Holiday Waistline Warning!

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Don’t let all of my waistline warnings fool you — I get as excited as the next person about the seasonal frenzy that begins around Thanksgiving. Regrettably, I enjoy it a bit less because of all the flack I get for spending the being the “Weight Loss Scrooge”.

What is it about the holidays (aside from the great ) that causes us to eat whatever and whenever we want? Because of all the celebrating going on, we tend to feel that we have a license to overindulge — packing on the pounds in the process.

Every year we see the same old headlines proclaiming that the average American gains 5 to 7 pounds over the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, yet few data support this statement. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that in this particular six-week period we only gain about 1 pound. That doesn’t seem so bad — right?

The truth is it doesn’t really matter whether it’s actually 1 pound, 5 pounds or even 7 pounds, because it’s still important to be conscious of what we eat — even if it is the holidays. Here’s the logic: we struggle the other ten months of the year to lose weight, whereas if we could simply focus on this six-week period we could avoid serious weight gain over time. As I’ve said time and time again, small things make a big difference. For example, if you eat an additional 250 calories per day for 42 days, that adds up to a 3-pound gain — over 10 years that’s 30 pounds.

“While Americans gain much less weight over the holidays than is commonly believed, the weight they do gain may be a major contributor to the increase in body weight that often occurs during adulthood, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Cumulative holiday weight gain may be particularly problematic for those who are already overweight or obese,” says New York City Nutritionist Carey Clifford, MS, RD.

How many pounds will you gain at your holiday table? Here’s how you can avoid gaining 30-40 pounds in the coming years:

INDULGE MINDFULLY: Think about what you’re eating — you might even enjoy it more. Choose foods that are naturally low in fat such as roast turkey and vegetables. Be wary of holiday fare, such as ham, duck, stuffing, or potato pancakes, all of which are loaded with fat.

EVERYTHING IN MODERATION: You can still enjoy your traditional high-calorie and high fat favorites — just consider eating smaller portions.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: “A huge meal can be consumed in 10 or 15 minutes, but your brain doesn’t get the message that you’re full for at least 15 to 20 minutes. That leaves you open to eating more than you should. So it’s important to take the time to savor what you’re eating rather than wolfing it down,” adds Clifford.

SUBSTITUTE: Substitute high fat foods such as butter and sour cream with lower fat alternatives such as reduced-fat butter, reduced-fat sour cream, or plain yogurt.

EAT AND PLAN AHEAD. We all like to “save up” by starving ourselves all day before a big meal — not a good idea. Instead, eat small meals throughout the day so you do not binge at your holiday meal. Additionally, you should plan ahead. For example, if you know you’re going to want dessert, cut back your meal portions or make sure to have a low-calorie option ready, such as fruit.

EASY ON THE ALCOHOL: Alcohol decreases inhibitions — potentially causing you to eat more — plus it’s loaded with calories. If you’re going to drink, try drinking wine or beer — and stay away from exotic fruity cocktails or fancy coffee drinks.

EAT WITH YOUR MOUTH SHUT: Engage in conversation to help keep your eating at a healthy pace. When you talk you are less likely to eat. Remember, your mom always told you not to talk with your mouth full!

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