Tips to prevent holiday weight gain – CT Insider
It’s not unusual to gain a little weight around the holidays.
While food temptations abound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the average American only gains about one pound, according to scientific research published in Psychology & Behavior, not the average five pounds we often hear about. Year-to-year weight gain persists when the weight stays on and the pattern is repeated each year, the study says.
Over the past 20 years, as portion sizes have expanded in the U.S., so have waistlines, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food advertised as “healthy” and “nutritious” — think granola bars and yogurt — are often loaded with more sugar than protein. Yet despite these factors, experts say we can enjoy the holidays and food in general and still avoid holiday-season weight gain. Rather than blaming ourselves for a lack of willpower, we can combat misinformation with knowledge.
Yes, we know we’re supposed to eat fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. But when we’re in a rush, grabbing a granola bar, bowl of cereal or cup of yogurt seems faster. “I think we’re all fooled,” says Marlene Schwartz, director of UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health. It’s hard to always eat nutritious food when we’re busy and on the go, she says, adding that part of the appeal of protein or granola bars is that they seem to contain healthful ingredients, are portable and keep for long periods.
“When possible, have something like an orange or an apple if it’s not going to be in a gym locker for a week. I think something like nuts make a good snack if you don’t have an allergy issue going on,” she says.
We can enjoy the foods and beverages of the holiday season by confining celebratory foods and drinks to specific days, experts say. “If pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving is your favorite thing, have a piece of pumpkin pie, but have one piece at Thanksgiving,” Schwartz says. “These holidays are one day. For Thanksgiving, I buy a turkey that’s big enough to feed the number of people I have,” and the meal includes stuffing, and her guests’ favorite foods, but not so much that she and her family are eating leftovers for days.
What about all those cookie swaps and parties that are such a part of the culture? “I do have something to say about food in the office, which is, ‘Don’t do it. Your office is not a garbage can.’ People bring it because they don’t want it in their own house,” she says.
To set ourselves up for success, Schwartz suggests reading nutrition labels in the grocery store. Don’t be fooled by front-of-package claims of being made from whole grains, reduced fat and no high fructose corn syrup. Check the “nutrition facts” for added sugars, sodium and all fats, not just trans fat. Look for the lowest possible added-sugar number when comparing nutrition labels, advises Dr. Stephanie Ortiz Page, medical director of the Metabolic and Medical Weight Loss Center at Nuvance Health, with offices in Wilton and Norwalk. The amount of protein and fiber per serving should add up to more than the total sugars, she says, and “if it’s less than the amount of sugar, nix it.”
If you’re among the 37.6 percent of adults in the state classified as overweight (body mass index (BMI) of 25–29.9) or the 25 percent of Connecticut adults designated as having obesity — BMI of 30 or more, according a 2015 state Department of Public Health report, you’re part of a growing trend. In 1990, 11.7 percent of the state’s adult population had a BMI of 30 or more and three decades later, in 2020, 29.2 percent of Connecticut adults had a BMI of at least 30, according to the United Health Foundation’s American’s Health Rankings.
When it comes to losing weight, what works for one person may not work for another. While working with people who want to lose weight, it’s not as simple as telling patients to follow one specific diet and exercise plan, Ortiz Page says. Working with a team that includes registered dieticians and behavioral health therapists, she and her colleagues ask about each person’s family life and social situation, financial constraints and underlying health conditions that may factor into their weight-loss plan.
She was working with a husband-and-wife team who were on the same weight-loss medication and following a similar exercise and diet plan. “The husband was mad. They were doing the same thing. The wife was losing more weight than the husband,” Ortiz Page says. “We had to change things up for him.”
Despite that example, peer-to-peer support can be an effective, sustainable method for improving long-term weight loss, according to research published in 2020 in Health Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association. Participants in the study who worked with a peer reported better weight loss than those who worked with a mentor, the authors wrote.
Another essential component of weight loss is exercise, but it doesn’t have to be a drag, Ortiz Page says. Humans were made to move. “The first thing, you don’t have to exercise a ton to lose weight. The benefits of exercise are to keep weight off, decrease heart attack risk, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and anxiety. Find something you enjoy and just move.”
If moving is difficult, start with a five-minute goal, suggests Linda T. Gottlieb, a certified personal trainer who helps people start exercising. “Exercise happens between your two ears,” she says. Make a contract with yourself to walk for five minutes daily, and if that’s all you feel like doing, you’ve met your goal. Most of the time, people find they can walk another 15 minutes. “The starting is the hardest part,” she says. Daily exercise seems too much? Start with a goal of moving your body twice a week. “You’ll find that some weeks that’s all you can get done and you’re still a winner.”
So, with a season of celebrations ahead, don’t let tight pants cause you to abandon all you’ve worked for, experts say. Instead, consider them a signal to moderate and move.
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