published Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The holidays don't have to be a time to gain weight

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    Everyone knows to watch their eating during the holiday season, but experts say that the average American gains 7-13 pounds between Thanksgiving and Jan. 2.
    Photo by McClatchey Tribune /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

After several indulgent weeks filled with fruit cake, pumpkin pie and holiday cookies, most of us will be hiding muffin tops under our Christmas sweaters by the time Santa jiggles his pudgy self down the chimney.

And then January will set in, and so will the shame.

Losing weight and getting fit are among the Top 10 resolutions Americans make each year, according to the U.S. government. And no wonder. 'Tis the season to be carb-loaded.

"It's not the actual holiday that gets us in trouble," said Robin Darling, registered dietitian at Memorial Hospital. "It's the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day where we're constantly being bombarded with food."

But what if it could be different? What if you didn't have to gain an elf's worth of weight every holiday season? What if you could avoid elastic-waist pants?

No, Virginia, you don't have to have a belly like Santa Claus.

Area fitness and diet experts share how.

1. Keep up the exercise. Holidays are a stressful time. Exercise can help alleviate stress. Make it fun. Instead of watching a game, gather the family and go play a game of touch football outside.

2. Don't skip meals, and never go to a party hungry. The finger food and appetizer-style offerings at parties are typically higher in fat and calories than sitting down to a meal. You can actually end up eating more than if you'd had breakfast or dinner first.

3. If you're hosting, set up a buffet in a room separate from the dining room. That way, you can avoid the temptation to eat more after your plate is empty.

4. Incorporate fitness into holiday shopping. Park far from the door of the mall, take the stairs, do curls with shopping bags and avoid the food court.

5. Focus on the dishes that are holiday treats. Mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese can be eaten any time. Sweet potatoes and marshmallows are no health food, but they tend to be associated with Thanksgiving Day. Indulge in the more rare treats.

6. Buy small food storage containers. What should you do with that leftover piece of pumpkin pie that's "not worth trying to save"? Wolfing it down while you clean isn't going to help anyone. Wrap it up. Put it away. Save it for another time.

7. Be accountable to someone. Whether a personal trainer or a walking buddy, if you have someone else depending on you, you'll be less likely to skip out on workouts.

8. Keep goals realistic. The holidays are not a time to try to lose weight. Instead, aim to maintain your current weight. And don't plan to buckle into one of those crazy New Year's diets come Jan. 1. That will only lead to overindulgence now.

9. Make healthy food choices. Replace oil in a gingerbread recipe with applesauce. Use plain nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream. Substitute pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes.

10. If you drink, drink in moderation. Alcohol is high in calories. Additionally, those "hilarious" stories about drunk Aunt Shelley are really just your family's way of trying to find humor in having been embarrassed by your actions. Opt for a class of champagne over a chocolate peppermint martini, and stick to one or two.

Sources: Indi Maharaj, registered dietitian at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center; Kristy Brewer, exercise physiologist at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center; Britt Watson, wellness director at the downtown YMCA; Robin Darling, registered dietitian at Memorial Hospital.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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