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5 Keys to Managing Your Weight During the Holidays

By Dan Greco of Game Shape, Manalapan, NJ

Copyright © Greco  This article is not for reprint without written permission from Dan Greco.

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Juicy turkey filled with stuffing, mashed potatoes smothered in piping hot gravy, lasagna overflowing with ricotta cheese, rich chocolate mousse, and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies so soft and chewy it melts in your mouth. Have I made you hungry yet? Foods like these signal that the holidays are now upon us and we eagerly await the opportunity to indulge in the feast that is a part of what makes the holidays so special. If your family is anything like my Italian family, grandma keeps the food coming and coming throughout the day. Sometimes I wonder if Iíll ever leave the table! Yet these additional quantities often yield additional pounds. Fortunately, there are ways to manage your weight during the holidays while still being able to enjoy the foods we love.


Watch your portion sizes. Americans consume larger portions of food compared to other nations. If you donít agree, just think of how many times youíve needed a doggy bag after having a meal at a restaurant. Sometimes the appetizers are a meal in itself! During holidays and special occasions we tend to indulge or become carefree with food because, well, itís the holidays and we should enjoy it! There is nothing wrong with eating foods that may not be very healthy for us as long as it is done in moderation. The key is to serve yourself smaller portions and stop eating at the first sign that you feel full. Youíll consume less calories and still be able to eat the foods you enjoy.


Spread your courses throughout the day. This also incorporates the principle of portion sizes previously mentioned. Many times we sit down for a holiday meal and by the end of the meal we become so bloated and full that we feel like we donít want to eat again for a week. Chances are you probably wonít eat anything until breakfast or lunch the next day. When we go a long time between meals our bodies go into starvation mode. The body purposefully slows down its metabolism, burns fewer calories, and takes the food we just ate and stores it as fat for reserved energy. By eating small meals often and spreading it throughout the day, we keep our metabolism elevated, burn more calories, and feel less full.


Exercise before you start your meal. Thanksgiving and New Years Day are big football days. Why not gather some family and friends and toss the football around. Not a fan of football, take a 30-minute walk and spend time catching up with a family member or friend you have seen in awhile. Whatever exercise method you choose, doing it before the meal is more beneficial. This is important for two reasons. First, there is about a 15-60 minute period of time after we exercise that there is a large uptake of blood flow to our muscles. The nutrients from the foods we consume immediately after a bout of exercise will begin to go towards replenishing the muscles, rather than getting stored in the fat cells. Second, exercising earlier in the day keeps your metabolism elevated for a period of time throughout the day. The higher the exercise intensity the longer your metabolism will remain elevated.  


Reduce the amount of stress associated with the holidays. Stress levels become elevated for some people during the holiday season. There are two types of stressors on the body, eustress and distress. Eustress is the positive stressors such as meeting with family, opening gifts, and laughing. Distress is what we most commonly refer to when we think of stress, the negative stressors. Negative stress causes the pituitary gland to release certain stress hormones that cause weight gain, particularly in the abdominal region. Increased fat in the abdominal region is linked to higher health risks than fat stored elsewhere on the body. The holidays bring about occasional distress in the form of shopping for gifts, preparing the house to host guests, or wondering how to pay off the hefty the credit card bill that will arrive in January. While some stressors are inevitable, some can be managed. Donít procrastinate. Shop early and often, which allows you to buy a few gifts at a time instead of cramming your shopping until last minute. If feasible, donít do all the holiday planning yourself. Delegate certain preparations to other friends or family members. Finally, find time for yourself to exercise or relax, the two best ways to handle stress.  


Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. If you havenít noticed yet from this article, exercise is key. There is no secret to weight loss, no matter what diet may be out there. Itís the simple principle of calories in versus calories out. If you burn more than you consume, youíll lose weight. Aside from the increased caloric burn, exercise also increases the production endorphins, which are hormones that suppress pain and stress, control our appetite, and produces a positive emotional state. Play a recreational sport, walk instead of taking the car when itís reasonable to do so, or stick to your New Yearís resolution to join a gym. A personal trainer can motivate and set you on a schedule, should exercise not feel like a priority for you during the hectic holiday season. Whatever method you choose make exercise something you enjoy doing and it will become a priority.


            Donít let yourself succumb to the fear of weight gain this holiday season. By applying these five keys to your holiday lifestyle you should have no problem managing your weight. Bon appettit and enjoy!   


BY Dan Greco

Dan Greco holds a BA in Health and Physical Education and is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer. He taught Health and Physical Education for several years before becoming a full time Personal Trainer. Specializing in weight management and sport-specific training, Dan trains at Game Shape Physical Therapy and Fitness Center.    

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