.

Bonnie:                No, not fasting. But just eating very fast because if we do that, since it does take a little while for our brain to catch up to our stomach, we typically overeat. So if we eat more slowly, we’re going to be more intuitive and more mindful about our portions.

Gene:                   Now you mentioned mixing hunger pains, confusing hunger pains and thirst pains … so what you’re saying is, if I feel that I have some kind of pang, what drink some water at first or liquid?

Bonnie:                Yeah, I would say, think back to the last time you ate. First of all. If it’s been awhile, then there’s a good chance it is food that you’re craving. But still, if you’re trying to stay hydrated, there’s nothing wrong with drinking some water too. So I think yeah, any time you feel a hunger pang or a thirst pang, to drink some water. Ask yourself if you want to have a snack or you’re ready for a meal. And wait a few minutes before asking yourself that question. If you’re still hungry, then yeah it’s time to eat.

Gene:                   All right, let’s ask you, getting back to the table. I’ve scanned a table. I’ve got some vegetables. I pick out stuff that I don’t usually eat and are treats. What other suggestions do you have?

Bonnie:                Okay, so my other suggestion would be to try and stay active, someway somehow during the holidays. In North Carolina, we don’t really know what the weather’s going to be like until the day of, so it’s kind of hard to decide if you’re able to go out and go walking. Maybe there’s going to be snow on the ground. But trying to find some way, whether that be to go on YouTube and find a short workout video on there that you can do from the comfort of your own home. If we have a 75 degree Christmas this year, which could be possible, going out and taking a walk. But stepping away from that table after you’re done eating and doing some type of activity. It’s going to make you feel better. It’s going to help you to digest. And then you’re also, walking away from those tempting foods because there’s going to be leftovers. You can eat them the next day. They’re not going to go anywhere.

Gene:                   What if your family pulls that Hobbit habit of what is it, second breakfast or second lunch or second dinner? Or basically, hey let’s eat again?

Bonnie:                Well, depending on what time your meal is, maybe you should eat again. I would say that if you do an earlier Christmas meal or holiday meal around 1 or 2, you probably do need to eat another meal. If it’s a huge meal that you’re eating at lunch, I would just try to do something smaller when it comes to dinner. And again, focusing on plenty of vegetables and maybe a lighter version of what you ate earlier in the day. And try and choose foods that you didn’t have before.

Gene:                   So if we’re hopping around from relatives home to relatives home and we do Christmas lunch at one location and Christmas dinner at the other locations, and they both have stuff that we don’t usually have but it’s oh my goodness, look at all this stuff. We’re basically lost, aren’t we?

Bonnie:                It becomes really difficult. I think it’s important to know your plan. Know the plan for the day. And come up with a game plan for yourself and what you’re going to do in terms of food. If you know that the first relative that you’re going to makes a really dry turkey and it’s not going to taste that good, don’t put the turkey on your plate. Wait until the next place that you go.

Bonnie:                Or if there’s macaroni at both places, but you know the first macaroni is going to be way better than the next relative’s, eat it the first time and don’t eat it at the next house. And again, we’re not expecting perfection here. But these are all just conversations to start having with yourselves right now so that by the time these holidays roll around, we feel a little bit more prepared because we’re already had these conversations with ourselves.

Gene:                   All right. We talked about the main meal. We talked about moving around.

Bonnie:                Hydration.

Gene:                   Hydration. That’s important too. How about desserts? I mean, there are lots of folks in the south, in this area who make their moms, their grandmas make all sorts of great desserts. What’s the best advice you have on deserts?

Bonnie:                I have a sweet tooth myself so I completely understand that. Kind of the same thing with meals. And the foods that are on the table there. Scan the dessert, and really pick out, I would say, if you could allow yourself two. Just pick out the two things that you want the most. Rather than, I want to sample every single thing. Because even if it’s just a little bit, that tends to be too much. So maybe just put two things on your plate. And they don’t have to be, if you’re doing two slices of pie, you don’t need to have two normal slices of pie. Maybe do two half slices of pie. Have your dessert. Experience that. And I would wait. Try not to do dessert right after dinner. Wait a little bit.

Gene:                   So have some conversation a little bit. Enjoy your family and friends. And then dig into dessert.

Bonnie:                Yeah, get your activity in and then come back and have the desert.

Gene:                   All right. How about snacking? Are you going to tell us to eat carrots and celery?

Bonnie:                I mean, I would love to.

Gene:                   Come on, we’re being realistic. That’s why people are going to be watching this. Because they’re going to want to know the real scoop from Bonnie the Nutritionists. Carrots and celery, they can find that on the internet.

Bonnie:                That brings up a really good point. Because if you have a family like mine, we have kind of the pre-meal food. So there’s a lot of food that’s being passed around like Chex Mix and all sorts of hors d’oeuvres. What you don’t want to do is fill up on those things so that you’re not hungry by the time mealtime comes around. But it’s going to be the same thing with like alcohol. I would just portion yourself out a little plate, eat it, drink some water. Alternate by drinking some water and then just chill. Rather than walking around and grabbing things as you see them, it’s really important to put all of them on a plate, so that you in your mind, you know actually how much you’re eating. Because it’s really easy to go and grab things and accidentally way more than we realized.

Gene:                   Are you suggesting we kind of fake out grandma, and just put some of that food on a little tray and leave that plate next to us? And not really pick at it, unless she comes around and says hey, eat this because you look too thin?

Bonnie:                That’s a great plan. We don’t want to offend anybody by not eating their food. Grandma’s are always trying to make us eat. Have it, eat a little bit of it. It’s okay to leave a little food on your plate if you don’t really want it or you don’t really like it, that’s okay. A lot of us feel like we need to be in the clean plate club. And that’s not the case.

Gene:                   My mom used to do that. “Because there’s kids starving in other countries.”

Bonnie:                Exactly, I know.

Gene:                   I could never figure out why my eating all that food made those kids feel any fuller.

Bonnie:                And it doesn’t, unfortunately.

Gene:                   Anything else we need to hit on before I ask you… We had a question actually from one of our chat list members, and I forwarded it to Bonnie. So Bonnie’s going to tackle that question before we finish up. And actually, we’re just going to finish up on a high note. The question had to do with a certain doctor.

Bonnie:                Yeah, Dr. Jason Fung who wrote the Obesity Code. She had a question for me about what I thought of his methods and whether … his belief is that insulin resistance is the cause of obesity and not excess calorie intake. I have mixed feelings about his message. And I’ve actually done some research on Jason Fung in the past, so I knew who he was. I was lucky to get a question that I knew how to answer.

Bonnie:                But Jason Fung doesn’t really take into consideration that everyone’s an individual. He really promotes this idea of fasting. And while he is exactly right that eating too little can also slow down our metabolism and prevent weight loss, if we eat too many calories… if we eat more calories than we’re burning off, we’re going to gain weight. That’s just science. And he doesn’t really seem to believe that, which is a little bit strange to me. He’s a brilliant man, but I think his views around insulin resistance … and like I said, the fact that he doesn’t take into account that everyone’s an individual, I would never promote fasting for someone that has diabetes. They could experience low blood sugar. And also, his methods could really… if someone has struggled with body images issues in the past, or has a history of an eating disorder or just disordered eating in general, it can be a real issue for people. So, definitely, you know, he makes some good points… but, I would say that I disagree with him more than I agree with him. But, like I said, he’s still a brilliant man.

Gene:                   Let’s just go back to that quick on fasting. There’s also I think quick fasting where some folks say don’t eat after 7, 8, 9 o’clock in the evening until the next day. What are your feelings on that?

Bonnie:                I think it really just depends on the individual. Some people, it doesn’t work. I had one patient that she would always start a fast at 6pm, but what that meant was at 5pm, she was just shoveling food into her mouth.

Gene:                   She starts at 6pm…

Bonnie:                So if she started fasting at 6, she knew that that fast was going to come around, so she would just stuff her face. And then she ended up gaining weight because she ended up eating more calories. Now there’s other people that by cutting themselves off at a certain time, they’re avoiding excess calories later in the evening. Health benefit? There really isn’t. People with diabetes often times need to eat a snack before bedtime so that they don’t develop low blood sugars in the morning. So really, there’s no right answer. But if you’re one of those people who when you know you have to start fasting, you eat way more than you would, then it’s probably not the best idea. And I think that’s probably what I would do. I don’t really put a time on myself to stop eating. Just try and eat when I’m going, and stop when I’m satisfied.

Gene:                   There you go. Everything in moderation.

Bonnie:                Everything in moderation.

Gene:                   We’ve got a couple of minutes here. We’re going to be wrapping it up. We’re going to get some essentials here. Hey, folks. When you’re watching this, a few folks are watching this right now, but… this will be available. I’ll post it on the chat list. Take a look at it. Let me know what you feel about it. And if we get enough interest, I think I can convince Bonnie to do some more nutritional post-holiday eating patterns that you may need to hear.

Bonnie:                I’d love to.

Gene:                   She’d love to.

Bonnie:                I would love to.

Gene:                   Mark Stintson, this is for you. Mark actually is one of our chat list members, and he’s lost like 20 pounds too.

Bonnie:                Way to go, Mark.

Gene:                   And he’s got the whole group talking about moderation, eating fresh. We’ll talk about that when we come back. Eating fresh foods versus prepared foods and all that other stuff.

Bonnie:                I’d love that.

Gene:                   But the biggest… I think we’ve hit on some of them as to, hey, starting this weekend and going through January 2, what are the biggest things people can easily do or just do by watching themselves?

Bonnie:                Yeah, so just some easy tips? I would make sure to treat the beginning of the day, treat the beginning of the day like it’s a normal day. So, if Christmas … if you know you have a big Christmas lunch, a lot of times, especially like Thanksgiving, I see this happens a lot. People will starve themselves before the meal because they’re so excited for that meal and they want to be able to eat everything they can. Then they end up eating way more calories than they would have if they had just consumed standard breakfast. So, start every day like it’s a normal day. And I would say, honestly, my biggest tip is that if you do end up eating a little bit too much and you know it, and you feel a little bit stuffed, do not feel down on yourself.

Bonnie:                Do not feel discouraged. Do not get mad. Do not feel guilty. These things happen. They’re totally normal. It’s okay to eat a little bit more than we should once in awhile. And when we do it on a consistent basis that it becomes a problem. So, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Just wake up the next day and go back to your normal routine. That is the best piece of advice I can give you.

Gene:                   That’s why I love this lady because she’s kind of like… hey, we all live in the real world. We can’t all be perfect all the time. Every once in awhile we indulge. Especially when grandma says, hey what’s wrong with my pumpkin pie or whatever and you don’t want to feel guilty. So this is the time to do it. Ms. Bonnie Wilson, nutritionist at UNC. She does a fantastic job. I hope you all enjoyed this video. Please provide feedback either back on the chat list or on this Facebook stream live, and we’ll see if we can’t also get this on YouTube. Great advice for the Christmas/New Year break.

Bonnie:                I hope everyone has a great holiday and a great rest of their year.

Gene:                   And can you say, ho ho ho.

Bonnie:                Ho ho ho.

Gene:                   There you go. All right.