How to keep holiday weight from adding up

WASHINGTON — This time of year can really take a toll on your waistline with all those Christmas parties and holiday gatherings that serve such decadent dishes.

So what can you do to keep the numbers on the bathroom scale steady and still enjoy yourself? Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, says weight gain during the holiday season will surprise you.

A variety of studies through the years have found that from November to January, the average adult gains about a pound — just one pound. And most people take it off by spring. But overweight and obese people tend to gain a little more than a pound, and they’re less likely to shed the holiday weight.

That one pound can add up through the years, and over time it helps fuel the obesity problem. We know excess body weight is linked to a wide variety of health problems, from premature heart disease, to Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Plus that added weight can cause sleep problems and put more strain on joints, among other health issues.

If you want to avoid adding pounds this holiday season, the National Weight Control Registry is a great source of information. Established in 1994, The National Weight Control Registry is now run by a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Brown University and the University of Colorado. It tracks people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.

There are 10,000 people in the registry, many of whom have lost far more than 30 pounds and kept it off for five or more years.

We’ve learned some great lessons about weight maintenance from these registry members: for one thing, dieting during the holidays often fails. Weight “maintenance” may be a better way to make it through the holidays.

To keep their scale steady, weight control registry members stay focused, pay attention to their daily habits, and they weigh themselves regularly. It’s a good way to track how you’re doing and to adjust what you eat or how much you move accordingly.

Many of them also count calories and pay close attention to portion control. They think about it like monitoring a bank account: they know how much they’ve eaten, and they find the right balance to burning enough calories compared with what they have eaten, so that weight is less likely to creep back on.

And if they go to a party, they tend to compensate by doing more activity and cutting back on eating the following day. Physical activity is important, and they make time for exercise. Many get 60 to 90 minutes of activity per day, and it’s not all gym workouts. They jog, they cycle, take the stairs, walk the dog — some even play with the kids on the playground.

For many on the registry, breakfast is an important meal — this way they never get too hungry throughout the day. They also seem to plan ahead.

For example, have a snack before a party, and pace yourself through the holiday season. Don’t let one day or one party throw you off track. If you have multiple parties, have appetizers at the first party, a main course at the second, and dessert at the third — like a progressive dinner. Watch all those extra calories from alcohol — maybe go for a wine spritzer. And reach for those special foods that will make you feel like you’re really celebrating, rather than eating things you can get year-round.

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