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One tip: be the last in line at the buffet table

Pros give tips on eating, exercise during the holidays

It’s the holiday season and temptation lurks around every corner, making it easy to overeat and neglect exercise routines. There’s food everywhere — some are things we only have this time of year — and a hectic schedule leaves no time for exercising. But healthcare professionals and fitness trainers have useful tips to help maintain a healthy lifestyle even this time of year.

Emmy Parks, an outpatient dietitian at University Medical Center’s Jackson Medical Mall, says it’s not any particular food during the holidays that throws us off, it’s the imbalance of calories — taking in more than we burn in work or exercise.

“You can eat a little bit of everything this time of year,” she said. “Just remember it’s quality over quantity. You’ll feel bad if you say you won’t eat any sweets or holiday food.”

Here are her ideas to help fight holiday over eating:

• Eat a small bit of your favorite food so you’ll feel satisfied. If you don’t like dressing but do like pecan pie, leave off the dressing and have a little pie.

• Never skip a meal because this leads to overeating and you’ll fill up on higher calorie food. Eat lighter but don’t starve yourself.

• Bring a low-calorie dish or diet drink to office parties and family gatherings so you’ll have something to eat as a filler. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a good choice and can be eaten with fat-free dips.

• Watch the beverages you consume and don’t fill up with drinks. A lot of them are high in calories, especially alcoholic drinks. Alternate drinks with water.

• Don’t forget to exercise to keep the right calorie balance. It doesn’t have to be your usual physical activity. For instance, play Frisbee or other games with children or take a walk with someone visiting from out of town and catch up on their news while walking.

“I don’t advise anyone to actually start a new diet this time of year, but if you’re already on one, maintain your established pattern,” she said.

Parks, who covers all Medical Mall clinics and specifically works with diabetic and gastric bypass patients, also has words of advice for office parties and all those homemade treats that pop up in employee breakrooms and kitchens.

“Snacking is okay but do not graze,” she said. “It’s better to sit down, eat slowly and enjoy it. Don’t keep walking by the table and picking up food.”

She also has a suggestion for sales representatives and others who take food gifts to workplaces. “Try to bring something besides food.”

Debbie Colby, who’s been a dietitian at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport for six years, says the holidays are a stressful time of year when it’s easy to overeat and skip physical activity.

“The main advice I have is to stay active to compensate for the calorie intake,” she said, “and it also helps with stress management.”

Here are Colby’s suggestions for surviving the looming temptations:

• Plan ahead for special parties. Cutting back earlier in the day does help. Eat enough to avoid intense hunger.

• At all times, eat lighter but don’t skip meals.

• Avoid hovering around the food table because you won’t be aware you’re nibbling.

• Be the last person in line at the buffet table. You’ll eat less that way.

• Arrive fashionably late to minimize time you’re around food.

• Don’t waste calories on foods you can have any time of the year. Save them for special holiday foods.

• Stop eating when you’re full. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to tell the stomach you’re full so if you keep eating, you’ll feel stuffed.

• Make weight loss and exercise a resolution for the New Year.

Mike Elinski, fitness trainer and owner of The Club in Jackson, confirms that people do indeed slack off on their exercise regimes this time of year. “It’s especially a problem 10 days before Christmas,” he said, “and there’s a lull right before and after New Year’s Day when people take a break and enjoy their families.”

He says exercising should be done three or four days a week on a consistent basis to get the most benefit from it. He’s observed that those who work out at his gym fall into three categories. First, the dedicated who work out five or six days a week no matter what. Second, the deconditioned/demotivated who need a lot of help, aren’t secure, and disappear if they don’t see quick results. Third, the dipper who comes in for four or five months but not during the holidays or busy times of their lives.

“What I advise about working out and exercising during the holidays,” Elinski said, “is to cut the workout time instead of giving it up all together. Some exercise is better than none.”

Thirty to 45 minutes will keep up the healthy habit and maintain consistency, rather than quitting and having to start all over again. The body, he says, gets out of shape very quickly.

“I’m used to dealing with many objections from people not wanting to exercise,” he added. “It’s important to keep it up even if it’s just taking a brisk walk. You only have one body that God gives you and you must take care of it.”

Elinski gives many reasons for staying physically fit, including that those who do exercise burn more calories throughout the day even when sitting and sleeping. “If you commit to at least three days a week, you will feel better physically and mentally and have an advantage in all parts of your life,” he said. “Plus, you won’t have as many bone and joint problems as you age.”

He definitely believes that employers can cut health costs by advocating and making exercise available for employees.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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