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It’s the holidays. Ready for the challenge?

Take some tipsThe Mayo Clinic suggests:Ÿ Reduce the amount of fat in recipes by replacing half of the butter or shortening or oil listed with unsweetned applesauce or mashed banana.Ÿ Reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe by one-half or one-third and increase the spices or flavorings (like vanilla) slightly.Ÿ Reduce salt by one-half in baked goods unless you are making foods that include yeast. For foods that require yeast, don’t reduce the amount of salt, which is necessary for leavening.Ÿ Take smaller portion sizes and eat a variety of foods.The American Heart Association suggests:Ÿ Select the lighter pieces of turkey. They have fewer calories and less fat than the darker ones. Take off the skin.Ÿ Stay off the gravy train, which adds fat, calories and sodium. Limit gravy to a tablespoon for turkey and keep it off other items, like dressing.Ÿ Aim for only about ¼ cup of dressing.Ÿ Be cautious around casseroles, which can be filled with extra fat, sugar or sodium. Have a spoonful, but fill your plate with roasted or sauteed vegetables and tossed salad instead.Ÿ Avoid foods that are fried, buttered or have a lot of cheese and cream. Instead, look for fruit, veggies and dip, whole-grain crackers and baked or grilled items.Ÿ Mix it up. If alcohol is being served, alternate each glass with a glass of water.Ÿ Instead of alcohol in mixed drinks, use club soda.Andrea Hamilton recommends myplate.gov, a website maintained by the USDA.

By SUSAN CRATON

Staff writer

It starts out so innocently.

That first piece of candy corn. Someone in your office keeps a bowl of candy corn on their desk. You have small packets of it ready for trick-or-treaters.

You’re trying to eat in a healthy way. You’re trying to cut down on sweets. And it’s not even one of your favorite candies.

But, it’s a holiday. And it’s just one tiny piece of candy corn. One piece of candy corn is only about 6 calories. And it’s sitting right there. It’s almost rude to not eat some. I mean, it’s like not participating in the holiday, right? And it’s so festive, with those yellow and orange stripes. You can eat it in three tiny bites to eat one color at a time.

Go ahead.

But, that first piece of candy corn is just the beginning. It is just the precipice of a slippery slope.

Today is the first official day of a months-long, “eating season” — the period from Oct. 31 stretching through Feb. 14. It’s a period that starts in earnest on Halloween and the inevitable leftover trick-or-treater candy and continues through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Super Bowl parties and goes all the way to the ubiquitous box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. It’s 4½ months of celebrating and parties and huge family meals and food, food, food. T

“Oh, it’s definitely hard to eat right during the holidays,” said Becky Sutay, outpatient nutrition educator for MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital’s Health Connections, as she was gathering up her materials at the end of a Steps to a Fit and Healthy You class she gave at Lexington Park library on Friday, along with Andrea Hamilton, a community health educator with Health Connections.

“A lot of people put on like five pounds over the holidays,” Sutay said. “And if they don’t do anything to take it off, that’s five or 10 pounds added on every year.”

Friday’s class was the seventh meeting in the 10-week Steps to a Fit and Healthy You class. This particular class is all women. Since mid-September they have been learning about eating healthier, starting an exercise program and disease prevention. They keep a log of what they eat now and talk in class about how they are doing with the program and where they are getting tripped up.

And clearly, the holidays are fraught with opportunities for people to trip up. It’s the season to celebrate by eating. And the cooler temperatures whet our appetites. There’s less daylight, making outdoor exercise a little harder to fit in.

During Friday’s hour-long Fit and Healthy class, Sutay shared scores of suggestions about how to approach the hazards ahead. Helped by PowerPoint slides with titles like “Plan Ahead,” “Avoid Hors D’oeuvres and Appetizers” and “Minimize Alcohol Intake” and a small stack of handouts, she offered tips on how to celebrate without breaking every health rule that the class has been working to learn.

“We’re going to try to have fun and not get too out of control,” Sutay said.

Only take small portions. Have a healthy snack before going to a party to take the edge of your hunger. “Everything looks a whole lot better to you when you’re starving,” she said.

Be cautious about alcohol, because not only is it caloric, it “can cloud your judgment,” she said.

Eat slowly. “It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full,” Sutay said.

Alter holiday recipes with healthier ingredient substitutions.

Sutay also discussed the value of controlling stress during the holidays. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Count your blessings. Keep things in perspective.

“Keeping your stress under control is helpful, because some of us are stressful eaters,” Hamilton explained.

But the key to meeting the health challenges of the holidays is to exercise, Sutay said. “Just stick with your exercise. That’s the main thing.”

Karen Johnsen of Callaway said she took the class to learn how to bring down the fat levels in her diet and it has helped her in other ways, too.

“It made me exercise more,” Johnsen said. She was already exercising some, but “I realized … I needed to step it up.”

Johnsen has also appreciated the cooking tips and the lighter recipes that Sutay shares. “You can always eat better. Always,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen’s strategy for handling the holidays, she said at the end of the class, is to focus on taking smaller portions. She said the rest of her family is also interested in eating healthfully, so she thinks the holidays are a challenge she can handle.

And for those who don’t do quite as well, the next Steps to a Fit and Healthy You class will start in January.