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Yes, Virginia, you can enjoy the holidays without weight gain

The holidays are upon us, and that often means Santa won’t be the only one with a full figure. The season, which some say begins with Halloween and continues through New Year’s Day or even Valentine’s Day, doesn’t have to mean added girth. A few of the state’s professionals share some tips for enjoying the season’s extra treats and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“The average weight gain during the holidays is eight pounds,” says Sissye Gory, general manager of Fitness Lady in Ridgeland. “You know you will be eating more of the wrong things, so you must counteract that by staying active. A lot of people do lose weight during this time, but even if you just maintain your weight, you’ve really lost.”

Fitness Lady has a program called “Maintain, Don’t Gain” that encourages members by offering prizes through a points system. Gory says it’s like a contest. Participants are measured once a week for the last six weeks of the year. A certain number of points are awarded for no gain, remaining at the same weight and for losing weight. Of course, the largest number of points is given for losing weight. Prizes are based on the number of points accumulated.

“This program helps keep our members focused because they’re accountable,” Gory said. “We have very good prizes that change every year, things like vacation and tanning packages, a month’s free club membership and appliances.”
Registered dietitian Debbie Colby of Gulfport’s Memorial Hospital says not over committing is crucial to stress management. “Don’t over commit during these busy days because your stress level goes up, and that’s the main reason people overeat,” she said. “Family dynamics also come into play but regardless of the stress source, managing it is key.”

She suggests having a light snack before going to a party to avoid being so hungry you overeat and limiting the consumption of alcohol. Moderation means two drinks for men and one for women or four ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer or one mixed drink. “Alcohol has a lot of calories and triggers the appetite,” Colby said. “People tend to drink more than normal during the holidays.”

Avoidance is also a strategy she recommends. “Avoid going to the break room at work where there are homemade treats and gifts from vendors,” she said. “Take the initiative and start a group to bring healthy snacks. This can be like a cookie and recipe swap that you get others to buy into. You might even put together a booklet of recipes.”

Favorite holiday foods can be prepared with fat and sugar reduced up to one-third without changing the taste. Colby uses sugar substitute Splenda and says the Web site splenda.com is a good source of recipes. “It’s amazing how many young people have raised cholesterol levels in this fast food age,” this dietitian says. “That’s scary.”

Enjoying everything in moderation is the mantra put forth by University of Mississippi associate professor Kathy Knight, Ph.D., RD. A teacher in the university’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences for 20 years, she believes a diet is not something to go on and off but is a lifestyle of moderation.

“Don’t deny yourself too much and be proactive instead of reactive during the holidays,” she said. “Plan ahead. Realize you’re entering a time when there are different food choices you don’t get the rest of the year. There will be foods with more high fat and sugar content. Just know that.”

Knight says the holidays really begin with Halloween and munching on leftover candy. She offers these seasonal tips:

• Get rid of leftover candy

• On Thanksgiving, enjoy the day. One day won’t hurt you.

• Have a good meal the following day by using lean turkey for a sandwich or salad.

• Drink a lot of water.

• At a party, fix one small plate with half of it fruits and vegetable then stay away from the food table. Sip on water with a slice of lemon or lime.

• At work, keep your own healthy snacks at your work station. Have something you like such as peach yogurt or beautiful grapes so you won’t be so tempted by less healthy snacks.

• Take just a small portion of those special foods that appear in the break room and take it back to your desk.

At Baptist Medical Center, registered dietitians Chasity Johnson and Lauren Magee strongly suggest working to maintain weight by controlling the urge to overeat and avoiding particularly fatty foods.

“The holiday season can be a tough time for folks who want to lose or control weight,” Johnson said. “Some want to drop a few pounds, while others have medical conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar — that make weight control a priority.”

Both dietitians agree that holiday foods can be enjoyed without tipping the scales. They offer these helpful tips:

• Keep minimal baked goods on hand or only bake enough to give away.

• Eat a light, healthy snack before going to parties. Cereal, fruit or yogurt are good choices.

• Take a light dish to a party and try not to take leftovers home.

• Make sure that vegetables take up half of the room on your plate or try to eat a salad before a meal.

• Use healthy substitutes in cooking.

• After dinner, delay dessert. By waiting a while, you may lose your craving for sweets.

• Make a goal for weight loss or weight maintenance with a friend during the holidays for a support system.

• Try to stay active and keep up your exercise.

• Limit alcoholic beverages.

• Focus on spending time with family and friends that doesn’t revolve around eating.

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

About Lynn Lofton

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