Holiday weight gains not mandatory

By Katie Demeria

For many, gaining extra pounds during the holiday season is inevitable. But adopting a few simple habits — and breaking others — can help prevent the all-too-familiar January guilt.

Medical dieticians, such as Susan Lessar at Winchester Medical Center, are aware that eating during the holidays is often tied to enjoying time with friends and family. And, according to Lessar, there are easy ways to indulge while maintaining your weight.

“I do think you should enjoy the things you like, just be cautious,” she said. “It’s important to be aware, from day-to-day, of what is ahead of you.”

Magda Bullock, medical dietician at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, echoed Lessar’s advice. Bullock does not want her clients to avoid their favorite foods, she just wants them to rethink the amount they eat.

“Especially over the holidays, we need to realize that it’s a special time,” she said. “We’re allowed to have treats, it just depends on how much. Portion control is definitely something important to keep in mind.”

Lessar gave an example of going to a dinner party. “Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, so you’re not starving when you get to the party,” she said.

Planning ahead is the best way to avoid picking up bad holiday habits, according to Bullock and Lessar. Bullock tells her clients to consider eating fresh vegetables as an appetizer to avoid overeating favorite foods at dinner. And Lessar suggests bringing a healthy dish to a party, in case everything else provided is high in calories.

“It’s definitely hard for some people because they don’t have a lot of control,” Bullock said. “The key is motivation: How much are you going to work?”

For Bullock, eating well goes hand-in-hand with remaining active, which is easy to overlook during the holidays.

“Make activity part of your family time,” she said. “I always suggest that music is a way for people to dance and just be silly, and it’s also being active. Just have fun together.”

Susie Carter, a health educator at Winchester Medical Center, teaches a class called “Stop the Holiday Weight Gain.” She spends a lot of time helping her students prepare themselves to deal with other people, since eating is a central aspect of family gatherings.

There are two types of people to look out for: food pushers and watchdogs.

Food pushers are those who equate food with love, according to Carter.

“And watchdogs are people who always say, ‘should you really be eating that?” she said.

Carter teaches class participants how to respond to anyone who threatens healthy eating habits. Food pushers can require some creative techniques, such as requesting the recipe instead of accepting more food, or asking that the dish be wrapped up for later.

“Sometimes we have to say ‘no’ to them over and over again, and of course we don’t want to be rude,” Carter said.

Watchdogs require a more straightforward approach.

“Tell them it’s OK to eat this food in moderation, or ask them, ‘Isn’t there anything more exciting to talk about than what I’m eating?'” Carter said.

She tells all the participants in her class to keep a journal, hoping to make it easier for them to take control of what they are eating.

“It keeps them focused,” she said. “They might not do the greatest every day, but at least they’re not mindlessly eating, and they know what they’re doing with their bodies.”

Bullock, Carter, and Lessar all agreed that overindulging during the holidays before following a strict diet in January can be very difficult, and sometimes dangerous.

Each suggests that their clients maintain their weight between October and December and then continue pursuing a healthy lifestyle in the new year.

“If you want to change, you have to do it for the rest of your life,” Bullock said. “That means paying attention to how much you’re eating, your portion control, and what food you’re putting in your body.”

Lessar said she is not a big fan of diets in general.

“I don’t think the New Year’s resolutions should be to start a new diet and have a certain number in mind,” she said. “I think the more important thing is to increase your physical activity, eat more fruits and vegetables, and do things that are more attainable.”

Fad diets, said Lessar, may work in the short term, but they are not going to help maintain weight. New Year’s resolutions that focus on losing weight do little to prevent the holiday pounds from adding back up the following year.

According to Bullock, when it comes to surviving seasonal temptation, it all comes down to each individual’s motivation.

“We have to realize that this is just a moment,” Bullock said. “So it is important to have that family and friend time. But there are certain choices that have to be made. I’m giving you all this information, but it’s your choice. We all have to make choices.”

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com