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Healthy Diets - for Weight Loss and Improved Health!
Carolyn Classick-Kohn,Ms,Rd

Christmas and New Years holidays are approaching, now is the time to think ahead and plan a "survival" plan so that your efforts to eat better or to lose weight aren't reversed in a few short months!

Let's face it. Holidays and other special occasions are a special challenge for people who are on a weight loss diet or are simply trying to eat for good health. The last thing you want to do is feel deprived throughout the holiday season, while others seem to enjoy the food and festivities without a second thought to calories and fat! It doesn't seem fair, yet there are plenty of people who maintain a healthy body weight throughout the year and don't gain a lot of weight over the holidays either. What do they do differently?

A Study of Holiday Behavior and Weight Gain

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine may provide some answers to this question. The study followed 195 people and looked at their weight changes before, during and after the holiday season. It looked at self-reported changes in physical activity and hunger during these times. Before the holidays, this group of people had gained an average of about .44 pounds. During the holidays, the group gained an average of .88 pounds, so by the end of the holiday season, the average weight gain was about 1.32 pounds. Then, right after the holidays, this group lost an average of only one tenth of a pound! Gaining a little over one pound over a holiday season doesn't seem like much at all, but remember, this is an average of almost 200 people - some gained a lot more, some less. And unfortunately, these people never lost the weight they gained. New Year's resolution or not, the weight gained never reversed itself over the year. Does this sound like a familiar pattern?

Hunger and Physical Activity Findings

There were some important findings about this study that may apply to you. When they looked at the participants' physical activity levels during the holidays, 28 people reported being much less active. They gained 1.65 pounds. Seventy-four people said they were somewhat less active, and they gained .88 pounds. Forty-eight people had no change in their physical activity. They gained about 2/3 pound. Only 6 people reported being much more physically active, but they lost 1.32 pounds over the holidays!

During the holidays, there were 45 of the 195 people who reported being hungrier. These people gained an average of 2.4 pounds. While only 9 people reported being much less hungry over the holidays, this group lost an average of 1.1 pounds. What you can summarize from this study of holiday behavior is that people who gained weight over the holidays were either less physically active or didn't change their physical activity during this time. And, those who were hungrier ate more, and gained weight.

The Best Antidote

Realistically, you can expect that you are going to be faced with a lot more opportunities to overeat during the winter holiday season. I will be giving you a lot of very specific habits to practice over the holidays to help you have a great time without "blowing" your efforts. Over the long season of get-togethers, family dinners, parties and holiday stress, for some it will be a victory just to maintain weight and not gain. This is a fine goal and may be the most realistic for many. However, if you want to lose weight it is very clear from the study I just referred to that exercise is the best antidote for overeating. If you haven't started a plan yet, now is the time, before the holidays get into full swing and there are too many excuses. You can increase your daily physical activity by simply moving more, and if you can, add a plan for walking, bicycling, weight training - (whatever you enjoy) this will be your key to losing or maintaining your weight during the winter season.

Start a physical activity plan now - join an indoor sports facility, take some dance classes, start a walking program. PersonalDiets members get help with our MovingMore program - an instructional exercise video program that encourages to you do just that - move more!  Start an online diet and plan to move more this holiday season!