If you're a typical American, you'll weigh one pound more on January 2, 2013 than you did November 21, 2012. On average, we gain a pound during the holiday season when we come face-to-face with many desserts, candies and treats. One pound doesn't sound like a big deal, but what if you don't lose that pound? Or the one you gained last year or the one you'll gain next year, and on and on?
"Holiday weight gain accumulated over a lifetime can lead to obesity. A pound a year for thirty years is thirty extra pounds," says Dr. Betty Greer, a Family & Consumer Sciences expert with University of Tennessee Extension.
Obesity rates in Tennessee have actually dropped slightly in recent years, but still, nearly one-third of our population is obese, and a great many more people are overweight. Greer believes holiday eating - and people being stuck indoors in winter with little opportunity to exercise - contributes to the obesity rate.
Greer is among the UT Extension experts offering advice this holiday season about healthy eating and avoiding weight gain. For starters, Greer says make better food choices. That's not easy to do with so many sugary treats and goodies around, but there are filling alternatives that can be tasty. "One tip is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables typically don't contain a lot of calories unless prepared with added fat or sugar," Greer says.
UT Extension works with the Tennessee Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in providing nutritional information to the people of our state. Academy dietitian Marilyn Holmes adds to Greer's advice about holiday food choices. "Choose red, orange and dark-green vegetables like tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli along with other vegetables for your meals," Holmes says. "Limit fat and sugar during food preparation to avoid extra calories."
Greer says it might be okay to have a treat or two here and there during the holidays if people would just stay or become more active. Exercise can take many forms, she says. "Find fun ways to stay active with family and friends such as dancing to your favorite holiday music or organizing activities like scavenger hunts and walks. If already in the routine of exercising regularly, don't take a break just because it's the holidays. In fact, you might add a few extra minutes to your workout this time of year."
A common New Year's resolution is to start exercising, but Greer says why postpone that goal? "Today is a great day to become more active," she says. "Exercise is a priority no matter how hectic the season feels."
Other tips from Greer include:
Don't go to holiday parties hungry. Eat something healthy before the party to help resist overeating sweets.
Eat more low-calorie foods. These foods are also typically more filling, helping you avoid a sugar craving.
If good with the host, bring a low-calorie dish to a party. This guarantees at least one "safe" food choice.
Control your portions. Moderation is a key with sweets, but it's also important with all foods, for that matter.
Don't "hang out" by the table or in the kitchen. Avoidance is a good strategy to prevent overeating. If you're not around it, you can't eat it.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases your appetite and lowers your inhibitions, which could make you susceptible to unhealthy eating. If you do drink alcohol, also drink water to avoid dehydration.
Practice using substitute recipes. Try the following lower fat recipe substitutes: Instead of one whole egg, use two egg whites. Instead of regular sour cream, use low-fat plain yogurt or low-fat sour cream. Instead of whole milk, use skim or 1 or 2% milk. Ice cream can be replaced by frozen yogurt, and cheeses come in low-fat varieties as well.
Put things in perspective: Enjoy the holidays by centering your entertainment around non-food events like watching movies, ice skating or touring holiday displays.