Navigating Nutrition Throughout the Holidays with Dana Kennedy, RDN, LDN

We are so fortunate at CrossFit St. Clair to have some really smart folks who can help us out both inside and outside the gym.  Dana Kennedy is a Pittsburgh native who now works as a dietician, helping people make smart choices to reach their health and fitness goals, as well as teaching them the foundations of nutrition so that they can eat to fuel their lifestyles.  We recently sat down with Dana to talk about something that is on our minds this time of year - Holiday Weight Gain!  

Like it or not, the holidays are a time filled with temptation; we get happy, we get stressed, we get sad.  Food and alcohol are present and often a focal point of holiday gatherings (who can't wait for Nana's apple pie or an Old Fashioned with Uncle Frank?)  Don't let this holiday be what derails you from all the progress you make, and don't let it be an excuse to beat yourself up in the gym.  Rather than focusing on "getting back on track in the New Year," make a resolution to go into the holidays with a gameplan!  Without further ado, let's get down to it with Dana - big thank you for your time and wisdom!

Why do so many people fear weight gain during the holidays?

The holiday season is a time to enjoy the comfort and unconditional love of the people we care most about. It's also a time of gift-buying (as in boxed chocolates, candy, nuts, anything with sugar), cookie-exchanging, champagne-toasting, ham-slicing, sweet-potato-and-marshmallow-munching madness!  After all, how DO we show that unconditional love to our friends and family who we care most about?  We FEED them of course!  We feed them and they feed us the amount of calories most professional footballs players need over the span of 2 weeks in 2 hours...and that's just Christmas dinner!  It is this over-eating within a short period of time, minus the likelihood that we're working out as habitually, that could add up to calorie intake > calorie output, and hence, a holiday weight gain. 

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

What are some great tips to avoid getting bloated, lethargic, and weight gain during this time of year?

Tip #1:  Don't arrive hungry, devise a plan (and stick to it!), and take control-- If you've been attending the same holiday parties year in and year out, odds are you know exactly what you're going to be walking into-- your Mom's famous cheesy spinach-artichoke dip to start, followed by Aunt Wendy's signature cocktails (you don't know exactly what makes them so sweet, but sweet = sugar = extra/empty calories). Top it off with Grandma's white chocolate chip cheesecake and without even counting your main meal you have well exceeded your calorie limit. So what is your plan?  These are foods and beverages you get MAYBE once a year. So before walking into the realm of endless deliciousness, ask yourself:  Are there going to be other items there that you have the opportunity to eat/drink all year round?  Skip those. Do you have to eat a whole cup of the cheesy spinach-artichoke dip or would just a tablespoon or two satisfy you?  When you are drinking Aunt Wendy's signature martini, are you enjoying every single solitary sip?  Gosh I hope so!  Paying attention to the portions of your rarely-eaten favorites, enjoying each and every flavorful taste, and avoiding the temptation to over-eat (i.e. arriving with a semi-full belly) are all ways that you can control your intake and therefore prevent that bloated, lethargic feeling. 

Tip #2:  Want to get in on an extra serving?  Stick with the safe bets-- What do I mean by this?  Anything that isn't creamed, fried, smothered, deep fried, or candied. Foods with these adjectives in the title typically mean astronomically high calorie numbers, which is really what we're most concerned about. Some healthier key ingredient words to pay attention to include roasted, steamed, baked, broiled, or grilled. As a host, these are certainly some key recipe terms you could add to your menu to make your meal much more nutritious!  

Tip #3:  Don't fall off your workout wagon-- The holidays are such a crazy, nonstop, pressure-filled time to find the perfect presents and bake til we drop. How could there be time to do anything else during these maddening months?  Well, the thing about time is it's actually all we have. Time is never something we are lacking, but how we choose to spend it may make or break our health goals over the holidays. Just like you choose what you eat for breakfast, what CD you listen to on your way to work, and if you take the stairs or the elevator, you choose to make the time to fit in those workouts just as you would any other old day. Think of it as an appointment- would you just not show up to your annual physical?  Treat your workout time slot as such. If your time is truly slipping with all of the holiday craziness, you can always break up your workouts into segments, i.e. three 10-minute bursts throughout the day if you don't have a full 1/2 hour to commit. Don't let all of your hard work you've done over the past year slip this holiday season! 

Tip #4:  Watch the drinks-- At 7 calories per gram, calories from alcohol can really add up and throw off your whole plan. Not to mention, alcohol actually dehydrates you, making you feel tired faster, causing an energy slump, and will likely tempt you to eat more than you originally intended. Then of course there are the countless other calorie-ridden beverages available i.e. egg nog, soda, etc. So if Aunt Wendy's signature martini is something you've been looking forward to all year, by all means have one. ONE. Then, if you are serious about keeping it cool, stick to a decaffeinated, calorie-free, sugar-free drink to have with your meal. Water is your best bet here :) 

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Tip #5:  Stay hydrated-- I spelled this out for you above, but seriously, water is your best friend. Not just while you're working out or when you're finally feeling thirsty. Drinking water before, during, and after your meal could potentially keep you from over-eating and feeling all that unpleasantness that goes with it. Who wants that?  

Tip #6:  Enjoy yourself-- The holiday season comes but once a year and it IS possible to enjoy yourself and walk away feeling like you didn't just eat enough for yourself plus the entire offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is a true blessing to be able to share the holidays with the people you love and partake in all that is enjoyable, especially the food!  What I'm trying to say here is try not to beat yourself up if perhaps you do overindulge. You CAN get back on track after eating a second serving of pie, then dessert, then going back for another glass of egg nog. The goal for the entire day is of course not to do this, but if you do, just tell yourself that tomorrow is a new day and things WILL get back to normal. Tell yourself, "This is not how I normally eat, and I do not plan to continue this overeating as a habit. This is not a pleasant feeling, which is why I will get myself back on track tomorrow." That positive self-talk and coaching will help get you back on track, and hopefully those feelings of guilt will vanish as quickly as that 2nd piece of pie!  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Personally, my side of the family usually gets together on Christmas Eve, whether that is when Chanukah falls or not, and we celebrate that with my parents and two brothers. Then we go to my in-laws' on Christmas morning and spend the entire day there- opening presents, and of course enjoying the  traditional food and drinks that go with it. We typically make a couple stops throughout the day to some friends' houses, and end up back at my in-laws' for a delicious meal. We end the night playing games and sometimes we fall asleep!  What I love most about the holidays is all of the togetherness and giving that takes place- it's such a wonderful feeling to anticipate giving gifts you can't wait to give, and then seeing the faces when the gifts are received. It seems to make all of the pre-holiday craziness worth it!  

Thank you Dana, for all that you do!  (Dana is a registered dietician and is available for counseling.  Feel free to reach out to her to learn about consultations, plans, etc.)