Put down that pudding: Avoiding holiday weight gain
Photo Illustration by: CRAIG DILGER/Daily Herald Gaining Weight Over the Holidays - Friday, December 12, 2008.

For all the surprises going around during the holidays, many Utah County residents end up with the same old problem every year: weight gain.

It's unclear how many extra pounds the average American puts on during the last six weeks of the year. A 2000 National Institutes of Health study put the number at just over a pound, while respondents to many surveys estimate it's closer to five. Some affectionately call it the "seasonal seven." Whatever the number, local experts say it adds up -- and the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes dinner isn't necessarily the biggest culprit.

"People eat a lot of sweets and desserts at the holiday times, and we get them as gifts also," said Emilee Pike, coordinator of the county's Healthy Lifestyles program.

Pike said holiday candies are "full of calories and fat generally" and should be kept to a minimum. It's OK to have a slice of pie once in a while, but it's when we do that four times a week in the name of Christmas merriment that we get ourselves into trouble, she said.

Another under-the-radar offenderfi Holiday drinks, Pike said. While alcohol consumption isn't as big an issue in Utah County as other places, other beverages -- like fatty egg nog or fruit juice-soda combos -- are, she said.

"That's kind of a hidden calorie that people don't realize," she said. "Drinking a lot of water can help you to not feel so hungry."

Often it's not that the holiday foods are themselves unhealthy, said Jessica Campbell, a registered dietician at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo. Many mainstays are wholesome and nutrient-rich -- but people tend to associate the special meals with overindulgence, she said.

"For some reason, as Americans we think we need to sit down and eat the whole turkey," she said. "We tend to overeat [holiday foods] because we don't get them other times throughout the year."

Instead, Campbell recommended, "enjoy the leftovers for as long as they last."

If you are planning a big meal, consider substituting low-fat ingredients where possible. And throughout the season, getting two servings of vegetables per meal can help you feel fuller longer, Campbell said. She recommended celebrants think about veggies as a necessary part of the deal.

"If they're going to a Christmas party, they should be the ones bringing the vegetable tray," she said.

Pike said short of that, try eating before going to parties to avoid snacking. Better yet, take control of the festivities yourself. Plan something that will help your friends and neighbors work off those extra holiday calories, she said.

"If you're hosting a holiday party, maybe do something active, like go ice skating," Pike said.

Not all exercise has to be planned out in advance; you can also do smaller things to keep moving, Pike said.

"Take advantage of any opportunity you have to be active," she said. "When you're doing your holiday shopping, maybe park a little farther away and walk a little farther."

Campbell said getting enough exercise can also help reduce stress -- an abundant force during the holiday season and another big cause of weight gain.

"Enjoy the holidays -- they're fun," she said.

TIPS FOR KEEPING THE HOLIDAY POUNDS OFF

• Substitute low-fat versions of ingredients like milk and cheese in favorite recipes.

• Avoid "unconscious eating" -- keep the bowl of party mix away when the family's watching "A Christmas Story."

• Make sure you get plenty of water and some veggies. They'll keep your overindulgent urges at bay.

• Take a breather. Set aside time for rest and some physical activity.

• Watch portion sizes. You don't need to tackle the whole turkey in one sitting.

• Ace Stryker can be reached at 344-2556 or astryker@heraldextra.com.

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