The holiday season brings more than cards and gifts.
A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that while the average holiday weight gain is less than two pounds, the weight typically doesn’t go away.
Add that up over several years, and the impact on your health can be significant.
A packed social calendar, office treat tables loaded with homemade goodies and favorite family recipes made with cream and butter can pose a challenge for anyone trying to lose — or at least not gain — weight.
However, a healthy holiday is possible … without missing your favorite foods, say Kane County diet and fitness experts.
Portion control, sticking with a fitness plan — even if it is slightly altered to accommodate a busy schedule — and setting a realistic goal to maintain your present weight can send you into the New Year with treasured holiday memories, not extra pounds.
Make Your Calories Count
Before heading out to an evening social event, Melissa McDonald, registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist with Delnor Health and Wellness Center in Geneva, says it is best to eat as you normally would during the day.
“People tend to skip meals and try to bank their calories, but that only makes you hungry and you end up eating more,” McDonald says.
At a holiday dinner or party, choose foods made from vegetables and lean proteins and, if possible, volunteer to bring a dish. McDonald recommends appetizers such as shrimp cocktail, bite-sized vegetable quiche, or chicken kabobs, salads or vegetable-based casseroles.
“That way, you’ll know there’s at least one thing there that’s healthy,” she says.
If you can’t resist a few favorites, go ahead and enjoy them, but be mindful of portions. McDonald suggests using a plate for appetizers rather than grazing at the buffet.
“It’s okay to have something fried or chips and crackers,” she says. “Just plate your portion so you’re aware of what you’re eating.”
The same goes for desserts.
“You can still enjoy them, just keep your portions moderate,” she says.
When you’re the cook, consider low-fat recipes, or find ways to make your favorites more diet-friendly. The American Heart Association recommends using skim milk instead of whole milk, fat-free sour cream instead of regular, and two egg whites for each whole egg in a recipe.
For more Smart Substitutions, as well as heart-healthy recipes, visit www.heart.org and select the Getting Healthy and Nutrition Center tabs.
Freshen Your Fitness
Brandon Turner, fitness specialist and personal trainer with Delnor Health and Wellness Center in Geneva, suggests trying new exercises that work more than one muscle group.
“If you’re crunched for time, what’s key is to get the most bang for your buck by doing a full body workout,” he says.
Turner suggests multi-joint movements such as push-ups, pulls and squats for an effective shorter workout. For cardio-vascular exercise, he recommends interval training, which alternates bursts of strenuous exercise with something lighter, such as a one-minute jog paired with an equal amount of walking.
“If you’re in good shape, you can maybe go two minutes to one,” he says.
Recognize that your motivation might be at a low point, but instead of feeling guilty, try something new.
“Mix up your routine with a group class, maybe something like Zumba to get your cardio going, or try group personal training or a boot camp to work on strength,” he says. “Or, consider finding a training partner to help you stay motivated.”
Free online tools like those found at www.sparkpeople.com or www.myfitnesspal.com can help you set goals, track caloric intake and the calories burned during exercise.
At My Fitness Pal, new members complete a profile and establish weight loss or maintenance goals.
“We give you a net calorie goal for the day, and you log what you eat and how active you are,” says Marybeth Thomson, head of business development for My Fitness Pal LLC and the myfitnesspal.com site. “If you go on a walk and burn 300 calories, it will adjust so you can eat more. It helps you learn about your behavior, and that’s key to weight loss. When you’re aware, you make better decisions.”
The site also offers a database of two million foods to help guide dining decisions.
Exercise calculators can provide additional incentive to keep calories in check. My Fitness Pal’s calorie calculations are based on scientific studies for estimating the metabolic expenditures of various physical activities and also allow users to set variables for body size and exercise intensity for increased accuracy.
“It’s a very good indicator of what you’re doing,” Thomson says. kc