THE holidays are a time for giving, receiving and, too often, overeating. Susan Barr, a professor of food, nutrition and health in UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems, offers a guide to healthy eating for holiday revelers and even Old Saint Nick himself.


What are some ways to avoid gaining weight around the holidays?

On average, people gain roughly one pound over the holidays. That doesn’t sound like much, but over 20 or 30 years, it adds up and it can have adverse health consequences. Most people have heard about the tips to limit weight gain over the holidays, but they forget them when they’re really needed. Some tips are:

Limit your intake. Most people find the first and last bite of any food to be the most satisfying, so taking two bites gives you the whole tasting experience.

Avoid mindless eating. At social events, position yourself farther away from the food so you don’t snack all night. If you’re farther away, going to get something to eat will become more of a conscious decision.

Use a smaller plate. This will limit how much you can physically have on your plate. If you think of your plate in four sections, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter grains and a quarter protein.

Don’t starve yourself. People often don’t eat before a big meal, which will only make you hungrier. It’s OK to eat a little less during the day but if you show up starving to a social event, you’re likely to eat more than you would have if you had eaten beforehand.

Get active. The holiday season offers a chance to enjoy physical activities with friends, including skating, snowshoeing or just going for a walk.


What advice might you offer to Santa Claus about his own health?

Someone who is quite old and rotund is not a prime candidate for making a change in diet, unless they’re having specific health issues related to their weight. Santa is magic, so perhaps all the milk and cookies he has on Christmas Eve aren’t a problem.

But on a more serious note, some advice would be in order for those of us who are younger and still look like Santa, in terms of his very big belly. That belly – or central obesity – is associated with greater health risks than lower body obesity.

The good news is that even moderate weight loss can be helpful in decreasing those risks. So if Santa was not magic and was a 40-year-old, he might think about rigging up an exercise bike to use on his sleigh. I’m sure his reindeer would appreciate some help with the load. And while it’s fine to enjoy some of the milk and cookies left out for him, he does have to watch how much he eats.