How to Stay Fit This Holiday Season: Q & A with Nutrionist Rebecca Marks Rudy

Want to say fit this holiday season? Then talk to Rebecca Marks Rudy.

Rebecca Marks Rudy, MS, is a sports nutrition associate at, an Internet-based triathlon coaching and sports nutrition service for both everyday triathletes and novices.

Marks Rudy works with clients to promote healthful living and peak performance through informed choices. A competitive athlete, she rowed for four years at Harvard University and continues to train for road races, open water swims, and triathlons. She has a master's of science in nutrition communication from Tufts and has worked as a nutritionist for the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, a residential weight management center where she taught clients in group and individual settings how to modify their lifestyles though healthful food choices. Marks Rudy and her work have been featured in media such as the Discovery Health Channel and People magazine.

MindBodyGreen: As winter approaches, we want warmer, heartier foods, and salads don't always fit our bodies' cravings. What are some healthy lunch options for the winter?

Rebecca Marks Rudy: If it's something warm you are craving, try using a sandwich press. It's a good way to make use of healthful leftovers, as well. Heat up a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce on whole-grain bread and serve with a side of soup—anything from Amy's Organics Butternut Squash to Campbell's Select Harvest Italian Style Vegetable. Another good option is to invest in a crock pot. Throw together a bunch of vegetables, spices, and a lean protein, such as chicken (or focus on beans and legumes if you're vegetarian), and a simmered meal is yours without a lot of effort. Package into portion sizes for the week. Lastly, if you don't have the time or energy to prepare your own meals, you could opt for a frozen option such as Kashi's frozen line, offering a full range from entrees to pizzas to pocket sandwiches.

MBG: What is the most common misconception about the relationship between holiday eating and gaining weight?

RMR: The holiday season, for many, spans Halloween to New Year's Day. It becomes a two-month feast. Take a minute, though, to identify exactly which days you'll actually be celebrating. Chances are, they amount to only a few. You won't gain significant weight based on a few days of higher-calorie eating. Pre-plan for any holiday parties and gatherings, structure your training schedule to include a workout on these days, and balance your intake to make room for the modest splurge.

MBG: If you're beginning a new workout or nutrition regimen, how do you keep on track during the short week of Thanksgiving?

RMR: Compartmentalize, prioritize, and pre-plan. Remember that Thanksgiving itself is just one day. View this day in the context of your whole week—travel, celebrations, and family time included. If your overall goal throughout the winter season is weight loss, try taking some of the pressure off during certain blocks—such as the few days around Thanksgiving. Aim for weight maintenance rather than loss and you'll feel better about managing expectations.

MBG: If you do derail, how do you get back on track?

RMR: Assure yourself that the next day is a clean slate. Avoid going to extremes, such as trying to starve yourself for a day or two following a higher-intake meal or celebration. That could set you up for succumbing to extreme hunger and overcompensating once again.

MBG: Foods to avoid during the holiday season?

RMR: I hate to think of avoiding your favorite foods all season! If Grandma makes the best stuffing you have ever had, and you only have it once a year, plan to enjoy some. (Determine your serving size in advance— such as a tennis-ball-size scoop, which is about one cup.) But stick to only Grandma's, as you know any other won't compare— so why bother? Additionally, identify what triggers you may have (i.e., foods that may lead you off track). If you know that indulging in one small single serving of pumpkin pie will drive you to eat the whole pie, it may be best to choose an alternative. Lastly, while I don't endorse low-carbohydrate diets as a lifestyle, it can't hurt to implement a modified plan for a few days around holiday celebrations, particularly traditionally big meals. Do keep fruits and vegetables in your plan, for example, but nix dinner rolls, corn bread, sweet potato souffle pies, and cakes to avoid excess calories. That said, if you have long training sessions planned, be sure to make choices that include whole-grain carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, to fuel the training.

MBG: Foods to enjoy during the holiday season?

RMR: Prioritize your favorites and don't waste your time on the mediocre. If you adore apple pie, indulge in a slice. (Note that three to four knuckles along the crust could be 300 to 400 calories.) To take that further, if you prefer the filling, leave most of the crust behind. Enjoy it with a cup of tea to fill yourself, and keep your hands and mouth busy while the rest of the crew goes back for seconds, thirds, fourths, etc. You'll be the envy of the party exhibiting moderation.

MBG: Between Thanksgiving dinners, holiday parties, and work parties, there are a lot of activities involving alcohol. What's your advice?

RMR: Set your limit ahead of time. Just as you have a training plan that lays out your workouts for the week, set your schedule prior to the week or month of celebrations. If you have the caloric budget for a drink or two, enjoy them slowly and not on an empty stomach. After you have reached your predetermined limit, switch to a previously designated drink: sparkling water with lemon, unsweetened iced tea, a diet beverage, or a spritzer (e.g., half cranberry juice, half seltzer water). Additionally, you can make the choice between either an after-dinner drink or a dessert, for instance.

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