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Holiday Fat? Here’s How to Fight It

Throw the diet out the door

By Sandra Meineke

It’s that time again. Time for New Year’s resolutions and holiday regret. The two go hand-in-hand. You ate too much. Again. You do it every year. Just when you were doing so well on your diet-of-the-month, Thanksgiving came along. Then Christmas and the New Year. Then before you know it, Valentine’s Day will be here. Well, fuggedaboutit. Throw those diets away!

Yep. That’s what doctors are saying. And yes, we know that Jan. 16-22 is Healthy Weight Week. But that’s the point. We need to maintain a healthy weight throughout the year, and stop the yo-yo dieting. That way, a little indulgence at special times won’t push us completely back to square one.

Obesity is not the only condition considered an unhealthy weight. Being pencil thin like a Hollywood movie star is just as unhealthy. And weight varies by individual. What’s healthy for you may not be the same for your best friend and walking partner. A healthy weight is one that optimizes health and the weight your body settles on when you are eating right and are physically active. It is not just a number on the scale. A body feels its best and works at its most efficient when it is at a healthy weight.

The first step, according to the latest wisdom on weight loss, is to prevent any new gain. If you’re currently at a healthy weight, you’re already one step ahead of the game. To stay at a healthy weight, it’s worth doing a little planning now. If you are overweight but aren’t ready to lose weight yet, preventing further weight gain is a good place to start.


One Culprit:  Slower Metabolism

As we age, our body composition gradually shifts — muscle decreases and fat increases. This shift slows metabolism, making it easier to gain weight. In addition, many of us become less physically active as we get older, increasing the risk of weight gain.

The good news is that weight gain can be prevented by choosing a lifestyle that includes good eating habits and daily physical activity. By avoiding weight gain, we avoid higher risks of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and some forms of cancer. And, even small weight loss can be beneficial and reduce some of the risks associated with being overweight or obese. In addition to the diseases listed above, obesity can also lead to difficulty sleeping, snoring or sleep apnea, joint pain, excessive sweating, depression, shortness of breath, rashes and more.

Our bodies use food for energy — storing any excess energy as fat. This means automatic weight gain if we eat more food than our body needs for daily activities and cell maintenance. To lose weight, we need to get our bodies to use up these stores of fat. The most effective way to do this is to reduce the amount of calories eaten and increase daily activity levels. Small changes can make a big difference. We need to begin thinking of weight loss in terms of permanently changing our eating habits — in other words, lifestyle change for life.

Someone who increases the amount they exercise, but maintains the same diet and calorie intake, will almost certainly lose weight. Every single time you exercise more than usual, you burn calories and fat.

To keep exercise from being boring, find something you enjoy that’s easy to do in terms of location and cost. Then, you will be more likely to build it into your regular routine and continue to exercise, despite inevitably missing the odd session through holidays, family commitments, etc.

In terms of weight loss, you can get your body to use up existing stores of fat by eating less and making healthier choices. This doesn’t mean crash dieting. There are no shortcuts to losing weight in a healthy and reasonable way.

Avoid quick-loss programs, fasts or diets that claim a specific food is off limits. A nutrient-rich diet encourages low calorie foods like fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat or non-fat dairy. Portion control is equally important to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Eating 300 to 500 calories less per day should lead to a loss of between one and two pounds per week. This is a realistic target.


Skipping Meals Makes No Sense

Finally, don’t be tempted to skip breakfast — or any meal — to lose weight. While skipping a meal will reduce your calorie intake for that hour, it will leave you much hungrier later on. Not only are you likely to overeat to compensate, but you’ll often make bad choices to fill the gap.

Irregular eating habits also disrupt your body’s metabolism, which makes it harder to lose weight in the first place.

Healthy Weight Week celebrates healthy non-diet lifestyles that can prevent eating and weight problems. During this week, people are encouraged to improve health habits in lasting ways by eating well, living actively and feeling good about themselves and others. It’s a time to help people shift focus from failed weight-loss efforts to better health at their natural size.

“Health experts are just beginning to recognize the risks taken by both women and men in their efforts to diet down to thin ideals. The body resists powerfully and closes down into an unnatural, stressed state,” said Francie M. Berg, a licensed nutritionist and adjunct professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine whose organization Healthy Weight Network started Healthy Weight Week 18 years ago. “For vulnerable individuals, this can lead to clinical eating disorders.”

To avoid eating and weight problems, the National Eating Disorders Asso­ciation recommends eating in normal ways, as does a small child: “Eat what you want, when you are truly hungry. Stop when you’re full. Do this instead of any diet, and you are unlikely to ever have a weight problem, let alone an eating disorder.”

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