Holiday bingeing often to blame, officials say
SIKESTON - The nation's love for food has gotten so out of hand, the Surgeon General warns obesity may soon kill more Americans than cigarettes.
An estimated 300,000 people a year die from illnesses directly caused or worsened by being overweight. The toll threatens to wipe out progress fighting cancer and heart disease, and could even exceed harm caused by cigarettes, Surgeon General David Satcher cautioned.
Some 60 percent of adults and nearly 13 percent of children are overweight or obese, rates that have steadily risen over the past decade.
Experts say one of the leading contributors to this epidemic is the unconscious consumption of food - and the holidays are the worst. Americans gain an average of seven pounds during the month between Thanksgiving and New Years which in turn takes more than twice as much time to lose.
But by using a little willpower and following a few suggestions, putting on holiday pounds can be avoided.
"Holidays can be a torturous time for those trying to maintain a healthy weight and counting calories," said Maude Harris, nutrition/health specialist for University Missouri Extension. "The abundance of food at family dinners and holiday parties can lead to over-indulgence. If we remember moderation, we can eat well and still enjoy our holiday favorites, even rich desserts."
Eat a small nutritious snack an hour before going to a party as a way to keep from consuming large amounts of calories and fat-filled foods, she advised. And try substituting hors d'oeuvres for dinner. "This is especially useful when attending late afternoon or evening parties."
Indulge mindfully. Choose low fat foods such as roast turkey and vegetables that are naturally low in fat. Opt for raw vegetables and salsa-based dips rather than the usual chips and creamy dips.
Practice moderation. To still enjoy traditional favorites that are higher in fat, consider eating smaller amounts. Practice moderation by paying attention to the amounts of food eaten. "Circle the food table and check out the choices," advised Harris. "Take only those foods that are extra special or are your absolute favorites."
Wait 15 to 20 minutes after a meal to request seconds or dessert. By delaying, you may find that your appetite will lessen. When there's a lot of food in front of you it's easy to get caught up in the social aspect of eating. Be aware of hunger signs and don't eat if you're not hungry. Harris suggests moving away from the table after filling your plate to avoid nibbling on food without thinking about it.
"Exercise, exercise, exercise to burn calories," she stressed. "This means not parking at the front door of the store when shopping, but walking across the parking lot. Exercise will also help reduce your holiday stress."
Substitute high fat foods such as butter and sour cream with lower fat alternatives such as reduced-fat butter, reduced-fat sour cream or plain yogurt.
Eat small meals throughout the day so you don't binge at the holiday meal. Know ahead of time what you will eat. For example, if you know you will want dessert, cut back your meal portions or have a low-calorie option such as fruit ready.
Go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol decreases inhibitions which potentially causes a person to eat more, not to mention it's loaded with calories. Try a wine spritzer made with equal amounts of wine and club soda. Eat first, drink later.
Harris encourages talking, pointing out that it is difficult to talk with a mouth full of food. If you're the hostess, send leftovers home with guests.
"Change family traditions," Harris suggested. "If your family gatherings are usually 'pig out' affairs, introduce some new lighter foods along with the family favorites. Your family may surprise you and want the light foods next year. With a little planning ahead during the holidays, you can balance high-calorie and high fat food choices. But always remember people make the holidays special too."