This year, the key to a holiday season without added pounds could be a four-letter word: plan.
Members of the National Weight Control Registry -- several thousand "successful losers" who have shed at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least three years -- plan ahead to avoid the holiday temptations that could sabotage their weight maintenance efforts.
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"They seem to be good at anticipating where there will be problems," said Rena Wing, the registry's co-founder and a Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behavior. "They think through what makes this holiday period hard for them."
Welcome to Week Three of the Holiday Challenge, a seasonal program designed to help you avoid holiday weight gain through New Year's. It's never too late to join the challenge. You'll find more information, a weight chart and a food/calorie form for recording what you eat at www.washingtonpost.com/
What else helps prevent holiday weight gain? Portion control. A recent two-year study of 600 overweight, middle-aged people compared five habits: eating more fruit and vegetables; reducing dietary fat; increasing lifestyle exercise such as taking the stairs; boosting trips to the gym and other planned exercise; and limiting portions.
"Portion control had the strongest relationship with weight loss and maintenance," said the study's lead author, Everett E. Logue, director of the Summa Health Care Family Practice Clinical Research Center in Akron, Ohio. "You can have your cake and eat it, too, you just can't have much of that cake."
With Thanksgiving Day behind us, here are some ideas for the next few weeks:
Look back to see ahead. You already know from past holidays what your weak moments are likely to be. Is it the tempting treats around the office? Plan now to have something healthful to eat at your desk. Family gatherings? Get the gang moving -- skiing, ice skating, hiking, touch football, Frisbee, even dancing. Holiday baking? Consider what LPCer Diane Lending of Harrisonburg, Va., does. Lending, who has shed 50-some pounds and maintained that loss for two years, gives away most of what she bakes but allows herself one Christmas cookie per day.
Make it hot. Reach for a comforting cup of low-fat or sugar-free hot cocoa when you get the urge to attack the holiday cookies or pumpkin pie. Sipping anything hot "will slow you down because it takes a while to drink," said Susan Bowerman, assistant director of the Human Nutrition Center at the University of California at Los Angeles. Plus, the volume of the liquid helps you feel fuller with fewer calories, and the hot cocoa also packs some calcium. Or try broth-based soup, hot tea or coffee.
Veg out. Not on the couch, but on your plate. Most adults fall far short of the seven to nine servings per day of vegetables and fruit recommended by the National Cancer Institute. Fruit and vegetables are low in calories, packed with nutrients and rich in fiber, which helps you feel full and stay "regular."
Pack lunch. It's an effective way to control calories, portions and costs. Can't pack every day? Pack a couple times this week -- and while you're at it, plan your next meal to stay a step ahead.
Pick up some prepackaged frozen meals. They're convenient, often on sale and "calorically you know what you're getting," said Bowerman, who suggests saving the plates from frozen meals to use for easy portion control. Just read the labels carefully, since frozen meals can sometimes come packed with saturated fat and sodium. Earlier this year, Charles Stuart Platkin, author of "Breaking the Pattern" (Red Mill Press, 2002) , taste-tested 20 low-calorie frozen entrees. His favorites: Smart Ones Fajita Chicken Supreme (260 calories); Healthy Choice Beef Merlot (240 calories); and Lean Cuisine's Chicken Chow Mein (230 calories). If those meals leave you hungry, fill up on fresh veggies or salad.
Make time to be active. Whether it's taking the stairs, parking at the far side of the mall and hoofing the distance, getting up a little early for a workout or dancing instead of eating at the holiday party, physical activity will help you burn calories, manage stress and improve sleep. All of which helps to keep the scale steady.
Next week: Energy boosters to help you get through the holidays.
Share Your Tips or ask questions about healthy nutrition and activity when Sally Squires hosts the Lean Plate Club online chat, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. today, on www.washingtonpost.com. Can't join live? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org anytime. To learn more, and subscribe to our free e-newsletter, visit www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub.