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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Hold That Line!
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Henry C. Lukaski

December signals the start of a month of celebratory eating and drinking that leaves many holiday revelers carrying up to 10 additional pounds in early January. As we know, and research supports, those unwanted pounds remain until early summer, if we are fortunate!

Seasonal weight gain is not inevitable. A simple, achievable goal is to maintain body weight through the holidays. Wait till January 2 to start a vigorous diet and exercise plan, drop a size in your clothing, train for a marathon, whatever. The point is that no matter what are your goals for 2002, you will be well served by starting the new year with no more baggage than you have now.

Weight maintenance, as opposed to weight loss, is the new front line in the war against obesity, which claims an estimated 300,000 lives annually and costs Americans about $100 billion, according to the American Obesity Association. Weight control professionals provide some helpful hints to maintain your weight.

Weigh yourself. Buy a bathroom scale and weigh yourself regularly—at least once a week and possibly daily during the holidays. You may not be happy with your body weight, but your goal is to maintain your weight. Studies show that people who lost at least 30 pounds and have maintained the weight loss for at least three years monitor their weight regularly. To get reliable weights, plan to weigh yourself at the same time of the day, preferably in the morning, and wearing similar clothing.

Plan ahead. Start thinking today about what you will eat during the holidays. Budget about a 1000 calories for your Christmas meal. For example, you will get about 4 ounces of turkey, half a cup of stuffing, salad, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, a glass of wine, and a slice of pumpkin pie. You can calculate the calories from your dinner selection at the USDA’s web site for the Interactive Healthy Eating Index at: http://www.usda.gov/cnpp.

Be physically active. Researchers found that regular physical activity enabled weight maintenance during the holidays; inactivity promoted weight gain. At the shopping malls, park further away than usual so you can benefit from walking the additional distance. Also, consider wearing your coat from store to store; the weight of your coat uses up to 10 percent more energy. How about taking the stairs instead of the elevator?

Tally what you eat and how much you exercise. Over the holidays, there is not only overeating but changes in physical activity patterns, so it is important to be aware and monitor both.

Be a gourmet not a gourmand. Buffets and parties with platters of tempting goodies make it easy to consume excessive amounts of calories. It is the first few bites of food that provide taste and pleasure. Take small portions of highly desired foods, enjoy them and see if that will satisfy the urge to eat more. Try to eat something sweet to finish a meal. Sweet flavors signal the brain to stop eating.

Limit alcohol. Alcohol can add 100 to 1,000 calories to a meal. Egg nog has about 350 calories, before you add the rum! Distilled spirits, including whiskey and scotch, have 75 to 80 calories per ounce. Wine has 20 to 25 calories per ounce, and beer provides 12 calories per ounce. Alcohol decreases inhibition and lessens the resolve to eat reasonably. Sip your drink slowly.

Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation, even an hour a night, can boost appetite and diminish your ability to control behavior. Unfortunately, disrupted holiday schedules make this very likely. Getting enough sleep gives you more energy to be physically active and makes it less likely that you will overeat.

Eat regularly every day. Don’t skip meals, even if you have overeaten at a party. Set your intake at about 2,000 calories daily, an amount that most adults need to maintain weight. It is unrealistic to assume that you can avoid parties or watch people eat treats and have nothing. Set a target for total calorie intake then be flexible in how you consume the total energy.

Use your calories wisely. Christmas cookies, fruit cake, plum pudding, and egg nog are holiday favorites. Pace yourself. You can’t party, snack and eat heavily at meals, too.

As you move through this season, remember the goal is to hold the line on body weight until after January 1.


Last Modified: 10/23/2006
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