Saint Louis University

Author: Ellen Gipson
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deck the halls with boughs of holly... fa la la la la la la la la... ‘tis the season... the season for what? Food? Parties? Food? Friends? Food? Vacation? Food? Presents? Food?

During the holiday months, it is very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of Christmas glitter, glam and gluttony. As a dietetic intern, I feel morally responsible for the health of my friends, family and peers, but my virtuous example usually has little impact on their decisions. However, I have risen again with a foolproof message of health.

Life is complicated enough, and the media (plus mothers-in-law, co-workers and jealous siblings) are constantly bombarding us with the latest nutrition fads and recommendations. But how can our small brains juggle all these numbers and facts AND remember what time and channel “The Voice” is on? It would take a Christmas miracle.

Luckily, that is what I have. What is it that makes words stick in your head for days? How can I still possibly remember the Spanish alphabet verbatim and not know my husband’s phone number? There is little chance of needing the quadratic formula again, yet anytime I hear “Frére Jacques,” I start singing about minusing B’s and square roots.

The secret to remembering anything? Put it in a song.

“Twelve Days of Wellness”
On the twelfth day of wellness,
My dietitian said to me.
Twelve months of time
Eleven minutes stretching
Ten minutes relaxing
Nine glasses of water
Eight hours sleeping
Seven calories a gram
Six fitness favorites
Five food groups
Four ounces weekly
Three meals a day
Two dumbbells
And gym clothes for exercising!

Done. These recommendations are now engraved for life. But you also need to know the logic behind these otherwise nonsensical lyrics.

Gym clothes for exercising. A new must-have for Christmas 2013. According to an article from, “Putting on a flattering outfit motivates people to actually go to the gym or to exercise outdoors in public," says performance coach Larina Kase, PsyD, MBA, president of Performance and Success Coaching LLC in Philadelphia. The simple action wearing comfortable and new clothes can boost self-image, and help motivate you to get to the gym.

Two dumbbells. Hang the stockings, put up the Christmas lights and pick up some dumbbells. According to an article by the American College of Health Promotion, a research study was conducted in untrained adult women, and showed that participation in a three-day-per-week resistive training program seems to improve body image in middle-aged women more than participation in a three-day per week walking program. Don’t be scared of the weights, pick them up and your self-esteem will go right along with you.

Three meals a day. During the holidays, meal schedules become as overloaded as our credit cards, but don’t skimp in the mornings to save at night. A Nielsen's National Eating Trends Survey showed that “Women who ate cereal on a regular basis weighed about nine pounds less than those who ate cereal rarely or not at all, while men who ate breakfast weighed about six pounds less than men who didn't eat breakfast.” This is a crucial key in preventing weight gain or maintaining weight loss. All meals are essential to help maintain blood sugar levels, and prevent overeating at the end of the day. To extend satiety, try adding a lean-protein to each meal.

Four ounces weekly. According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating a handful of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, a day may reduce your risk of heart disease. Keep in mind that at your next Christmas party to grab a handful, but don’t go nuts, they are a calorie-, protein- and nutrient-packed snack, so a little can go a long way.

Five food groups. According to the 2012 MyPlate Standards, a healthy meal should include an appropriate serving of food from each food group: protein, dairy, fruit, vegetable and grain. Check for color variances to make sure that a variety of nutrients are included in the foods.

Six fitness favorites. The cold winter months require extra motivation to get to the gym, but try to keep your motivation alive by adding some variety to your routine. It has been shown that different modes of exercise provide a fitness edge that cannot be reached by performing the same exercise everyday. According to Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., FACSM, associate professor, Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Southwest Missouri State University, "There are some physiological benefits as well as psychological benefits of having variety in your exercise program," This means that after doing the same type of exercise exclusively for an amount of time, your body builds certain specific strengths. And always remember to incorporate a day of rest for your mind and body.

Seven calories a gram. Work parties, reunions with old friends and New Year’s celebrations are all times for socializing and fun, but don’t become too lax. One gram of alcohol contains seven calories and this can add up quickly. One 6-oz long island ice tea can have up to 350 calories! It is important to eat before consuming alcohol as well, so that the alcohol is not absorbed so quickly. Save your scale the work, and do the math first.

Eight hours sleeping. Christmas Eve in Texas, Christmas morning in Missouri and New Year’s Eve in New York. Traveling too much puts a dent into your regular sleep cycle. According to WebMD, The satiety and hunger hormones, Leptin and ghrelin, work in a "checks and balances" system to regulate feelings of hunger and fullness. Results showed that “those who slept less than eight hours a night not only had lower levels of leptin (satiety) and higher levels of ghrelin (hunger), but they also had a higher level of body fat.” This holiday season, save money; stay home with your family, and sleep!

Nine glasses of water. Holidays are time for savoring. So skip the soda, relish your dessert and drink water! There are questions about the recommendations for adult water intake, and some studies have shown that six to eight 8-oz glasses are not enough. However, for most adults the best way to monitor hydration is to drink when thirsty, and this usually mean nine 8-oz glasses a day. Cheers!

Ten minutes relaxing. Families, shopping and traveling can become frustrating and often stressful, but no matter how hectic life becomes, make sure to step away and take ten short minutes for yourself to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s exercising, reading or sitting in complete silence, be selfish and make it about you.

Eleven minutes stretching. Pull a muscle while putting the star on the tree? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “Tight muscles can contribute to back pain or difficulty performing simple tasks,” such as lifting your arms above your head. Stretching should be done at least two days a week, holding a slight stretch for 15-30 seconds, and each stretch should be repeated 3-5 times on each side of the body, equal to about 11 minutes each day.

Twelve months of time. The foundation for a successful wellness plan and healthy lifestyle is consistency. Do not get lost in the excitement of New Years resolutions; instead choose a lifetime revolution. Set small goals, one change at a time, to reach the overall desire of gaining health. Diets do not start or stop, but every day, every meal, you choose your health. Life happens, things don’t always go as planned, but always keep moving forward, one month at a time.

Sorgen, Carol. "The Right Exercise Clothes Can Improve Your Workout, and Your Attitude." MedicineNet. N.p., 7 July 2005. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
Larry A. Tucker and Rosemarie Mortell (1993) Comparison of the Effects of Walking and Weight Training Programs on Body Image in Middle-Aged Women: An Experimental Study. American Journal of Health Promotion: September/October 1993, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 34-42.
"Eating Breakfast Helps Weight Loss." MealsMatterorg Healthy Recipes. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
"Mixing It Up - Exercise Variety Keeps Your Body Going Strong." Women's Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
"How Sleep Affects Your Weight." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.
"Improving Your Flexibility and Balance." ACSM. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.