Go ahead, have dessert this holiday season. Just make it an extra serving of fruit.
In fact, chow down five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables every day. That's the current daily recommendation from the National Cancer Institute -- a recommendation that most Americans fail to meet.
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They're missing a great opportunity, especially as the holiday season begins. Studies suggest that filling up on great-tasting fruit and vegetables first -- instead of the high-calorie treats that will soon be appearing everywhere -- is one way to feel full on fewer calories, get some essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and complex carbohydrates, and ultimately help hold the line against holiday weight gain.
For that reason, the first food goal of this year's Holiday Challenge is to eat at least five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables. Every day.
Diane Lending, a Lean Plate Club member from Harrisonburg, Va., first succeeded at changing her eating habits by adding more fruit and vegetables to her diet. In 2001 when the first Holiday Challenge was launched, Lending had a body mass index of 36.
"I was extremely obese," says Lending, who is 5 feet 1 inch tall. "My doctor did an EKG and said, 'Look, this weight is doing terrible things to your heart.' I worried about the upcoming holidays and saw the first Holiday Challenge article. I thought I might as well see if I can at least stay where I am."
At parties, Lending parked herself in front of the vegetable tray and then searched for as much fruit as she could. "That worked for me," she says.
She also found the value of portion control. "I discovered that eating a little can be as satisfying as eating a lot, if you realize that it takes a while to feel full. So at parties, I took a small plate, ate what was on it and then waited 20 minutes and found that I really wasn't hungry anymore."
While she didn't intend to lose weight, Lending discovered on New Year's Day that she had shed six pounds since Thanksgiving. "I thought, 'If I can do this at this time of year, why not for the rest of my life?' "
She used those small changes as a springboard to more healthful eating and exercise habits. Today, she weighs 64 pounds less than she did when she began the 2001 Holiday Challenge. "I am now a normal weight for my height and my doctor says, 'I can't believe you did this! I wish more of my patients would do it, too.' "
Here are some activities to get you started on the Holiday Challenge:
Weigh yourself. Hard as it may be to face the music, stepping on the scale is the only way to know exactly where you stand. (For those who weigh more than 300 pounds, some hospitals or health centers will let you use their scales.) Weighing yourself is like checking the balance in your bank account. Remember, the goal of the Holiday Challenge is simply to maintain your weight from now until New Year's. No need to lose pounds. You're working to maintain the status quo. Forms are available at www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub to track your progress through the holiday season. Alternatively, you can track your percentage of body fat with one of the combination scale/body fat counters now widely available at bed and bath stores.
Record what you eat. Even if you don't count calories precisely, research suggests that keeping tabs on what you consume will help you make better food choices.
Track your physical activity this week. No need to do anything this week beyond what you normally do. Just get a rough fix on your daily activity levels. How many hours do you spend sitting at a desk? Commuting? Sleeping? Watching television? Playing with your kids? Walking? You get the idea. There's also a form at www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub for recording your daily activity level. We'll use this baseline information as a way to help build some more activity into your life during the balance of the holiday season.
-- Sally Squires
Share Your Tips or ask questions about healthy nutrition and activity when Sally Squires hosts the Lean Plate Club online chat, from 1 to 2 p.m. today, on www.washingtonpost.com. New To The Club? The Lean Plate Club is devoted to healthy eating and boosting activity. To learn more, and subscribe to our free e-newsletter, visit www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub.