Join Holiday Challenge to keep weight stable into new year

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 during their Thanksgiving break, according to a study of nearly 100 participants conducted last year by the University of Oklahoma. By comparison, healthy-weight students gained about a half a pound, an increase that isn’t statistically significant.

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 Thanksgiving weekends. Also, when the findings were analyzed by gender, they found that women gained on average about a pound, men put on 1.3 pounds.

The results echo what other research shows: The extra food and drink consumed during the 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 in the New England Journal of Medicine 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 of the Holiday Challenge 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. You’re just trying to get through the holidays without gaining any weight. 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 www.leanplateclub.com/holidaychallenge, 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, make sure the calories you eat equal the calories you burn. To estimate your caloric needs, take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 12. So if you tip the scale at 150 pounds, you require about 1,800 calories to maintain your weight.

Another option: Log on to My Pyramid (www.mypyramid.gov) to calculate your daily caloric needs, then record what you eat and how much you burn exercising at the companion Web site My Pyramid Tracker (www.mypyramidtracker.gov).

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

* Bank extra calories now. Do this by either increasing your workouts or cutting back on what you eat by about 100 to 200 calories daily.

* 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, too.

* Budget about 1,000 calories for the Thanksgiving feast. 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, cranberry sauce, a roll, a glass of wine and a slice of pumpkin pie.)

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

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 money or the inclination, brisk walking will cover the exercise bases. This week’s goal: Add 10 minutes of daily activity to whatever exercise you already get.

Join Sally Squires online from 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays at www.leanplateclub.com, where you also can subscribe to the free Lean Plate Club weekly e-mail newsletter.

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