December 24, 2012

The brisk walk, salsa dip formula

The holidays are an especially tough time to get or stay healthy, but there are many ways you can get it done.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

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Michele Reynolds, a member of the Bay Club fitness center in Portland, works out on exercise machines regularly to keep in shape. Reynolds vowed to get healthier this year, and succeeded – shedding 13 pounds with a better diet and workouts during her lunch breaks.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

"Go ahead and have some cheesy artichoke dip," she said. "Then try something more healthy, like salsa."

She notes that salsa made at home or purchased in the produce section often has a lot less salt and sugar than manufactured brands.

"It's just chopped up stuff," she said, "and it's full of good things like tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro."

Choose whole-grain crackers and tortilla chips, and pick low-fat, low-salt versions that hardly register a flavor difference once they're dipped in salsa or hummus. Cocktail shrimp can be a healthy appetizer option as well.

Low-fat cheeses have improved greatly in recent years, Brooks said, so much so that partygoers likely won't notice a difference. Add a bunch of seedless grapes and other small fruits to a cheese platter and watch them disappear.

"It's finger food that's as easy to grab as potato chips," Brooks said.

When it comes to beverages, a spritzer made with seltzer and red wine or pomegranate juice is a sparkling but healthier alternative to soda, beer and other alcoholic options.

For holiday dinners, make sure there are plenty of vegetables on the table, including squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, broccoli, peas and salad.

Bake or broil meats rather than fry and choose cuts with "round" or "loin" in the name because they tend to have a lower fat content, Brooks said.

Make stuffing more healthy by reducing the bread crumbs, increasing the chopped celery and onions, and eliminating butter in favor of more broth. Cranberries, mushrooms and nuts, in small quantities, boost flavor and nutrients. If you like sausage in your stuffing, reduce the amount or use low-fat turkey sausage.

"The taste will still be there," Brooks said.

For dessert, options include a festive fruit compote made with fresh or frozen berries, pumpkin custard baked in individual ramekins or pears baked in an elegant spiced red wine sauce.

"You can make things special without sacrificing anything," Brooks said. 


Preserving one's mental health during the holidays requires extra effort for many people, despite the colorful lights and merry carols.

Sylvie Demers, a licensed clinical social worker and regional director at Counseling Services Inc., offers some insight into the emotional challenges of the season and how to deal with them.

"Holidays and other big events are, by definition, stressful," Demers said. "Sometimes it's good stress. Sometimes it's bad stress. The best advice I can give is plan, plan, plan."

When it comes to buying gifts, attending parties or having family members over for dinner, Demers recommends making a budget, establishing a schedule of events and continuing to take care of yourself amid the hustle and bustle.

"Stick to your regular routine as much as possible and keep up with your physical care," Demers said, such as eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and some exercise.

If family gatherings pose a challenge, Demers suggests finding ways to limit exposure to relatives who trigger anxiety or arguments. People in recovery from addiction may want to avoid altogether family members who likely will be engaging in similar behaviors.

"Know what you're up against," Demers said. "It's not the first time your mom is going to mention your weight. Consider how you might regulate yourself emotionally."

Advises Demers: "Know what's going to trigger you and plan a response that isn't going to escalate the situation, whether it's to walk away, respond in a neutral way or not react at all."

For people who find the holidays materialistic and commercialized, Demers encourages them to focus on the deeper meaning of the season, whether they find it in family, faith and community.

"The holidays can be a very isolating time, especially for people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, or a job, or a relationship," Demers said. "People have very unrealistic expectations around the holidays and you can experience great disappointment. Don't judge yourself."

For people who are struggling with depression or other emotional challenges during the holidays, Demers urges them to seek counseling or, in an emergency, call the crisis hotline at 888-568-1112.

For those who simply want to feel more connected at this time of year, Demers recommends volunteering at a soup kitchen, attending a religious service or inviting a neighbor to dinner who might otherwise spend the holidays alone.

"Reach out to others," she said. "It's a great way to feel good about the season."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:


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