Make Weigh for the Holidays

Holiday Challengers - Front row left to right: Julie Beaver in exercise clothes, Linda F. Johannes with apples and oranges, Melanie Miller in sneakers.  Back row left to right:  Cynthia A. Herringa with carrots and lettuce, Paulette Young with scale.
Holiday Challengers prepare to lose: Julie Beaver in exercise clothes, Linda F. Johannes with fruit, Melanie Miller in sneakers, Cynthia A. Herringa with veggies and Paulette Young with scale. (Julia Ewan - The Washington Post)

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By Sally Squires
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In this era of super-sized portions, the idea of eating large -- without being large -- might seem like a fairy tale.

Unless you know the secret of energy density.

That's the term nutrition scientists use to describe how foods that are puffed up with air or filled with fiber and water can help you feel full on fewer calories. Understanding the concept of energy density is proving important not only for weight loss, but also for long-term weight maintenance.

Just last month, researchers reported in the journal Obesity that nearly half of participants in a weight-loss program that focused on energy density either maintained their weight for two years or continued to lose pounds.

And they did it by eating "the same amount of food as those who regained pounds," says Jamy Ard, assistant professor of nutrition, sciences and internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the study.

Got your attention? "The difference," Ard notes, "is in the calorie content" -- which is much lower in foods with a low energy density.

Those who maintained their weight ate more of those low-energy-density foods, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, while people who regained pounds consumed more high-energy-density foods, such as meat, fat and high-calorie beverages.

"The thing about adding fruit and vegetables to a meal is that it gives you volume," notes Barbara Rolls, who studies energy density at Pennsylvania State University.

Fruit and non-starchy vegetables "have so few calories that it is hard to over-consume them," notes Rolls, author of "The Volumetrics Eating Plan" (HarperCollins). "You can get a satisfying portion without eating too many calories and you get the sensory satisfaction" of eating a lot.

In short, just the kind of sage advice that could help you at Thanksgiving and in the upcoming holiday season.

Welcome to the sixth annual Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. For those new to the Holiday Challenge, this isn't a diet. (Studies suggest that dieting during the holidays is doomed to fail even more than at other times of the year.) The goal is simply to maintain your weight over the next six weeks. Do that and you'll be a step ahead of the curve when you ring in 2007.

Here's why: A few years ago a National Institutes of Health study examined holiday weight gain. It found that people at a healthy weight add just about a pound during the holidays and generally take it off in the spring. No big deal.

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