Healthy Living

 Question of the Month

Q. Can you suggest some healthy holiday-gift ideas?
A. First, it’s important to choose a gift that the recipient would enjoy and not what you would enjoy (they’re not always the same!).

For those who prefer food gifts, think about fresh- or dried-fruit baskets, an indoor potted herb garden, a bottle of first-press olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar or specialty mustards. Consider baking (or buying) some whole-grain bread, and combine it with fruit and a chunk of low-fat cheese. These are available in most supermarkets as well as in local specialty stores.

For the activity-minded, think about such presents as introductory classes for yoga, tai chi or salsa dancing. What about a gym membership? These are available in all price ranges, and facilities are located in many neighborhoods. Also check out your local YMCA or community center for more ideas.

Managing Holiday Stress

At this time of year, it seems there’s not enough time in the day. Adding holiday preparations to our already-busy lives can be a major stress on both the mind and body. Therefore, it’s important to manage this stress and allow yourself to enjoy the season.

For starters: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Purchase baked goods or offer to provide napkins and plates for an event instead of food. Enlist family members to help with decorating, shopping or cooking, and accept that others can do a good, if not perfect, job. Recognize that friends and family remember the time spent together, and if you’re frazzled from being the "perfect hostess," no one benefits.

Skimping on sleep will only add to poor stress management. When traveling, allow extra time to reach your destination. Small changes to your schedule can mean a big pay-off in your holiday stress.

My favorite idea? Take a break and go for a walk – it’s great for stress relief and for burning off those extra holiday cookies!

Holiday Cocktails: Watch Out for Liquid Calories

From eggnog to rum punch, and everything in-between, alcoholic beverages are a part of many holiday parties. Be a smart indulger, since alcohol is a double-whammy when it comes to your waistline.

The calories from alcohol and mixers add up quickly, and the relaxation effect of alcohol often weakens our ability to resist eating too much (after all, fried zucchini IS a vegetable!).

Stick with a glass of wine, a beer or a cocktail made with seltzer, diet soda or water. You’ll double or triple the calories using regular soda or juices.

Be mindful of your total consumption. A serving is not what the glass will hold. Serving guidelines are: 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer and 1.5 ounces of spirits. With super-sized glasses, a "serving" is often two or three times more than the standard.

Coming next month: New Year, New You

A top New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. If it were so easy, everyone would be thin. But when it comes to diet and weight loss, no two people are alike.

In the clinic, I often hear, "Don’t tell me what to do; tell me how to do it." In my new book, The Real You Diet, I tackle the major tools needed for lasting weight loss: Behavioral, Eating/food, Activity and Medical/biological. It’s what I call building a BEAM box, and it all starts with some self-assessment quizzes of what you’re willing and able to do.

Look for excerpts from this book in next month’s magazine. It’ll be in bookstores and online at the end of December. Or check it out at

If you have a health question for Dr. Fernstrom, e-mail her at

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s "Today Show" and is the author of The Runner’s Diet. Also visit "Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom," a health and wellness blog at

Categories: Top Doctors