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5 tips for preventing holiday weight gain

Ann Arbor fitness expert Michael Stack weighs in on healthy holiday eating

Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

ANN ARBOR – Mini candy bar: 150 calories.
Piece of pumpkin pie: 400 calories.
Two turkey legs, half a plate of mashed potatoes and three gingerbread men: 1,500 calories.
Making it through the holiday season without gaining any weight? Priceless!

At this point, that last statement might seem as unrealistic as Santa bringing you a Corvette full of gold this Christmas. As you are well aware, most Americans gain weight during the holiday season, and the statistics really are quite staggering.

Estimates from researchers suggest that weight gain during the time period between Halloween and New Year’s is anywhere from 3 to 15 pounds, with much of the research suggesting it is a combination of a great over-abundance of food and a great under-abundance of exercise that leads to such robust weight gain.

But, this doesn’t have to be you -- not this year, not you, and not ever again if you adhere to some simple holiday weight management guidelines.

First and foremost, don’t feel the need to deprive yourself of all of the wonderful culinary pleasures associated with the holidays. Allow yourself to eat and to eat what you want; just eat smart. In keeping with the theme of smart eating, you need to have a game plan.

Going into this time of year, you will need to sit down and write out your fitness and nutrition goals for the holiday season. They could be as simple as walking three to four times per week, or only having dessert on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When developing your game plan, you should think in terms of both exercise and nutrition, as it is this combination that will allow you to effectively manage your weight during this challenging time.

Include these five principles in your holiday game plan and not only will you not gain weight, but you might even lose a little.

1. Be Active. I know this is easier said than done. You’re busy with holiday parties and shopping; the weather is dreary and cold; you don’t feel like doing anything more than what you have to, let alone exercising (and God forbid we suggest exercising outside!). Even though it might seem like the last thing you want to do, becoming moderately physically active can result in 200-500 additional calories expended per day. That’s at least an extra cookie or two without any additional weight gain.

2. Get rid of the leftovers. Whatever you have to do to get leftovers out of the house, do it. If it’s extra Halloween candy, take it to the office and give it to your co-workers. That extra hunk of ham you’ll have sitting in the fridge -- give it to the neighbor. Those six dozen extra Christmas cookies you made? Pitch them, give them to relatives or, heck, give them to the dog if need be -- just don’t keep them around because you WILL eat them. If you don’t like the idea of throwing extra food out or giving it away, then shop smarter, trying to purchase only the amount of food you actually need (rather than trying to feed the whole neighborhood). Not only will you save money by buying less, but fewer leftovers means fewer chances to take in an excessive amount of holiday calories.

3. Exercise portion control. Let’s be honest -- you don’t really need that third piece of pie or that fourth helping of mom’s special stuffing. Although you might want to over-indulge, you rarely feel better afterward (however, as you might slip into a food-induced coma, you might not be aware of how you feel). Take small portions of foods you like, and wait 10 minutes after eating those. If, after that, you still want more, reduce your portion size of “seconds” in half (relative to your original small portion) and then call it quits.

4. Don’t worry about offending. There’s nothing worse than eating out of obligation. If you’re still eating because you don’t want your mom to be offended that there are cheesy potatoes left, you should stop eating. If your mother-in-law is trying to prompt you to have “just one more cookie,” just politely say that you’re full. Or worse yet, certainly don’t feel obligated to eat more because your friends and family are making of fun of you for being the “health nut.” If everyone else wants to gain weight over the holidays, let them! But not you, not this year!

5. Ration your calories strategically. On days when you have a holiday party or a family get-together, reduce your calories throughout the day so that you have more calories left over for your bigger “holiday” meal. Furthermore, once you arrive at your party; try to plan out in your head exactly what and how much you’re going to eat (keeping in mind the tips above). Once you’ve come up with your caloric rationing strategy, be sure to be disciplined and stick to it. This is really the most important tip: focus on trying to keep your total calorie intake reasonable even though the foods may be anything but, remembering that it is portion size, not type of food, that will get you in trouble.

Do your best to implement these tips, to have a fit and fun holiday season!

Michael Stack is an exercise physiologist and founder of Applied Fitness Solutions (AFS). AFS provides group fitness classes and personal wellness coaching at their three area locations: Ann Arbor, Rochester Hills, and Plymouth. Learn more about AFS.

This story is sponsored by AFS.

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