How to Have Healthy Holidays

Marissa Wertheimer, Dietitian and Health Coach for Health Plus, discusses how to make our health a priority over the holidays. She shares three key tips for eating healthfully, staying active, and managing weight during this exciting and busy season.

Begin Transcript

Bridgette Butler:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness wellcast.  I am Bridgette Butler with Health Plus.  The holidays are almost here and for most, it is a very busy time.  When we get too busy, we sometimes lose sight of just how important it is to make our health an ongoing priority in our lives.  Joining us today to talk about how to have healthy holidays is Marissa Wertheimer, Registered Dietician/Nutritionist and health coach for Health Plus.  Welcome, Marissa.

Marissa Wertheimer:  Thanks, Bridgette.  I'm so happy to be part of this wellcast.  Thanks for having me.

Bridgette Butler:  You are so welcome!  As the holidays approach, what should we be focusing on to make sure we are maintaining our health?

Marissa Wertheimer:  Well, that is a great question, Bridgette.  So, a lot of times we kind of exaggerate and the media kind of exaggerates how much weight we gain during the holidays.  I have seen things that say people typically gain five pounds or 10 pounds or somewhere in between, but a study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that Americans actually gain only about a pound, up to a pound or a pound and a half, during the winter holidays.  So, it may not sound like much, and it is definitely not as much as we may have thought, but gaining one to two pounds a year can really add up over time.  So, I want to share with you three tips to avoid weight gain during the holiday season.  I will talk about each one of these a little more in detail, but the three tips are to 1) stay active, 2) make healthy food choices, and 3) watch the alcohol and sugary drinks at holiday parties.  For staying active, the cold weather outside can be a barrier to many to be active, but there are plenty of ways to stay active during the cold months.  A few examples include joining a gym or yoga studio, maybe finding an indoor tennis league, getting a group together to go for a walk or sign up for a holiday run, even exercising at home or layering up to walk outside.  Also, we have tunnels at the hospital and many other work places have indoor areas to walk around during the work day, so, really taking advantage of those different things to stay active during the holiday season.  Also, making healthy food choices ... so, a lot of times during the winter season, we like to turn to heartier foods, but "hearty" doesn't necessarily have to mean "heavy."  Some examples of healthier food choices may be choosing like broth-based soups or chilis as opposed to like the cream-thickened soups, or maybe for dessert trying a baked apple or poached pear with some cinnamon and honey instead of pie for dessert.  And also, at holiday meals, one large meal ... I like to tell people that one large meal or one day of over-eating is not going to cause us to gain weight.  It is typically if we overeat for a long period of time that can cause that weight gain over the holidays.  I have heard many people say (you probably have heard this, too), where people kind of go into this "vacation mode" over the holidays and they will say, "Well, I am just going to just eat whatever I want this month and then I will get back on track January 1st."  That is so common.  I hear that all the time.  But this mindset can really cause some bad habits to form over the holidays and it can be damaging to our health and cause weight gain over the holidays.  So, I like to encourage people to think of each meal as a new opportunity to make a healthy choice.  Definitely indulge and enjoy that Thanksgiving meal or that Christmas meal.  Eating should be fun and it is such an enjoyment in our life, so it is important to enjoy these meals and these holiday parties, but in between, it is important to focus on making healthy food choices and really trying to load up on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy sources, and trying to treat those treats and desserts actually as treats instead of having them at every meal and every day.  And then, my third tip is to watch the alcohol and sugary drinks at holiday meals.  A lot of times we forget that drinks may have calories in them.  Obviously, water is going to be like the gold standard.  It is the best thing that we can drink to quench our thirst.  Also, coffee and tea without added sweeteners can be healthy choices, but a lot of extra calories come from alcohol, so beer, wine, cocktails with sugary mixers ... those calories can really add up and it can also lead us to over-eat or kind of lower our inhibitions or our willpower to make healthy food choices.  So, if you do drink alcohol, try choosing the ones that are lower in calories, like a light beer, wine, maybe even using Seltzer as a mixer and really flavoring your drinks with some fruit, like limes, oranges, lemon slices, and trying to alternate water and the alcohol.  So, those are my three tips, again, staying active, making healthy food choices and trying to watch the alcohol and sugary drinks during the holidays.

Bridgette Butler:  Those are great tips.  What resources does Vanderbilt Health and Wellness offer that could help us over the holidays to follow these tips?

Marissa Wertheimer:  Well, we have a really fun program every holiday season called "Hold the Stuffing" and then Health Plus also offers lifestyle coaching.  We offer mindful breaks.  We have a really wonderful website with online workouts that can be done at home.  There is also some stretches and exercises that can be done in the workplace.  The Health Plus website has some really good resources that are available to faculty and staff.

Bridgette Butler:  You mentioned the "Hold the Stuffing" program that occurs at this time every year, I believe, just before the holidays.  Can you tell us more about this program?

Marissa Wertheimer:  The "Hold the Stuffing" challenge is a holiday challenge to maintain weight from November to January and you can earn rewards from participating.  To participate, you do an initial weigh-in prior to Thanksgiving.  It is typically the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and at that weigh-in, you can receive some healthy holiday recipes and maybe a small prize and some other tips to maintain good health during the holidays.  Then, you return for a final weigh-in after New Year's.  So, it is typically the two weeks after the New Year, and if you are able to maintain your weight within two pounds over this time period, you will be entered into a prize drawing.  So, we have two grand prize winners and we have 10 runner-up prize winners.  If you go to the Health Plus website, and in the search bar, type in "Hold the Stuffing," you can see an entire list of all the locations that will be doing the weigh-ins as well as the grand prizes we will be giving away and the runner-up prizes.  So, we have some really cool things this year that we are giving away and hopefully all of you listeners will be able to participate.

Bridgette Butler:  That's a fantastic program to help us maintain our weight over the holidays and stay healthy.

Marissa Wertheimer:  Yep.  It's fun.  It's a good incentive, too.

Bridgette Butler:  Marissa, thank you so much for all of your tips today and for giving us more information on "Hold the Stuffing" program.

Marissa Wertheimer:  Thanks, Bridgette.

Bridgette Butler:  Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at