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Don't let Holiday Food Traditions Derail your Weight Goals

A scale. On the left it says calories in, food and beverages. On the right it says calories out, body functions and physical activity.

The holidays are a special time for many, filled with new and long-standing traditions. This includes food traditions. How can you turn down grandma's famous pecan pie or your aunt's spectacular mashed potatoes and gravy? Your objective should not be to deprive yourself, but indulge smartly and maintain your current weight with calorie balance.

When you are experiencing calorie balance, your weight is stable. Calories consumed through food and beverages must be balanced with the calories used through physical activity and body functions such as the energy you need to make your lungs breathe, your heart beat and your brain think. Check out the CDC "Finding Balance" video for more ideas and tips.

Tip the scales in your favor

If you are tipping the balance on the "calories in" side with traditional holiday foods, look for ways to give your dishes a Holiday Makeover. You can also tip the scales in your favor by focusing on the "calories out" side of the scale by sustaining consistent physical activity or even bumping it up to keep extra weight from holiday parties and snacks at bay.

What does "regular physical activity" mean to you? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that weekly adults need at least:

  Or Or

2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week

Broken down to 30 minutes a day, for 5 days a week

Such as:

  • Brisk walking (a 15 minute mile)
  • Light yard work (raking, mowing)
  • Actively playing with children
  • Biking at a casual pace

1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week

Broken down to 15 minutes a day, for 5 days a week

Such as:

  • Jogging/running
  • Swimming laps
  • Rollerblading/skating at a brisk pace
  • Most competitive sports (football, basketball, soccer)
  • Jumping rope

An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

*1 minute of vigorous activity = 2 minutes of moderate activity

Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

Such as:

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Performing body weight exercises (push-ups, sit-ups)
  • Heavy gardening (digging, shoveling)
  • Yoga

Fit physical activity into your day

Don't think you can commit to that much time in a day? Did you know that performing physical activity for just 10 minutes at a time counts toward your daily goal? If you are just starting off, do what feels comfortable for you. As your body gets used to physical activity, add in five more minutes per session and work your way up to your daily goal. Incorporate physical activity into your holiday traditions; taking a walk after a holiday meal or playing a friendly game of football or soccer with the family. Consider these 10 tips to fit physical activity throughout your day.

Stay motivated

How do you keep motivated? Staying on track with your weight and wellness goals can be challenging during the holidays but balancing your daily activity will ensure you won't be derailed. Remember, physical activity is not just about maintaining or achieving your weight goals. Physical activity can also reduce your risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes; reduce high blood pressure, arthritis pain, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the risk of osteoporosis and falls. To start and assist with sticking to your plan, use the "Finding Your Motivation for Exercise" resource created by the American College of Sports Medicine as a guide. Before starting any exercise program, be sure to consult your doctor.

(ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Hawkins is a registered dietitian and works for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Policy.)

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