We're into the mean season now, when food becomes both a temptation and a threat. Holiday gatherings usually center on food, and even the most prudent people drink more alcohol than usual. Combine the festive food with reduced physical activity and you've set the stage for the annual Thanksgiving to New Year's five- to seven-pound weight gain.
But holiday celebrations with their traditional foods draw family and friends together, weaving the fabric of a life worth living. They are the ties that bind. So no one wants to give up, totally, the joys of the season.
What's needed here is balance, and smart approaches to having it all. Two nationally known dietitians, steeped in food and nutrition knowledge, have agreed to share some of their best "no pain, no gain" holiday weight prevention secrets.
Chris Rosenbloom, Ph.D., R.D., is associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Georgia State University and nutritionist for the '96 Olympic Medical Support Group. "My holiday strategy is exercise. I really like to eat, so I don't want to not enjoy all those good holiday foods and parties."
So Ms. Rosenbloom and her husband have started a new tradition by kicking off Thanksgiving Day with a 13-mile half marathon in Atlanta. Then her holiday motivation comes from success. "If I've trained and done that half-marathon, I don't want to lose it. So I'll keep running right through the holidays, while everyone else is in a time of decline!" She concedes, that Atlanta's mild winters make it easy to keep up her outdoor training.
By Christmas, she'll be off to parties dressed to kill. And she shares this trick. "Wearing something snug with a tight-fitting belt keeps my goals and achievements firmly in mind, and offers a clear warning when I've had enough to eat".
She says she will "bank" a few calories during the day, but not so many that she arrives at parties starving and out of control.
Parties have taken on a different focus, too. "As I've gotten older, I appreciate the non-food activities surrounding the holidays. I'm more interested in catching up with family and friends than in eating."
Nancy Clark, R.D., director of nutrition services for SportsMedicine Brookline in Massachusetts and counselor to athletes and compulsive exercisers, offers a word of comfort. She says people need to know they don't have to exercise every day. In the midst of all the Christmas activity they might not get to the gym one day but might walk two or three miles gift-shopping in the mall. All activity counts.
That opens the door for other winter fun like ice skating, sledding, even walking around the neighborhood caroling.
Ms Clark, author of several books including "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook" and "The New York City Marathon Cookbook," suggests women get a more realistic picture of how much food they need. "Start by asking yourself how many calories you deserve to eat, in order to fuel your body," she says.
Her own holiday strategy is calorie-based. She eats about 700 calories per meal, and lunch is usually two sandwiches. But during the holidays she plans treats into meals, instead of adding them on as extras. So she'll have one sandwich and 350 calories worth of Christmas cookies.
"Health-wise, yes, it's more fat and cholesterol. But I look at health in terms of participating in life, happiness and fun. And it's fun to enjoy holiday food. Besides, it's only two weeks. Come January 1st, everyone around this office is just thrilled to have all the holiday food stop, so we can all go back to eating bran flakes and plain bagels again. But while the food is there, we enjoy eating it.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.
Plan: Take 30 minutes weekly to organize. Review supplies for meals, parties, lunch packing. Make a list. Check it twice. Shop once. Too many "quick trips" take forever, waste precious time and expose you to extra food temptations.
Shop once: Shopping on the way home from work may seem efficient, but stores are crowded, lines are long and you're starving. Instead, go home. Eat first to decrease temptation, then shop during the store's quiet time. You'll speed down the aisles and whiz through the checkout line.