A new study from the Mayo Clinic finds that about 30 minutes of physical activity boosts your metabolism for -- hold on to your giblets -- 13 hours. Even better, the study found that participants who spent about 30 minutes pedaling a stationary bicycle burned fat for those 13 hours instead of just carbohydrates.
"Obviously when you're exercising, you're burning more calories," said Richard Atkinson, president of the American Obesity Association and a co-author of the study, which was published in the International Journal of Obesity. "But we hadn't expected such a difference in metabolism [after exercise]. . . . The neat thing is that it persists for 13 hours because the name of the game when you are obese is burning fat."
With that thought in mind, welcome to Week Two of the Holiday Challenge, which comes at a time when we're all looking into the belly of the Thanksgiving Day beast. For those new to the Lean Plate Club, the Holiday Challenge is not about dieting or losing weight. That could be a recipe for disappointment, discomfort and guilt at a joyous time of year. The goal of the Holiday Challenge is simply to keep the bathroom scale steady through the holiday season, so that come Jan. 1, you weigh no more than you do today. (More information and tools for the challenge are available at www.leanplateclub.com.)
Of course, one of the biggest challenges of the season lies directly ahead: the Thanksgiving feast. An analysis by registered dietitian Lori Ferme of the American Dietetics Association (ADA) finds that a typical Thanksgiving feast can easily consist of nearly 4,000 calories and include more than a day's worth of sodium and nearly 200 grams (four times the daily limit) of fat. Since one pound equals 3,500 calories, it's pretty easy to do the math.
So to help you keep extra holiday dinner calories from lingering into the weeks beyond, you need a plan for The Big Day. Here's what experts recommend:
Eat breakfast. It may seem counterintuitive for a day when excess calories are sure to accumulate, but studies show that eating breakfast helps keep blood sugar and insulin on an even keel, which will likely help you feel less ravenous at the Thanksgiving meal. A smart choice: a bowl of whole-grain, unsweetened cereal with skim milk and fruit. Studies by professor of nutrition Barry Popkin and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill find that those who eat cereal for breakfast consume fewer calories the rest of the day.
Make time for a little physical activity early in the day. A 30-minute brisk walk, bike ride or jog done in the morning before you get too busy will help keep your metabolism revved for the day. Or enlist the family in a game of touch football, Frisbee or even shooting hoops.
Snack before dinner. A small planned snack of about 100 to 200 calories about an hour before the Thanksgiving party is a good way to keep your appetite under control. A few choices: a cup of yogurt with some fruit; a glass of skim milk or soy milk; an apple or pear with a little peanut butter or a few nuts.
Fix a "while-you're-cooking" plate. That's what registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix advises chefs, waiters and waitresses to do to keep tabs on what they consume while on the job. When you're in the kitchen cooking, "it's easy to lose sight of what you're eating," said Taub-Dix, who practices in New York and on Long Island. "Make a plate for yourself and pick off of that while you're running around." Taub-Dix, who hosts a big Thanksgiving gathering, puts grape tomatoes, steamed edamame, baby carrots and grated jicama (a root vegetable), on a plate for dipping into a mixture of plain yogurt, a little ricotta cheese and dried onion soup mix. "It's loaded with calcium and not with calories," she says.
Swap, adapt and dilute recipes to reduce calories -- but enhance taste. For instance, trade butter for healthier fats such as olive or canola oil. Take the skin off the turkey and put it aside. It's loaded with saturated fat. Sauté fresh green beans in a little olive oil instead of making a cream-filled casserole. Sip wine spritzers to help slow alcohol absorption, and add carbonated water to fruit juices to help dilute calories. Or just have a diet drink. To feel full on fewer calories, make vegetable appetizers and serve broth-based soup as a first course. "Or just cut the sugar in a pecan pie in half," said registered dietitian Dee Sandquist, manager of diabetes and nutrition at the Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver. "It's still quite delightful."
Save yourself for the holiday treats. Skip the fare that you can get all year, saving calories for the food and drink that are special to Thanksgiving. So sidestep the ordinary mashed potatoes, nuts, pigs in a blanket, chips and rolls. But have some of the stuffing, the cranberries and your aunt's pumpkin soup. "That why it's a holiday," said Taub-Dix, a national ADA spokeswoman. "The person who is not having the stuffing at dinner is likely to be eating it while cleaning up. Have some of it so you feel festive like everyone else."
Have a side of fruit with that pie. It's a good way to fill up with fewer calories and still get a sweet, satisfying taste. And go ahead, add a dollop of whipped cream. Two tablespoons have about 20 calories.
Imagine how you'll feel later. As you're making your way down the buffet or reaching for a second helping of anything, think how you will feel when you climb into bed on Thanksgiving night. Will you feel like a overstuffed turkey? "Or will you say, 'Gosh, I was pretty cool,' " said Taub-Dix. "It's not a day to lose weight, but if you can maintain your weight, then you have already accomplished a lot."
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.