Staying Healthy During The Holidays: Easy Dietary Substitutes For Healthier Holiday Meals

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By Mia Brabham

Sponsored by Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

As it gets colder outside and the holiday season comes sneaking around the corner, we are more prone to gain weight around this time of year. Between leftover candy from Halloween, heavy carbohydrate dishes at Thanksgiving, sugary holiday treats sent by employers and friends, and cocktails flowing on New Year’s Eve, it becomes tempting to snack, eat and drink. Although many holiday gatherings may happen by video this year, the food and beverages don’t stop. Luckily, there’s a way to still stay healthy.

Weight Gain

Dr. Raenell Williams

The doctors at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center are here to help with tips on how most everyone can maintain their weight, like crafting festive meals in a healthier manner and engaging in fun activities and regimens to help you lose the extra pounds you’ve gained — or might gain — during this time.

Raenell C. Williams, M.D., a Family Practice physician with Sentara Family and Internal Medicine Physicians, tells us “for the average person, weight is cyclical. During cold weather months, people tend to stay in, and are a lot less active. They snack and eat heavier comfort foods, so they gain weight.”

Weight gain can have a negative effect on our health and our bodies, especially for those with conditions like diabetes and heart issues.

“The increased weight has a direct correlation with increasing blood pressure numbers and worsening blood sugars,” she says. “If patients don’t get their habits back in check in a reasonable time period, more permanent end organ damage can be done.”

When spring and summer come back around, we will all be more active doing things such as yard work and gardening — and eating and grilling more fresh fruits and vegetables. Until then, there are plenty of ways to stay healthy and fit indoors and at the dinner table.

Eat Better This Season

Dr. Khalid Abousy

The good news is, there are plenty of delicious dietary substitutes for people who want to have a flavor-filled meal and still enjoy the holidays without experiencing weight gain. Dr. Williams recommends abstaining from or minimizing your intake of sugar products and carbs, such as rice, pasta, potatoes, and bread. On your next trip to the grocery store, you can swap out white and brown rice for yummy cauliflower rice, and pick up a box of tasty chickpea or edamame pasta rather than grabbing a bag of white pasta.

Khalid Abousy, M.D., a board certified Cardiologist with Sentara Heart & Vascular Center, echoes Dr. Williams’ suggestions in reducing or removing breads and potatoes from your menu, as well as limiting the sweets. Instead, he encourages his patients to “focus more on proteins, such as turkey, chicken and seafood, as well as increase green vegetables.”

Another simple thing you can do to manage weight gain is to reduce your portion sizes.

“Eat smaller portions,” Dr. Williams urges. “Consider having your meal on a salad plate instead of a regular dinner size plate.”

Creative Ways to Shed Extra Holiday Weight

Dr. Williams knows it’s easier said than done, but the simple answer is eat and drink less and move more. “Try to stay consistent with some type of exercise, even if it is a 20-minute walk daily,” she prompts. “Do family activities that involve movement; put on some music and dance!”

“Weight loss programs are all over YouTube, and both Android and Apple have workout apps for all ages to practice,” Dr. Abousy advises. “[You] do not even need an elliptical or bike, which are probably the best options.”

He recommends getting active 50 to 60 minutes a day, six to seven days a week. You can either divide this time up or do it in one session of aerobic activities. He tells us the heart rate should be at least 75% of the maximal predicted heart rate, or 220 minus your age.

“For weight loss, your total caloric intake should be 400-500 less than your required basal calories for your weight, typically,” Dr. Abousy says. “If you are less than 6’0, 1700 calories or less. If you are less than 5’9″, 1500 calories or less. If you are less than 5’5″, 1200 calories or less. If you are less than 5’2″, 1000 calories or less.”

All in all, Dr. Williams has one message: “Enjoy the holidays and try not to get too stressed out about the food. Use common sense.”

To find a provider, visit or call 1-800-SENTARA.

About Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center is a 183-bed, not-for-profit community hospital serving Prince William County and its surrounding communities. Our medical center combines the resources of a major health system with the compassionate, personalized care of a community hospital. SNVMC offers quiet, private rooms and high-quality care focused on safety and patient satisfaction. We offer a wide range of medical specialties, a highly qualified medical and clinical staff, and state-of-the-art technology. Clinical services include advanced imaging, cancer services, diabetes management, emergency care, heart and vascular care, lab services, neurosurgery, primary care, orthopedics, urology, weight loss surgery, women’s services and more. Visit to find a provider today.




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