Experts say the holiday battle against extra pounds need not be lost
December 16, 2002
¶ Related story: A brief workout's still better than no workout at all.
The mere mention of holiday foods seems to add inches to love handles and hips.
Turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, pecan pie, eggnog — the mouthwatering treats you look forward to at this time of the year — have a tendency to stay with you for a long time.
And that is just the holiday meal. What about all the fudge, peanut brittle and homemade cookies that beckoned you from before Thanksgiving right through the new year?
What can you do? Spend the holidays hiding from temptation, munching on rabbit food and pedaling away on your exercise bike?
Absolutely not, according to two registered dietitians at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The pair, Lt. Col. Paula Rutan and Capt. Ronna Winn, are all for people enjoying the holiday food.
“One or two meals do not undo an entire year of healthy eating,” Rutan said. “My philosophy is that you should have a little taste of everything. Take a little stuffing, a little bit of potatoes. Fill up half your plate with vegetables and salad, and leave less room for the stuffing and potatoes.”
Of course, steps must be taken to avoid becoming that average person, who gains five to eight pounds over the holidays.
“Most people know if they are prone to gaining weight,” Winn said. “I encourage my patients to start weighing themselves around Thanksgiving, so they know before the Christmas potluck dinner if they’ve already put on a pound or two. You don’t want to wait until January to step on the scale.”
Staying away from fatty foods at the Christmas feast can help keep the pounds off.
“Choose your foods wisely,” Rutan said. “You may decide not to have the pecan pie. [One slice is 503 calories and 27 grams of fat.] Choose the festive foods but take smaller amounts.
“Maybe you want the pecan pie because your family always makes pecan pie for the holidays. Take smaller portions, and only choose festive foods. You can have chips and dip any day. This is the time to enjoy holiday foods, but in moderation.”
The dangers of holiday overeating aren’t confined to the home. Try taking a detour around desks at the workplace that typically offer fatty holiday snacks in abundance.
“On Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s, you’ve labored over these meals, so by all means enjoy them,” Winn said. “It’s all those days in between that can get you into trouble.”
Alas, limiting your holiday food intake won’t entirely do the trick. You know what’s also needed, the thing that can chase away Christmas spirit faster than a rain check on the year’s hottest-selling toy: exercise.
“Around the holidays, people’s schedules get very full, and their exercise routines are usually the first thing to go,” Rutan said. “With the long hours of darkness and cold weather during winter, people are even less likely to exercise. But they have to make the time, without going to extremes.”
Making time to exercise can be simpler than one might think. One option is to nix the tradition of circling the parking lot for that primo space near the main entrance to the post exchange. Instead, park farther away and walk the extra distance.
“Over the last few years, pedometers have become increasingly popular,” Winn said. “You can attach it to your boot or waist and it counts the number of steps you’ve taken. So, if you can’t get to the gym, you could say: ‘I’m going to walk an extra 500 to 1,000 steps per day.’ If you know you’re going shopping at a Christmas market, that will be a good opportunity to get in some extra walking.”
Winn offered the following 30- minute exercise suggestions to burn the numbers of calories listed. Walking at a moderate pace, 112 calories; aerobics at a moderate pace, 161 calories; riding an adjustable stationary bike at a moderate pace, 225 calories; and cross-country skiing at a moderate pace, 257 calories.
OK, so maybe exercise is out of the question with your busy schedule, and you want much more than just a taste of the holiday treats. Relax, it’s not the end of the world. It just means you’ll have your work cut out for you come Jan. 1.
“With exercise and diet, a person can take off one to two pounds per week; we recommend not losing more than two pounds per week,” Rutan said.
“If you do the math, it would take one to two months to drop the holiday pounds. You must limit your food intake, and you must exercise. Some follow a diet but won’t exercise. You really need to bring both of them together to lose weight.”
BAMBERG, Germany — With Christmas fewer than 10 days away, exercise and weight control may be the farthest thing from people’s minds.
But if you start now — and exercise just 15 minutes a day — it could help fight off some of those unwanted holiday pounds, according to fitness expert Kasey Tertulien.
“Ideally, you should exercise for an hour, two to three times a week,” said Tertulien, a certified fitness specialist with 279th Base Support Battalion’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation in Bamberg. “But even 15 minutes — even 10 minutes — is better than not doing any exercise at all.”
Tertulien said she usually sees a drop in people participating in her program after Thanksgiving. But activity picks up again after the first of the year.
Although people’s schedules get busier in the last two weeks of the year, that doesn’t mean they have to neglect fitness.
“You don’t have to go to the gym or an aerobics class to exercise,” she said. “You can exercise at home, if you’re on a tight schedule. Do 15 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups. You can have the whole family do it together. Make a game out of it by seeing who can do the most.”
No weights at home? You still can do muscle-toning exercises despite the lack of home gym equipment.
“Use [tension] bands to supply the resistance that dumbbells would provide,” Tertulien said. “You can even use soup cans or water jugs. Although dumbbells are probably more effective, any kind of exercise is better than none at all.”
But don’t overdo it, especially if you don’t normally exercise.
“This is not the time to start a strenuous fitness routine,” Tertulien said. “And don’t expect to lose weight during the holidays; it’s just not going to happen. You can maintain your weight safely by just increasing your physical activity. Try walking more; maybe go ice-skating.
“Exercise is an excellent opportunity for family time; get your children involved.”
— Rick Emert
Tips on handling those pounds
Eight tips for handling the holiday pounds, from Lt. Col. Paula Rutan and Capt. Ronna Winn, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center registered dietitians:
¶ Choose foods carefully. Enjoy seasonal specialties in reasonable portions. A Christmas cookie or two and a small slice of Christmas cake are part of enjoying the season. But skip the chips and dip, and crackers and cheese. You can have those any day of the year.
¶ Don’t go to holiday parties overly hungry. This can lead to overeating. Eat sensibly the day of the party (don’t skip meals or exercise) and have a small, low-calorie, high-fiber snack right before going. A small apple before the party will do wonders in keeping your party eating under control. Keep a low-calorie drink in your hands to sip on, so your hands are occupied.
¶ Watch your alcohol intake. A serving of alcohol contains about 100-350 calories. Alcohol will make you less inhibited, and you may eat more.
¶ Make your Christmas shopping aerobic. Instead of circling the parking lot for the closest parking spot, take one farther away and get a short walk in for exercise. Enjoy local Christmas markets for the shopping and walking they provide.
¶ Enjoy holiday treats, but don’t keep them in the house. Go to the bakery or a restaurant for your treats. You will satisfy your craving, yet you won’t have the treats around to tempt you further.
¶ Stick to a regular meal routine as much as possible. Plan healthful meals ahead of time. There will be plenty of times you will be offered treats you hadn’t planned on during the season, such as homemade fudge or cookies brought in by someone at the office. If you are eating regular, healthful meals it will be easier to eat very small portions of these treats and feel satisfied.
¶ The holidays are a busy time. Because of time-crunched days, exercise routines often get neglected or eliminated entirely. Add to that short daylight hours and cold weather, and people quit exercising altogether. Keep active every day. It will help burn calories and keep holiday stress under control.
¶ Enjoy the holidays. Everyone needs to celebrate, and for many people, food is a big part of it. You have holiday food on just a few days of the year. Go ahead, have a slice of mom’s pecan pie with Christmas dinner. It is a treat, and you will savor each bite. A couple of holiday meals will not undo all the good, healthy eating you do the rest of the year.
— Rick Emert