Holiday Survivor Competitor Promotes Healthy Living During the Holiday Season

November 24, 2014

Just in time for Thanksgiving, 75 employees with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) are utilizing daily physical movement, mindful eating behaviors and controlled portion sizes to prevent weight gain and encourage weight maintenance. The competition known as Holiday Survivor is organized by DPH’s Worksite Wellness team and is a friendly employee competition designed to promote healthier nutrition and exercise behaviors during the annual holiday season.  

Holiday Survivor participants who have lost weight have reaped significant health benefits in lowering blood pressure, attaining their goal weight and even successfully participating in athletic events of their choice.  For others, Holiday Survivor enabled them to implement positive health changes that changed their life.

That is the story of Hietza Santiago-Alvarado, a bioterrorism and molecular biology manager at DPH’s state lab.

Prior to joining Holiday Survivor last year, Santiago-Alvarado was diagnosed with unexplained infertility linked to irregular ovulation for more than six years.  Wanting to start a new family, Santiago-Alvarado and her husband turned to a fertility specialist for guidance and support.  During this process, she was advised by her medical team to lose 20 pounds before the treatment because being overweight increased premature delivery with multiple births.  Studies have shown that losing as little as 5 percent of body weight can dramatically improve chances of pregnancy.  

Determined to lose the weight and begin her fertility treatment, Santiago-Alvarado joined the Holiday Survivor II competition in 2013 and lost 15.6 pounds and 9.34 percent of her body weight in a few short months.  Her perseverance helped her earn a top spot among the three individuals who lost the most weight during last year’s competition.

“After losing 15.6 pounds, I started ovulating on my own which was one of the underlying causes for me not to get pregnant,” said Santiago-Alvarado. “The weight loss triggered ovulation which was not happening regularly prior to losing the weight.”

Months after losing the weight, Santiago-Alvarado became pregnant at age 35 and later gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Parker, who arrived weighing nine pounds and six ounces and measuring 21 inches long.  

“The most difficult part about being pregnant were the uncertainty of not knowing if the baby was going to go full term,” said Santiago-Alvarado. “There were moments when we thought he would come early, but he made his appearance at 39 weeks which is still considered full term.”

She gained only 18 pounds during her pregnancy, being careful to make appropriate food and physical activity choices to maintain optimal health as an expectant mother and deliver a healthy baby.

“I walked a minimum of three times a day while pregnant,” said Santiago-Alvarado. “I also drank a minimum of eight 12-ounce glasses of water a day and limited my sugar consumption.”

After Parker’s birth, she needed extra calories because she was exclusively breastfeeding.  During this early phase of motherhood, Santiago-Alvarado employed her skills in mindful eating and worked to consume foods required to maintain a breastfeeding regimen and fulfill her nutritional needs. 

“I ate more food, but definitely made healthier choices,” she said. “I worked to avoid refined sugars and trans-fat and did not consume caffeine or dairy products.  I drink more than the recommended 64 ounces of water daily and I take Parker on 30 to 45 minute walks every day.”

Using the skills gained during DPH’s Holiday Survivor competition helped Santiago-Alvarado prevent unnecessary weight gain before and during pregnancy.  She not only maintained good nutrition for the baby’s physical development, but also provided early language nutrition to her unborn child.

Santiago-Alvarado is familiar with the components of DPH’s Talk With Me Baby initiative, which is underway in Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program clinics throughout Georgia.  It is a public health initiative that focuses on increasing the early exposure to language nutrition as a strategy to ensure better outcomes for children including higher reading proficiency and improved high school graduation rates.

“I talked to my baby more than 20 times a day while he was in my belly,” said Santiago-Alvarado. “And with the birth of my child, I talk to him all the time. I am always interacting with him, telling him what I am doing while I am doing it.”

DPH’s Holiday Survivor has helped make a lifelong dream come true for this proud mother and it all started by losing 15.6 pounds.  Still employing the knowledge of healthy living gained from Holiday Survivor, Santiago-Alvarado is proud to report she has lost the 18 pounds gained during her pregnancy and an additional 22 pounds – a total of 40 pounds lost postpartum.

 “Staying focused on the goal will keep you motivated and disciplined,” said Santiago-Alvarado.  “Eat smaller portions more frequently and do not eat after 7 p.m. These small adjustments will greatly impact your weight loss and help you sleep better.  Any type of physical activity counts toward your weight loss goal so stay active. Finally, keeping a positive attitude plays a significant role in your weight loss efforts; positive thoughts are empowering.”

Visit DPH online to learn more about the Worksite Wellness team’s effort to keep DPH employee healthy all year. 

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