This Time Of Year, Holding Steady Can Be A Big Challenge

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving cooks up all kinds of thoughts and emotions about food. But what it can really add up to is this: two pounds.

That's how much overweight and obese university students gained on average during their Thanksgiving break, according to a study of nearly 100 participants conducted last year by the University of Oklahoma at Norman. By comparison, healthy-weight students gained about a half a pound, an increase that wasn't statistically significant.

The Holiday Challenge Page: Scales worth stepping on; healthy recipes and videos to help you during the challenge.

You might chalk up this added weight to a little bloating from feasting on holiday food, which is often high in sodium. But bear in mind that the average Thanksgiving break for these students lasted 13 days, far longer than most holiday weekends. Also, when the findings were analyzed by sex rather than student weight, the researchers found that women gained on average about a pound, while men put on 1.3 pounds.

The results echo what other studies show: The extra food and drink consumed during holidays help fuel the obesity epidemic, particularly for the 66 percent of adults who already weigh too much. In 2000, scientists at the National Institutes of Health reported that overweight and obese federal employees gained an average of five pounds from Thanksgiving to New Year's, compared with nearly a pound for their healthy-weight colleagues. The study also showed that unlike their leaner counterparts, who shed the weight by spring, overweight people who gained holiday pounds generally didn't take it off afterward.

With that in mind, welcome to the seventh annual Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. The goal is simple: Maintain your weight from now until New Year's. If you do that, you'll be a step ahead when you ring in 2008.

So how do you start? Easy. Weigh yourself. Tracking your weight is one of the most important things you can do during the holidays to prevent adding more pounds. It's also a habit that has helped people in the National Weight Control Registry (a group of several thousand "successful losers") hold their weight steady. Registry participants have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.

If you haven't stepped on the scale for a while, remember that there's no need to go into shock. The goal is not to lose any pounds, just to maintain your weight through the next six weeks of holiday revelry. Since body weight fluctuates by several pounds during the day, try to weigh yourself at the same time each day for the most accurate results. Find a free chart to track your weight at, where there's also information about some clever bathroom scales to help with your efforts.

Caloric balance is another key part of weight maintenance -- that is, making sure the calories you eat equal the calories you burn. To estimate your caloric needs, take your weight in pounds and multiply by 12. So if you tip the scales at 150 pounds, you require about 1,800 calories to maintain your weight.

Another option: Log on to My Pyramid ( to have your daily caloric needs estimated for you, then record what you eat and how much you burn exercising at the companion Web site My Pyramid Tracker (

And as for Thanksgiving, here are a few tips to help avoid weight gain:

* Bank extra calories now, either by increasing your workouts or cutting back on what you eat by about 100 to 200 calories daily. In the next two days, you'll save enough to have a piece of pumpkin pie.

* Eat breakfast on Thanksgiving. It's tempting to skip a meal, but you increase the odds of overeating at the feast. And if you won't be having turkey until dinnertime, be sure to eat lunch.

* Budget about 1,000 calories for the Thanksgiving meal. That enables you to enjoy plenty of food but doesn't give you license to gorge. (Here's how 1,000 calories add up: about four ounces of turkey, half a cup of stuffing, salad, green beans, sweet potatoes, some cranberry sauce, a roll, a glass of wine and a slice of pie.)

* Tempted to eat more? Reach for seconds of vegetables or salad, which are low in calories. Or add a serving of fruit to your pie.

The other part of the equation is to stay active. Going to the gym is fine, but if you don't have the time, the inclination or the money, brisk walking covers the exercise bases. This week's goal: Add 10 minutes daily to whatever activity you already do.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company