Blocking Holiday Weight Gain
by Karen Collins, M.S., R.D.,C.D.N.
| Studies show that many Americans put
on several pounds over the holiday season. Unfortunately, studies also show that many of
them never quite get it all off again. Can this pattern be changed? Yes
obstacles to healthy living during the holidays can be overcome.
One problem is that busy schedules tend to get even busier at this time of year. Many people feel they have little time for grocery shopping and cooking, so they rely more than ever on fast food restaurants and frozen meals. Unfortunately, these meals tend to be high in fat and concentrate on only two foods groups: starchy foods, like bread and potatoes, and meats. Studies have shown that when people eat larger portions of vegetables and fruits, they are able to satisfy their hunger with far fewer calories.
If you set aside a few minutes while standing in line, for example, or waiting for a bus to plan meals for the next few days, you will actually save time by making fewer stops at the grocery store. If time is short, choose dishes like frozen spinach-and-cheese ravioli or make-your-own veggie-filled subs. By planning ahead and making things at home, you can at least include the fruits and vegetables so vital to health and helpful for weight control. Serve a stir-fry that is quickly prepared with pre-chopped frozen or salad-bar vegetables. No time even for that? Baby carrots straight from the bag and fresh apples, oranges or grapes will do just fine. Vegetable soup, bolstered by extra frozen veggies, is another quick but healthy option.
Another obstacle in weight control during the holidays occurs when we use food as a way to cope with the season's stress and emotions. Become aware of urges to eat that are unrelated to hunger. When tense and anxious, soothe yourself with music, a hot shower, or a relaxing magazine instead of food. If you're tired, take a 10-minute nap or walk to rejuvenate yourself.
And what about your regular exercise sessions during the holiday season? Don't let other priorities crowd out this important part of your schedule. Even if you have to cut down on exercise because of time pressures, don't lose the habit completely or it will be hard to get back later. Look for opportunities for short bouts of walking. Park your car an extra block away from your destination, for example, or take a 10-minute walk before your kids' sports game.
What about special holiday foods? Realistically, the odds of maintaining your weight are small if you have a serving of everything that's offered. Be discriminating: Consider whether you really want a particular food compared to other treats you'll encounter later.
When you do indulge, don't fall into the pattern of deciding that, now that you've "blown it," you may as well eat a lot more. Begin damage control! Stop after one treat and things won't get out of hand. If you know you'll have a few extra holiday sweets, cut back on other sugar-laden items like soft drinks, specialty coffee drinks, doughnuts and pastries.
When you are at a party, first look over all the choices and then decide what you really want before filling your plate. Stay as far away as possible from buffet tables to avoid absent-minded nibbling. And remember that the calories in drinks can add up quickly. Try beverages that have few or no calories, like club soda with lime or spicy tomato juice.
Focus on the joy of sharing the holiday season with others rather than allowing food and stressful "to do" lists to dominate the season. Weight gain does not have to be one of the gifts of the season.