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'Tis the Season to Binge and Stress; This Year Avoid the Holiday Worry and Pounds

The holiday season is a time full of joy, cheer, parties, and family gatherings. However, for many people, it is also a time filled with anxiety, stress, and weight gain. Unfortunately, many people often use the busy holiday season as an excuse to reduce exercise or put off starting a new program. Often these people have the intention of coming back with a vengeance after the New Year. "The New Year is just around the corner and I'm going to lose weight and get in shape"; this trusty New Year's resolution declaration is also conveniently used to justify holiday overindulgence. Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) have shown that for most people weight gained during the holidays is not lost and accumulates on a yearly basis. Says NICHD Director Duane Alexander, M.D; "These findings suggest that developing ways to avoid holiday weight gain may be extremely important for preventing obesity and the diseases associated with it." Maintaining a regular exercise program throughout the holiday season provides benefits on many different levels.
The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests can contribute to feelings of tension.
According to The National Mental Health Association, (NMHA) this tension can illicit stress responses such as: headaches, excessive drinking, difficulty sleeping, and the ever-popular over-eating. Exercise has been shown to be a tremendous tool to manage stress. Exercise will give you energy and the mental strength to deal with the mad rush of holiday shopping, holiday travel and holiday visitors. Managing stress with exercise can also help control cravings for those comfort foods that adorn the holiday tables. Regular exercise also increases metabolism, thus reducing the detrimental effect of an occasional extra cookie or glass of eggnog. Experts at NMHA claim, even more people experience post-holiday let down after the New Year than suffer holiday anxiety. With this comes lack of motivation and comfort eating. Its no wonder those New Year's resolutions are rarely successful.
Parties, large meals and extra calories are almost unavoidable during the holiday season. Weight maintenance rather than weight loss through the holidays is a much healthier goal. Exercising regularly and enjoying the few extra calories will break the vicious cycle of guilt, feelings of failure, and more eating. Getting a head start on exercise prior to January 1st will give you a healthier and happier holiday season as well as make those New Year's resolution goals far more attainable.
Healthy Holiday Tips:
1. Focus on weight maintenance not weight loss - Parties, large meals and extra calories are almost unavoidable during the holiday season. If you are currently overweight and want to lose weight, this is not the time to do it; setting difficult or unrealistic goals can lead to a vicious cycle of guilt, feelings of failure, and more eating.
2. Get moving - Regular exercise will increase metabolism and allow you to enjoy a few extra calories without putting on the pounds. Exercise will give you energy and the mental strength to deal with the mad rush of holiday shopping, the holiday travel or holiday visitors and the party hopping.
3. Get Plenty of Sleep - Lack of sleep impairs our ability to handle stress (which there is usually no shortage of during the holidays). Chronic sleep loss can also affect various components of metabolism that influence hunger and weight gain.
4. Substitute healthy recipes - Use applesauce in place of oil; use egg whites in place of whole eggs; try plain nonfat yogurt in place of sour cream. Magazines and healthy cooking cook books are full of reduced calorie and reduced fat holiday recipes that taste great.
5. Don't go to parties hungry - Going to a party on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. Starting your day with a healthy breakfast and eating sensibly throughout the day should help you control your appetite and avoid over-indulging on the typically high fat and high calorie holiday fare.
6. Eat slowly- Make one plate of the foods you really want. It takes about twenty minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. Take your time to enjoy the taste of every bite, and you will realize you don't need to go back for seconds.
7. Limit alcoholic beverages - Liquors,wines and mixed drinks can contain 150-450 calories per glass whereas, water and diet sodas are calorie-free. If you choose to drink, try light wines and light beers, and use non-alcoholic mixers such as water and diet soda. Limit yourself to one to two drinks.
8. Get rid of leftovers - Some foods are more fattening than others, however, no food will make you gain weight unless you eat too much of it. Often we eat beyond our body's physical hunger simply because food is there.
9. Keep it in perspective - It takes days of overeating to gain weight; one day won't make or break your eating plan. Nothing is more destructive to a healthy eating plan than the negative feelings of failure and guilt. If you over-indulge at a holiday meal or party, don't beat yourself up; simply return to your sensible healthy diet the next day.
Bill Scibetta, RN, NSCA-CPT
Bill is the founder and President of Precision Fitness – Personal Training Centers in the Charlotte, NC area and co-author of the book Play Better Longer! – Peak Performance and Injury Prevention for Golf. Bill is a licensed Registered Nurse as well as a National Strength and Conditioning Association – Certified Personal Trainer. After spending years practicing in the specialty of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Bill has dedicated his career to helping individuals identify and overcome obstacles that stand in the way of optimal wellness and peak physical performance.

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