Help Your Patients Prepare for a Healthy Holiday

By Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.

Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

As health professionals on the front lines of care, PAs are in a unique position to counsel patients about the importance of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. And what better time to have these conversations than during the holiday season, when an abundance of feasts and festivities tempt us to abandon our healthy lifestyle habits?

As PAs, you may spend more time than other members of your healthcare team talking with patients about behavior changes that may improve health. These conversations take on added importance in light of U.S. obesity statistics: more than 1 in 3 adults, and about 1 in 6 youth between the ages of 2 and 19 are considered to have obesity.

Although NIH research has shown that the average holiday weight gain isn’t as much as most people think—it’s less than a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day—even a pound a year can begin to add up over time, making it harder to lose the extra weight.

If your patients express concern about their weight or maintaining healthy habits during the holidays, try making some of the following suggestions:

Concern: I know I’m going to gain weight because I can’t resist the holiday treats that are everywhere this time of year. It’s even harder to keep the kids away from the dessert table.
Suggestion: You and your family don’t have to avoid treats completely. Paying more attention to how much you eat might help you and your family effectively navigate the dessert table and other holiday snacks. Try a small slice of pie—without the whipped cream—and skip the punch or dinner roll. Let your children choose a favorite treat from the dessert table; then encourage them to sit and enjoy their treat and move on to playing with other kids or friends at the event.

Concern: My children sit around during winter break playing video games and watching TV. It seems that’s all they’re interested in doing.
Suggestion: Set and enforce a family rule that limits screen time to no more than 2 hours a day, outside of work and homework. Be a role model for your children by limiting your own screen time and choosing to be active instead. Rather than checking email or going online after dinner, go for a walk—and take the family with you. Suggest other activities for your children, such as playing hide-and-seek if the weather keeps them indoors—or going outside for a game of tag or basketball. Children need an hour or more of moderate and vigorous physical activity daily.      

Tackling Other Challenges
During the holiday season, stress levels may go up and the amount of sleep people get may go down. Although more research is needed, studies have shown that not getting enough sleep may contribute to weight gain. Remind your patients that getting adequate sleep may help them control their weight and their stress levels over the holidays. Adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night, while children need more.

Finally, encourage your patients not to get discouraged and give up if they get off track. Setbacks are normal, especially at this time of year when temptations loom large, along with a lack of time, competing priorities, and other roadblocks. If your patients overeat one day, they should try to get back on track the next—or as soon as they can. Getting support from family, friends, or coworkers can motivate patients to stick with their efforts to have a healthy holiday and new year.

The NIDDK has information and tools to help your patients eat healthy, get and stay active, and manage their weight. Check out my weekly Healthy Moments radio broadcast by searching “Healthy Moments” on NIDDK’s home page.

Dr. Rodgers is the director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health. For more information, contact the NIDDK Office of Communications and Public Liaison at [email protected].

Additional resources:
AAPA also has an online curriculum about obesity medicine, which contains seven modules. The curriculum covers diagnosing the disease, as well as treatment options such as lifestyle interventions, pharmacology, and bariatric surgery.

The PA Foundation’s Vital Minds podcast also gives a broad overview about what goes into diagnosing and treating obesity.