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How to avoid holiday weight gain

Experts say 'mindless' eating often to blame

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ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. – Getting ready for another weekend filled with holiday eating?  Don't be surprised if your overindulging shows up on the scale.

"For so many people, food is how we celebrate and enjoy life.  And when the holidays come, most people will gain weight.  We have a hard time knowing when to stop," said Dennette Fend, a nurse practitioner at the Beaumont Weight Control Center.

That used to include April Szlaga of Macomb Township.  Like many moms, she gained weight after having her two sons.

"Once I had kids, I found that it just got a hold of me, and I just continued to gain weight and didn't lose the initial baby weight," said Szlaga.

It was her mother's death in December of 2012 that changed everything.

"She had breast cancer, and she had one of the genes, and I was tested and tested negative," said Szlaga.  "To me that was my gift from my mom who had passed and I said, 'This is it.  I am changing my lifestyle and becoming healthy.'"

Szlaga turned to the Beaumont Weight Control Center for help and lost 102 pounds through diet and exercise.  She says last Christmas wasn't as challenging as you might think.

"It was easy.  I actually lost weight over Christmas, surprisingly," said Szlaga.

She credits her commitment to change and making a point of staying away from desserts to avoid that temptation.

Fend says when it comes to holiday overeating,  it's really not the Christmas Day dinner that's our problem.

"The holidays are just a few days in this whole process.  It's really just a couple meals," said Fend.  "I think so much of it is just the mindless eating that we do.  The things that we do because that's what we've always done, and not really focusing on if that's good for us or not."

That's where having a holiday eating strategy comes in.  Instead of mindless munching, focus on a special favorite.

"If they can say, 'I think I'll just have a small sliver' or 'I'll have a bite of whatever I want and just make it a small portion, so that I don't feel deprived,' they do so much better, and they're so much more successful and proud of themselves," said Fend.

Fend also says don't go to events hungry.  Eat something healthy at home first.

Once you have your plate, don't linger by the buffet.  And if you do fall off the train of good intentions, hop back on.

"I don't like it when patients will say, 'Oh the whole day is ruined because I messed up.  It's ruined.'  It's not ruined.  You can stop it right after that moment and change your mindset and get back on track," said Fend.

Szlaga says her lifestyle change has had a positive impact on her whole family.

"We're a healthier family.  I'm eating healthier.  I'm cooking healthier.  We're doing more healthy activities as a family."

She has also continued to work out, even setting aside an hour a day for exercise on her recent vacation.

But she will enjoy some of her favorite Polish foods this Christmas.

"Smaller portions, one plate, that's all you need.  You don't need to back for seconds," said Szlaga.

She hopes her journey can encourage others.

"I just want to encourage everyone out there to get healthy.  I think that the way it makes you feel and the way that you will live your life going forward is a positive thing.  You'll find much more happiness in life," said Szlaga. "You're not in this alone.  Reach out and there's lots of programs out there to help."

To download more tips to avoid holiday weight gain, click here and here.  

Learn more about the Beaumont Weight Control Center.