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Everything in Moderation – Key to Keeping Off Extra Pounds

By Erinn Hutkin, Special to U-T San Diego 6 a.m.
Dec. 16, 2014

She may be a registered dietitian, but Misha Biden said you can bet that with the holidays upon us she will still indulge a little and eat one of her mom’s pizzelle cookies — just not five.

With holiday parties and promises to change habits after the New Year, this is the time when many folks tend to pack on a few pounds.

Biden, a dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management, said contrary to statistics that say a 5- to 10-pound weight gain is normal between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the average gain is actually only 1 to 2 pounds over the holidays. While that may not seem like much, the problem is that people typically don’t lose the extra pounds after the holidays, which adds up year after year, she said.

As a result, Biden said, weight gain can ultimately lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Health experts said that just because this may be the one time a year when grandma bakes her famous sugar cookies, people shouldn’t give themselves permission to eat every last crumb. There are ways to enjoy the bounty of food and drinks during the holiday season without ruining one’s diet and expanding the waistline.

The key is to plan ahead, stick with a healthy diet and exercise routine, and enjoy favorite holiday offerings in moderation, the experts said.

“(Enjoying) one or two cookies and savoring each bite is fine, but don’t go overboard,” Biden said. “Stay on your normal, healthy meal plan 95 percent of the time, and the other 5 percent of the time, allow yourself to enjoy special holiday treats.”

Still, there are several reasons why people tend to overeat and gain weight during the holidays – everything from stress and the availability and exposure to higher calorie foods to people giving themselves permission to indulge and abandon regular exercise.

There’s also the tradition where an association is created in the brain that holidays equal overeating or feeling that once a diet is blown by a party or a holiday meal, one can continue to overeat.

“It’s all about portion control and moderation during this time of year,” Biden said. “People tend to give themselves permission to indulge in these holiday treats because they only come once a year or they ‘deserve’ these foods. Changing your mindset to ‘I deserve to keep my health a priority this season’ … can help keep things in perspective.”

In addition, this is the time of year where it’s easy to neglect normal exercise routines and get wrapped up in Christmas shopping, planning for guests or traveling.

Biden said while most folks feel they don’t “have time” this time of the year to exercise, they simply must “make time.”

Even if there’s not time for a full gym workout, a 20- to 30-minute family walk each evening after dinner to look at Christmas lights can help prevent weight gain.

Carbs are another issue during the holidays.

Adria Ali, a personal trainer and creator of, said that the increased carbohydrate intake during the holiday season makes people tired, sluggish and less likely to keep their gym routines going.

“While one week can throw you off track, two or three can keep you out of the gym for months,” Ali said. “Think twice before disturbing your routine. … Once the control has been turned off, it can take weeks to work the bad foods out of your system and back into your normal routine.”

To stay on track with a regular exercise routine, she suggested that people schedule workouts like business appointments and don’t miss them; get a workout buddy to keep you accountable, and get enough sleep so you are less likely to ditch your routine for an extra holiday treat with a side of TV.

Even during the height of the busy holiday season, said Benilda Milan-Aglugub, a registered dietitian with Tri-City Medical Center, there are simple ways to incorporate exercise during the day. These methods can include parking far from the mall or office and walking; walking in place during commercial breaks while watching TV; walking the dog; exercising with a video/DVD; or simply putting on some music and just dancing. At parties and holiday gatherings, there are ways to indulge without blowing a diet. Milan-Aglugub suggested the following:

• Plan ahead. Keep in mind that you are going to have special foods and attempt to put them in your meal schedule for the day to balance out your calorie needs.

• Eat a small snack before going to a party. For example, baby carrots, celery, 10 pieces of almonds and other low-fat foods provide energy and make you feel full.

• Eat smaller amounts. If your favorite high-calorie food is a pumpkin pie, have a thin slice.

• Take your time. Many times it takes our bodies 20 minutes or more to be full. Take your time during meals. Sit, talk, relax and take a break. Give your body time to fill up before indulging on seconds.

Biden said people should also never socialize around the food table. Those who sit or stand around a bowl of chips are more likely to mindlessly munch while chatting. Instead, position yourself in a food-free zone to avoid extra calories.

Kim Chronister, a health psychologist based in Los Angeles and author of “The Psychology Behind Fitness Motivation,” said the best way to avoid temptation is to engage in physical activity prior to a party or holiday dinner.

“Overeating is a noncompatible behavior to exercise, which means you will want to seek a compatible behavior such as eating nutritious foods in a sensible way,” she said. “Just remember to not give yourself permission to go overboard with eating simply because you worked out.”

Another way to avoid temptation, she said, is by reframing your thoughts. If you typically say to yourself, “It’s the holidays, I can let myself go,” you can reframe that by saying, “I’m going to make a commitment to remain fit and choose to enjoy food I don’t usually eat, but in a sensible way.”

She said this is also a good time of year to get visually inspired. Start following fitness models or trainers on social media or post photos of your ideal body in your office or home.

Of course, there are likely times during the holidays when overindulgence occurs. When it does, Ali said, people can try drinking plenty of water to flush out the excess sugars and salts that bloat you and make you feel sluggish. People underestimate the amount of salts in holiday foods that lead to bloating.

She said potassium-rich foods will also help you flush away the bloat, so you can bounce back in no time. And, she added, don’t forget your vitamins. Vitamins and minerals allow your body to maintain a balance that bad foods tend to throw out of balance. Making sure you take your daily vitamin can allow your body to flush the toxins and restore to a healthy level faster. Biden said she often reminds her clients that during the holidays, it may be difficult to avoid weight gain, but it’s not impossible. She also tells them to at least focus on maintaining their current weight if weight loss seems too daunting this time of year.

“Even if you get off track … the next time you eat — not the next day, week or month — is a brand new chance to make healthy choices,” she said. “Don’t give yourself an excuse to turn one unhealthy meal into an entire month of poor food choices.”

© Copyright 2014 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

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