11 Healthy Holiday Season Tips for Thyroid Patients

A Simple Easy Way to Start...

holiday food journal

The holiday season -- with its food-centered family get-togethers and parties, extra responsibilities, cold weather, and lack of time to exercise -- can be a particular challenge for people with thyroid conditions.

As thyroid patients, many of us are trying hard to lose weight, maintain where we are, or avoid gaining weight. We're also trying to manage stress, fit in exercise, and get enough sleep.

Here are 11 things that we can all do to help have a healthier holiday season.

1. A Simple Easy Way to Start...

To start, I'm not asking you to eat less. Just get yourself a notebook or journal that fits in your pocket or bag, download an app, or get online. And every single day, starting now, write down every bite, crumb, and drop of everything you eat. The taste of gravy, the "fun-size" candy bar, the cookie you grab as you pass the reception desk, the piece of pie, the candy cane, the pumpkin spice latte at the mall...all of it!

Keeping a food diary can as much as double a person's weight loss -- or help prevent weight gain -- according to an eye-opening study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. According to one the study's authors Jack Hollis, Ph.D., "The more food records people kept, the more weight they lost. Those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories."

You don't have to make a major project out of keeping a food diary. You can jot it in a notebook, keep track on a smartphone or Iphone (there are many terrific apps that help you keep track of calories and food intake), leave yourself voice mails, send yourself-text messages, or keep track on a site that has tools to help you log and track your food intake, calories, nutrients, exercise, and more.

Need help starting a food journal? Weight loss guide Jennifer Scott has a great piece, Creating a Food Journal in Six Steps, that can get you started today.

Just Five a Day Keeps the Pounds Away...


We all know the "five a day" rule about fruits and vegetables. But how many of us are actually achieving that on a daily basis? Not enough, I'd guess. Holiday foods tend to be starch and sugar laden, and when faced with rich and tempting holiday fare, sometimes the last thing you want to eat is a boring salad or a piece of fruit.

But starting today, let's shoot to make sure that we're getting those five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day -- with emphasis on the higher-fiber, lower-sugar -- known as low-glycemic -- vegetables if you can. (Five bananas, for example, doesn't cut it, folks!!)

Vegetables and fruit have fewer calories than most other foods and are much more nutritious. (Remember, though, a piece of apple pie, or candied yams with marshmallows do NOT count as a fruit or vegetable!!) Aim for the higher fiber fruits and vegetables -- that will help you feel full, and fiber helps blunt the effect of carbohydrates. Fiber is also great for thyroid patients, who may need more roughage in the diet.

So, promise yourself that before you'll indulge in any holiday "goodies," you'll first eat your five-a-day.

Get a list of the highest-fiber vegetables and fruits now, for reference.

Don't Do This More Than Once a Day...


Some of us think the holiday season is an excuse to allow ourselves treats from Thanksgiving through the New Year...and some even extend that to Super Bowl Sunday, or even Valentine's Day!

This is a recipe for guaranteed weight gain, because remember... for someone with a normal metabolism, an additional 500 calories a day means an extra pound of weight gain EVERY WEEK! And thyroid patients are often able to gain even more easily, due to a slowed metabolism, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and other hormonal imbalances.

500 calories seems like a lot, but it's actually very pretty easy to reach. Today it's one large latte with whipped cream, tomorrow a piece of pie, the day after it's a super-sized muffin or cookie, and there you are.

You can't indulge in a big way, every day, or you're going to pack on the pounds for the holidays.

At the same time, if you don't indulge occasionally in your favorites, you'll feel deprived, and that creates stress (which can contribute to hunger and weight gain), and may actually encourage you to binge. So...if you need to indulge, keep it to one small indulgence a day, at the most. (That does NOT mean you need to indulge every day. But don't go over one a day!)

And remember, that even with that indulgence, if you don't want to gain weight, you'll have to cut back elsewhere to reduce calories, or ramp up your exercise to burn more calories.

One Critical Thing That Helps Avoid Weight Gain...

You may think that there's no time to exercise during the holidays, but there are ways to make sure that you get moving -- every single day. Not only will exercise help you avoid holiday weight gain, but it helps you avoid holiday stress. AND it gets you jumpstarted for the traditional January diet and weight loss effort that most of us make!

If you're already working out and are finding yourself extra busy, do a shorter workout, or split your workout into two sessions. Exercise at home -- that way you don't waste any time driving, parking, or waiting for a class or equipment. It's better to cut back on exercise, or split up your exercise sessions, than to not exercise at all.

And if you're not exercising regularly, what better time to start than now, to battle holiday stress, and help avoid holiday weight gain?

Schedule exercise on your calendar, and make it a priority appointment.

An easy tip for beginners...Buy a pedometer, or get a FitBit or other device that connects to your smartphone, and track the number of steps you take during the day. If you've walked 2,000 steps, you've covered a mile. Try simple things such as walking to your co-worker's office instead of e-mailing, or taking the stairs. Take extra laps around the mall when holiday shopping or making gift returns. At home, walk around the house during tv ads and march in place while on the phone.

Try a winter sport, like skiing, snowboarding or ice-skating. Even if you're in a warm climate, your local mall may have an ice rink. Why not lace up some skates in the midst of holiday shopping?

The key is: fit in activity however and wherever you can.

Make a Plan...


One of the keys to success is planning ahead. Start thinking right now about how you're going to manage the holidays.

Don't let yourself get hungry. Eat regularly, and when you're out running errands, shopping or traveling, be sure to pack some healthy snacks to have on-hand. Then you won't be as tempted to grab something at the mall food court, the airport fast food restaurants, or the rest stop.

Put your goals on your refrigerator, or in your smartphone or iPhone.

Before you go to a restaurant, check the menu online, and plan what you're going to eat, so you're not tempted in the moment to go overboard.

And schedule breaks for exercise, and your favorite relaxing, stress-busting activities like yoga, meditation, walking, crafting, and the arts.

Stress Management guide Elizabeth Scott has some great ideas on how busy people can manage stress.

It's Time to Par-tay!

Parties and buffets require particular planning and attention.

First, make sure you eat your normal meals that day. This will make you less likely to be starving by the time of the party, and ready to go overboard and eat everything in sight.

Always eat right BEFORE you go to a party as well. Have something light, like a salad with light dressing, or a bowl of vegetable soup before you go.

Once you're at the party, pick two or three of your favorite items, put them on a napkin, and walk away. Avoid using a plate, if at all possible. If you do use a plate, choose a small plate instead of a large plate at the buffet line.

Scope out the healthiest options, and fill up your plate with fresh vegetables (no dips though), fruit, plain chicken, plain shrimp. Avoid the baked and fried foods, fatty dips, cheese and desserts whenever you can.

Don't think that just because there are small appetizers, that they are low calorie. Many of these tiny treats are filled with fat and calories. For instance, a single serving of fried wonton or a handful of bite-size quiches or crabcakes can have as as many calories as a small fast food hamburger and French fries.

Don't hang around at the table, or in the kitchen. This will prevent you from any mindless eating, and remove you from the prime temptation area.

Enjoy the socializing. That's why you're at the party, and it takes your mind off the brownies!

And don't forget to track or write down what you ate at that party later!

Uh-oh -- Work Time!

Tis the season when everyone brings in leftover Halloween candy, cookies, cakes, candies, and treats to the office.

There's a big platter of cookies on the receptionist's desk, and coworkers leave home-made fudge, candy, cakes and other treats in the office kitchen.

And then you have the office potluck or lunch, and it's often honey-baked hams, rolls, mayonnaise-laden salads, cookies...and more cookies.

Be prepared for the daily onslaught of temptations. Be sure to eat normal, healthy meals regularly, and keep a ready stash of healthy snacks in your desk so you won't be tempted to overindulge.

Would You Like a Drink?


The holidays are time when wines, spirits, champagne and special drinks are flowing. But you need to remember that drinks have calories, and they're empty calories. On top of that, when you drink alcohol, it may encourage you to eat more as well.

The average alcoholic drink contains 150-200 calories per glass. Indulge in just 2-3 drinks and you've just imbibed the equivalent of an entire meal.

If you partake in these beverages, choose wisely. For example, instead of having a full glass of wine, try making a spritzer by mixing half a glass of wine with sparkling water.

You may also want to alternate alcoholic drinks with club soda or soft drinks.

And the problem is not just alcoholic drinks. What's better than a trip to your favorite Starbucks or coffee shop on a cold day? But if you plan to indulge, be careful. Some of those Pumpking Spice Lattes at Starbucks can have more than 400 calories!

Instead, enjoy the season, and savor a cup of coffee with a splash of skim or low-fat milk -- at less than 50 calories. If you have to indulge in a specialty drink, at least go with a nonfat version, to shave off some calories.

And don't forget eggnog... the traditional holiday treat packs a whopping 342 calories in each 8-ounce serving. If you're an eggnog fan like I am, try this delicious recipe for Low-fat, Low-calorie Eggnog instead.

Time to Chill....


For thyroid patients, stress is disastrous for weight loss. Stress raises cortisol levels, which causes blood sugar and insulin fluctuations. This can make your body more effective at fat storage, and make you feel more hungry.

Stress can also lead to bad food choices and abandoning your exercise.

So...try to keep stress at a minimum...Don't overextend yourself. While there always seems to be so much to do -- business parties, family gatherings, neighborhood socializing, school functions -- prioritize the most important to you, and say no to the others.

Need more ideas? Visit Stress Management Guide Elizabeth Scott's web site for stress management tips and suggestions.

Don't Skimp on Sleep

sleeping fatigue thyroid
Don't skimp on sleep!. clipart.com

It's tempting during the  busy holiday season to sacrifice sleep, but it's all the more important. Sleep helps bolster your immune system, gives you energy -- making it less likely that you'll eat or indulge in sugary foods for an energy boost -- and actually helps your metabolism. 

Lack of sleep can be a major contributing factor to weight gain - or difficulty losing weight. 

So make sure you get your seven or eight hours a night throughout the holidays. Your waistline will thank you for it!  

And the Biggest Secret Is...


One of the greatest tips for success is to just stick with it.

So if you give in, and eat way more Halloween candy, pumpkin pie or Christmas pudding or Grandma's special rugelach than you should, get back on track right away.

Overeating at one meal or event is not going to be the cause of a permanent weight gain. But overeating at several holiday dinners, and a few parties, and a few special dinners out, and finishing off that tin of home-backed cookies on top of it all add up, and WILL be the cause of permanent weight gain.

So don't use one overindulgence as an excuse. Don't allow slipping one time to be an excuse to overeat the rest of the day, or the next day, or for the rest of the weekend, or to skip exercise. 

Have a Happy, Healthy Holiday Season! -- Mary