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Happy Holidays, Without the Weight Gain

Moderation and careful planning can help you keep those seasonal pounds off, experts say

FRIDAY, Dec. 22, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- From now until New Year's, it's a season of eating, drinking and, well, more eating and drinking.

And worrying about how all those extra calories will translate into extra pounds the next time you dare to step on the scale.

Relax. It doesn't have to be another holiday of nail-biting between nibblings, experts say. All you need is the proper attitude and proven strategies that work to keep your calories-in, calories-out equation balanced.

Anyone who's fought with the scale over the holidays (or shoved it under the bed) knows the basic tricks: Drink water or eat an apple before heading out to a party. Or say, "No, thank you," nicely but firmly, when Aunt Hattie offers you a giant piece of pecan pie a la mode for the fifth time.

But other strategies and perspectives may be new to you.

"Perspective is key during the holiday season," said Jeannie Moloo, a registered dietitian in Roseville, Calif., and an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. "It's not the best time of year for weight loss. Focus instead on maintaining a healthy weight, not on losing."

Keep that focus when you're faced with a huge buffet or Mom's homemade cooking, added Leslie Bonci, a registered dietitian and director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Don't deprive yourself -- but don't give free rein to your gastronomic impulses, either.

"You can enjoy everything, but cut it by a third," she said. "Instead of having three cookies, have two. Instead of a two-inch slice of pie, try for about a one-and-a-half inch slice. Instead of a big scoop of both stuffing and potatoes, have a half scoop of each."

And don't forget the "calories-out" part of the equation. "Always look for opportunities to move. Make sure getting some daily physical activity during the holidays remains a priority," Moloo said. "It can be challenging with shorter days and hectic schedules to keep physical activity on the calendar, but now is not the time to go sedentary."

If you have young kids, you can build physical activity into your day by suggesting a walk to the park or a snowman-building contest or other winter fun. Or you might buddy up with a co-worker and hit the health club or a walking path at least three times a week, after work or during lunch.

You can manage those holiday parties, too, Bonci said, whether you're the host or the guest. As the hostess, she said, "There don't have to be cookies in every room in your house. Set up 'no eating' zones." Your guests will probably thank you, at least silently. It'll give them a chance to avoid temptation and focus on socializing and friendships.

And not everything has to be sugary to be festive. "Use fresh fruit for edible holiday decorations," said Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Fill large glass bowls or baskets with washed, fresh fruits."

If you know you'll be tempted with endless party buffets or tables full of family favorites, refresh your memory ahead of time about proper portion sizes, Moloo said.

"Portion size is key to managing weight, especially during the holidays," she said. "A few tips to keep in mind: Keep protein servings [such as your meat dish] to the size of the palm of your hand. Your fat choice -- for instance butter, sour cream, salad dressing -- should be no larger than twice your thumbnail. One cupped hand is a serving of rice or pasta, and a baseball is the size of a potato." Any more, and you're overdoing it.

If you'll be traveling during the holidays, Moloo suggests packing healthy snacks that keep. That way, you'll be less tempted by less-than-healthy airline or airport fare or fast-food outlets along the highway.

If all else fails, remember you have the power over the food, not the other way around. "If you have to, physically remove yourself from the food," Bonci said. At a party, you can walk away and find someone interesting to talk to, or admire your host's artwork or interior design. At home, you might decide to rake leaves or play in the snow, she said.

More information

To learn more about healthy holiday eating, visit the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports medicine nutrition, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Jeannie Moloo, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition consultant, Roseville, Calif., and spokeswomann for the American Dietetic Association; Lona Sandon, R.D., registered dietitian at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas
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