LSU AgCenter Nutritionist Reports Good and Bad News About Holiday Weight Gain

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  9/14/2006 12:31:40 AM

News You Can Use For 11/24/2003

Most people face the holiday season with some fear of gaining weight. The good news is that although many people gain, research suggests that the gain will probably be only 1 pound, not 5, notes LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.

The bad news is that most people likely will keep that pound during the coming year.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the Medical University of South Carolina studied 195 people, weighing them four times over the course of about six months, from September through March. They found that people in their study gained an average of about 1 pound from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. Fewer than 10 percent of the subjects gained 5 pounds or more over the holidays. That extra pound, on average, was still there for the group of 165 participants who came back to be weighed almost a year later.

Factors such as the number of holiday parties attended had little effect. People who reported being hungrier and less active during the holidays gained the most weight. Those who were already obese or overweight were more likely to gain more than 5 pounds, which occurred in 10 percent of the participants.

Reames says obesity can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems. According to government statistics, 55 percent of Americans are considered overweight, and 22 percent are obese.

The abundance of food at many holiday festivities can lead to overindulgence. The LSU AgCenter nutritionist offers these eating tips:

• Eat a small, nutritious snack before going to a party as a way to keep from consuming large amounts of calories and fat-filled foods.

• Substitute hors d'oeuvres for dinner. This is especially useful when attending late afternoon or evening parties.

• To avoid nibbling on food without thinking about it, move away from the food table after filling your plate.

• Make some choices ahead of time of what you're going to enjoy. For instance, if you love pecan pie, pass up the candied yams (or vice versa).

• Don’t forget physical activity. Physical activity is important all year round but can be especially helpful during the holidays when you may be eating more than usual. In addition to burning calories, physical activity helps build muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

• In addition, physical activity can improve your sense of well-being and help reduce your stress level.

Reames says current exercise guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. This can be divided into three 10- minute sessions if you don’t have time for 30 minutes in a single session. For losing or maintaining weight, however, studies suggest the need for increased activity beyond the 30 minutes recommended.

Reames offers these ideas to increase exercise during the holiday season:

• Take a walk in the woods to collect foliage and pine cones for decorating and, perhaps, even your tree.

• Take a walk with friends and family after holiday meals. If your neighborhood is decorated, enjoy the time to admire the decorations.

• If you’re near a mall, try mall walking. Find out about special hours reserved for walkers. Do some window shopping and enjoy the decorations.

• Take time to play with your children. Try favorite activities such as biking, throwing the football, shooting hoops or roller-blading.

• Try some different activities – rink or ice skating, line dancing or an exercise video workout.

For additional information about eating healthfully using the Food Guide Pyramid, contact the LSU AgCenter Extension agent in your parish. Also, log on to the Family and Consumer Sciences section under the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service at the LSU AgCenter Web site: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/.

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Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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