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Avoid packing on the pounds during holidays

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ethal Hamilton makes a vegetable tray for a customer while Minnie Ellis prepares a salad.
SIKESTON -- For most people, it's easy to get caught up in the bustle of the holiday season and forego healthy eating and living habits.

But health officials insist it is possible to have your cake and eat it, too, over the holidays -- just choose wisely.

"The average weight gain during the holiday season is about five pounds, and so the idea is to maintain -- not gain," said Caren Brown, a registered dietitian at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston.

Probably the best way to maintain weight is to really watch portion sizes, Brown said.

"We all get real busy but we should try to avoid fast food meals. Fast foods are really high-fat and high-calorie," Brown said.

Jane Evans of Susie's Bake Shoppe and Restaurant decorates a cake.
Brown suggested planning ahead. Having one-pot meals on hand during the holiday season is much healthier than eating fast food, she said.

There are also tips to get you through holiday parties.

"Whenever we think of getting together, the first thing we're usually offered is something to eat or drink," Brown said.

Snack before going to a party, Brown suggested.

"Eat something high in protein that will stay with you and fill you up, such as a wrapped sandwich or low fat meat. Then you won't be as likely to stand in front of the buffet table," Brown said.

For drinking, eating before helps, too, Brown said. Once at a party, stick with fruit juices and spritzes, diet sodas and waters. To be on the safe side, bring your own low-calorie beverage or dish to a party, she said.

If you're entertaining, do it in stages, Brown said.

"Put out the healthy foods, like the vegetable platter, first. That way they can fill up on those things and then when the desserts come, they're less likely to eat as much," Brown said.

When entertaining, get guests involved in activities other than standing around, Brown said. They should mingle -- not stand in front of the buffet table, she said.

Serve food in smaller portions and remember presentation, Brown said. Try to do more fruits and vegetables, she said.

"Making a tray look pretty and festive doesn't have to include a big, rich, gooey dessert," Brown said.

Find ways to reduce calories in family favorite recipes, Brown said. For example, use low-fat dairy products: substitute low fat yogurt for sour cream. Instead of oil, use apple sauce. Use two egg whites instead of a whole egg, which decreases caloric intake by 50 calories.

Of course, the other key to maintaining weight during the holidays is staying active.

"Keep in mind exercise will burn calories, and while burning calories, you can reduce stress," said Kenny Stone, health and fitness director at YMCA of Southeast Missouri in Sikeston.

Exercise will decrease a person's blood pressure for the rest of day, Stone said.

"It will give you a better frame of mind and enable you to work out frustration and you'll be in a much better mood or rest of the day," Stone said.

People are so busy during the holidays -- preparing meals, getting ready for family visits -- they need to stop and take time out for themselves, Stone said.

"You don't have to set aside a block of time; you can do 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there," Stone said, adding at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise is recommended daily.

Aerobic activity should be complemented with strength training, Stone said. "If you have to stay at home, get cans of soups to do arm curls or arm extensions. Do push ups, crunches and sit up and down out of a chair (it mimics a squat)," Stone said. "I know it's cold to be outside riding a bike, but maybe you could ride a stationary bike inside."

And by all means, get the most out of Christmas shopping, Stone said.

"Go to the mall and walk around. Make it a point to go to the stores that are farther away from each other," Stone said.

Of course, gyms are always ready to take people back in January, Stone said. "But you don't have to wait until Jan. 1 to make that resolution," Stone said. "Make it a little earlier."