Eat healthier this holiday season

Fall brings changes in the weather and the color of the leaves. The holiday season also begins in the fall. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day all provide family and friends opportunities to get together and share ‘ono food. However, even though everything tastes so good, indulging too much is not good for your health.

Food science lecturer Gordean Kaui Asing teaches FSHN 185: Food Science and Human Nutrition. She taught the course at KCC for three years and worked in public health before that. She believes that our eating habits now are different from when she was growing up.

“I think there is a tendency to eat a lot more,” Asing said. “I say because there are more places catering to going out and eating, there’s more opportunities to overeat. When a friend comes home from being away at school, that’s not technically a holiday but we still come together and eat.”

Asing believes that tradition also plays a factor in how people eat during the holidays.

“Sometimes, people just want to go with the flow and continue to plan their menus the same as the past,” she said. “I’ve done that with my grandmother’s Spanish rice recipe. That was the main thing that people were drooling for at all of our get togethers. My sister started doing the recipe, and I suggested, ‘Why don’t you switch up the pork and put in some chicken or maybe add more beans? It was a hard decision because she didn’t want to mess up tradition.”

Something that Asing has seen more of at her family gatherings is fresh fruit dishes and people sharing things grown from their gardens.

“Instead of baking that apple pie for hours, people might come with a fruit salad and call that the dessert,” she said.

Joda P. Derrickson is a wellness coach and bariatric dietitian at Adventist Health at Castle Medical Center who assists Asing with the Human Nutrition class. She is also the author of the book The Wellness Compass Travel Guide: Tools for a Successful Lifelong Journey, which provides tools to successfully navigate life’s obstacles and stay on course to accomplish your goals and life’s purpose.

Derrickson believes that we have been conditioned to overeat during times of celebration.

“We want to eat and are expected to,” she said. “Celebrating is often associated with indulging, like cake for a birthday. Times when we have less obligations, e.g. no school, we tend to let go of our inhibitions, which makes us indulge even more. We’ve also been trained to think that indulging is a required part of the holidays, e.g., ‘you’ve always had three helpings in the past,’ and it’s not easy to pass up super-sizing or buy one, get one frees (BOGOFs).”

To eat healthier during the holidays, Derrickson recommends first making a commitment to take care of yourself over the holidays. Choose a goal that works for you. Some examples include not gaining any weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s or only gaining a few pounds. She also recommends the following tips from Nichole McDerrmott’s “31 science-backed ways to avoid holiday weight gain” article on (

  • Just say “No” to holiday overeating (and drinking). Be polite and stick to your pre-determined limits. Practice your response in advance if you need to.
  • Cave into cravings. YES! Do not forgo your faves–if you do, you’ll drive yourself crazy. The secret is to PLAN them in “reasonable amounts” instead of other “calories,” i.e. have the peppermint mocha but not the bagel or cookie.
  • Move it and lose it! Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you should stop your workouts. In fact, if you have more time, it may be a great time to get in even more exercise. Of course, shopping counts.

Asing also recommends staying hydrated and pacing yourself. Enjoy the conversations and the relationships, she said, and just be more selective with what you eat. You don’t have to eat everything at once. Focus on the celebration and the purpose of being there.

“For example, if you know you’re going to a family gathering and you know aunty so and so has the best potato salad that you don’t always get to eat, then make room for that,” Asing said. “Try to have smaller portions of other things.”


by Leighland Tagawa, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief