December 5, 2016

Eating Healthfully At Christmas

Do we really have to?

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Christmas comes once a year. Is it so bad to eat more of the “goodies” and, really, of everything at this time of celebration? It is so difficult to be controlled.

You are so right. Overindulgence over the holiday seasons is a reality for many. Fellowship and food go together so well!

Your question about the “goodies” got me thinking: many of the confectionaries and foods prepared for times of celebration are unhealthful— “baddies,” in fact.

When I was a child, it seemed to take ages for Christmas to come. I was brought up in an Adventist Christian home, which, throughout the year and Sabbath to Sabbath and especially on Sabbath, was in all ways a “taste of heaven.” Mother was an excellent cook, and Sabbath lunches were especially memorable when church friends, and especially missionaries, were guests. I vividly remember my father saying after the substantial Christmas and New Year’s meals: “These times come but once a year; and when they come, they bring good cheer!” With the years I observed that with each festive season came an intensifying “battle of the bulge”!

Medical school brought exposure to the many “lifestyle” diseases that, since that time, have burgeoned into the pandemic of the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). One of my many outstanding teachers made an indelible impression on my thinking and practice of medicine. His eloquence matched his sense of humor. He termed the prevailing dietary habits, lack of exercise, and excessive caloric intake as “deathstyle, not lifestyle”! He posited that the then-affluent society and emerging middle classes were victims of the “twin evils of gluttony and sloth,” doomed to early death and addicted to “saccharine abominations” (including any refined foods, especially those containing sugar). His words were prophetic.

In the 1970s type 2 diabetes was termed “maturity-onset diabetes”—seldom, if ever, seen in anyone under the age of 55. Patients with this diagnosis are now filling adolescent and pediatric clinics. We are living in a society that is very “unfriendly” to diabetics; it is so difficult for diabetic friends and family to stick with healthful foods when confronted by the plethora of unhealthful delicacies and “treats.” Give the gift of healthful nutrition to yourself and to others every day.

Practical tips:

Drink adequate pure water; avoid sugary drinks; and limit pure fruit juice, which is full of fruit sugar (but sugar nevertheless!).

Don’t skip breakfast; eat at regular intervals.

Fill up on salads, and choose fresh fruit as dessert.

Order salad dressing on the side.

Keep portion sizes small.

Avoid processed, refined, salt-laden, and fatty foods, especially animal fats.

Take time over meals; allow the satiety center of the brain to sense fullness after eating, and limit overeating.

Continue regular exercise at least 30 minutes daily.

Careful planning, wise choices, considerate cooking, and thoughtful sharing can keep periods of celebration just that, and help to avoid the regrets of overindulgence.

Celebrate Emmanuel—“God with us”—every day, by living each day, each holiday, thoughtfully and to the full, because He is with us and will empower us!

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.