It’s here. That year-end onslaught of cookies, candy, cakes and calories. Who better to offer weight-control advice, I thought, than people who have lost a lot of weight and kept it off?
I spoke with three Washington area residents: Herbert Walker, 49, of Frederick has lost more than 51 pounds. Dawn Williams, 44, of Lexington Park has lost 205 pounds. And Sam Hardman, 32, of Fairfax has lost 85 pounds. Walker and Williams are in the TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) Club, a support group for those trying to lose weight. Hardman lost his weight largely with a commercial meal-replacement plan called Medifast. Here are some lessons they have learned to keep from backsliding, especially this time of year.
1. Plan ahead. “I always eat something healthy before I go to a party so I’m not hungry when I get there,” Hardman says. “When you get hit by that wall of hunger, that’s when it’s easy to give in.”
2. Enjoy what you eat. “You can have anything you want,” Williams says, “but have it when you really want it and enjoy it. You’re more likely to enjoy it in moderation.” Walker agrees, adding that he opts to sample “only foods that I eat very rarely” at the holidays. “Food you see all the time, you don’t need to eat,” he says.
3. Focus on friends, watch where you stand. “At a party, I focus on talking with friends I haven’t seen in a while, not on food,” Walker says. “When socializing with people at a party, don’t stand by the food,” Hardman suggests. It’s too easy to snack. Just don’t do it.”
4. Stash snacks. Hardman keeps a supply of meal-replacement bars in his car, his desk and even at his parents’ house. That way, if he feels hungry, he has a better option than diving into a plate of cookies.
5. Volunteer to be the designated driver. Alcohol is nothing but empty calories and can contribute mightily to weight gain, especially in the amounts typically consumed during this festive season. To avoid those calories, Hardman volunteers to be the designated driver. “If anybody says, ‘Can I get you a drink?’ you say, ‘I’m the D.D.!’ and they won’t press you,” he says. Instead of alcohol, Hardman sips soda water with lime.
6. Stick to your rules. Williams says it’s important during the holidays to uphold the rules regarding eating that you’ve established for yourself. For instance, her office always has a big bowl of chocolates sitting out. She allows herself one piece a week, year-round. But “when I start to eat a piece a day, I stop eating any at all” to rein herself in, she says.
7. Share your secret. Tell the world that you’re trying to watch your weight, Williams suggests. “If you keep it a secret, it’s like telling yourself you can’t do it.” Walker adds that you might be surprised to find how many others at the office party are trying to eat healthfully and control their weight, too; you can benefit from one another’s support.
8. Keep water handy. Williams and Hardman both recommend drinking lots of water. “A lot of times when I feel hunger coming on, I’m just thirsty,” Hardman says.
9. Pick your parties. “You don’t have to go to every party you’re invited to,” Walker says. “Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, if I go here, am I going to be really tempted and succumb? If the temptations are too much, don’t go. You’ll see your friends another time.”
10. Make home a junk-free zone. “Your home has to be your safe haven,” especially when holiday treats are staring at you everywhere else you go, Williams says. “There’s no excuse you can make to justify having that stuff in the house. If I want something special to eat, I’ll go out to get it and eat it.”
11. Walk it off. Williams attributes much of her weight loss to having started walking, just 30 minutes a day at first. “Walk for 15 minutes away from your house and then 15 minutes back,” she says. “It’s one thing that anybody can do, pretty much,” even during this busy month. In fact, Hardman, Walker and Williams all intend to at least maintain their regular exercise routines during the holidays; Walker, for instance, plans an hour of exercise, six days a week. And Hardman will keep training for his next triathlon.
12. Have faith in yourself. “Believe that you can do anything. That’s the big part,” Williams says.
Research has shown that the average person gains a little over a pound during the holiday season. That doesn’t sound too bad, except that research also shows people don’t tend to lose that extra pound. Over time, it can add up to substantial weight gain.