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Make Weight Maintenance Your Goal for the Holidays

Diet: Instead of trying to shed pounds, try to avoid gaining any, experts advise. Among strategies: step on the scale regularly, stay active, avoid alcohol and limit portion sizes.

November 19, 2001|SALLY SQUIRES | WASHINGTON POST

Thanksgiving this week kicks off nearly two months of nonstop, celebratory eating and drinking--at the office, home and in between--that leaves many revelers carrying as much as six extra unwanted pounds when the dust settles.

What's more, research suggests that it takes until late spring or early summer to trim those added pounds--and that's in the best case. Most people don't lose those pounds at all, making yet another lasting contribution to our nation's, and many households', obesity epidemic.

It doesn't have to be this way.

We hereby challenge you to make this season different--and, no, that doesn't mean dieting, deprivation or anything even remotely painful. The radically simple, universally achievable goal: not to lose weight, but simply to maintain your weight through the holidays.

On New Year's Day, you can do whatever you want: Embark on some more ambitious diet and exercise regimen, train for a masters biathlon, dedicate yourself to Eastern asceticism, join the Marines, whatever. The point is that no matter what your goals for 2002 or the longer term, you'll be well-served by starting the year with no more baggage than you have right now.

Weight maintenance, as opposed to weight loss, constitutes the new front line in the war against obesity, which claims an estimated 300,000 lives annually in the United States and racks up $100 billion in costs each year, according to the American Obesity Assn.

Plus, studies show that dieting is even less productive than usual during the holidays. But in these uncertain and stressful times, weight-control experts fear that many people may take a more relaxed approach toward food and exercise; this, combined with the opportunities for gluttony that present themselves in the coming weeks, will only swell the ranks of those already overweight, and further heighten health risks for such illnesses as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, depression, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.

"There's so much in our lives now that we can't control," says Susan Z. Yanovski, director of the Obesity and Eating Disorders Program at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "But you can control eating healthfully, and taking care of yourself and being active. These are all things that you can do for yourself. They are also great stress relievers when you are feeling out of control."

A few pointers to launch your campaign to maintain the status quo:

* Begin the holiday challenge today by weighing yourself.

If you haven't faced the bathroom scale for a while, brace yourself. But remember, the goal here is not to fret over what you weigh, but to maintain that weight, whatever it is, throughout the holiday season. The National Weight Registry, a study of several thousand people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least three years, shows that those who regularly monitor their weight by getting on the scale are the most successful at long-term weight maintenance.

To reduce errors, be sure to weigh yourself at the same time of day and wearing similar clothing, since body weight can fluctuate by several pounds throughout the day.

Weighing yourself regularly--at least once a week and perhaps as often as daily--"is the most important thing that you can do during the holidays," says Thomas Wadden, director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "Don't turn your back on the scale."

* Plan ahead.

Whether you're cooking the Thanksgiving meal or simply enjoying this annual feast as a guest, start thinking now about what you plan to consume next Thursday. Budget about 1,000 calories for the Thanksgiving meal, which allows you to enjoy plenty of food but doesn't give you license to gorge. (For 1,000 calories, you'll get about four ounces of turkey, half a cup of stuffing, salad, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, a roll, a glass of wine and a slice of pumpkin pie.) You can calculate your dinner's calories at the Department of Agriculture's Web site, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl.

* Be sure to keep physically active, at least by walking. In a study of holiday weight gain published a few years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers examined everything from stress levels and depression to smoking and physical activity to see how they related to weight gain. What mattered most? Physical activity.

"People who were somewhat more active kept their weight stable compared with those who didn't stay active," says lead author Jack Yanovski, head of the growth and obesity unit at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "They didn't gain and they didn't lose over the holidays. Those who described themselves as much more physically active lost weight during the holidays."

* Keep a running tally of what you eat and how much exercise you get.

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