Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 14, 2012

Fitness column: Talking turkey about holiday weight gain

On Fitness
The Andover Townsman

---- — Question: Do you have any tips on eating right and exercising during the holidays?

Robyn Lebowitz, Y personal training coordinator

Dawn Lovejoy, Y chronic disease prevention program coordinator

Go into the holidays and holiday parties with a plan. Rather than tell yourself that you're "not going to eat XYZ" make a plan to enjoy a piece of Grandma's pie, but make sure you have plenty of other, healthier options too.

If you bring a dish, bring fruit or cut up vegetables. It can create options when your choices may be limited. A specific plan will make it easier. And there are no BAD choices, some are healthier and some are less so.

Forgive yourself if you get off track and try not to get weighed down (pun intended) by guilt. Move on and continue to follow the plan you had created.

As for exercising, plan that as well. Write it down, use an app for your phone or Ipad and keep track of it just as you would anything else. Try not to think about whether you want to do it, look at the planner and give yourself that time. If you can't stand exercising, make time for a walk. If you're concerned that that won't work, get a friend to be your fitness buddy. Then, enjoy each other's company. It's supposed to be fun!

Reward yourself (not with food!) if you exercise four times a week. And, if you slip, begin again. Better to start over again and again then to quit completely.

Scott Topjian, fitness director

Latitude Sports Clubs, 10 Main St.

When you arrive to the party, scope out the entire food scene and make your choices. Select the healthier options like veggies and dip, tortila chips and salsa or the fruit platter before you start munching on the cheese and crackers, potato chips or any fried or battered appetizers.

Grab a plate, put your food on it, walk away, but also stay away from other snacking spots. Enjoy your selctions slowly, between conversations and sips of your beverage. By staying physically away from the food you are more likely to avoid mindless eating and losing track of the overall amount of food you consume.

Jamey Lachiana

Yang's Fitness Center

Exercise physiologist

We all know that “sticking to the meal plan” goes out the window during the holidays. One way to combat the extra calories is by increasing your movement. As hard as it is to find time, it’s necessary if you want to keep off the pounds.

When it comes to holiday dining, if you aren’t eating enough at my grandmother's dinner table, you will probably get a slab of ham thrown at you with an evil eye. Be that as it may, there are ways to satisfy your own needs and the relatives peering over your shoulder.

Pace yourself when you eat. Don’t hurry through your meals to fool your stomach into thinking it still has room for more. Try to start off with some nice salad greens with low fat or balsamic and oil dressing. Cheesy dressings are packed with fat calories. Salads are a great starter because they are filling. The stomach and hunger mechanisms work by how much volume is currently present so leafy vegetables and other fiber dense foods take up a nice amount of room to keep you satisfied longer.

Also, drinking lots of water with your meals help to fill the belly void as well. If you’re drinking alcohol, have at least glass of water for every beer or cocktail.

If there are multiple meats that you hope to get a taste of, instead of taking an entire slice, cut each piece in half or smaller. That way when your aunt asks you how it was, while shaking a rolling pin over your head, you can honestly tell her…it was fantastic.

Before starting on dessert, go for a short walk. Take the kids with you so you can't all get yelled at for briefly leaving the table. By the time you get back, your body should be pretty close to telling you how full you actually are. Try a taste of the desserts while sharing with someone so you eat less and don’t feel bad about leaving some on the plate. Desserts and snacks contain an abundance of calories that will surprise you. How else would they taste so good?

There, you’ve tried almost everything, your belly is happy, your taste buds are excited, and you’ll be invited back to holiday dinner next year. A great tip for men is to wear a belt. If the belt gets tight don't unbuckle your pants. If you do, you’ve lost the battle, my friend.

If you plan on eating too much and want to disregard everything I just said, then your only choice is to expend as many calories you take in that put you over your daily caloric intake. For example, if your body needs 1,500 calories to maintain your current weight and you take in 2,500 each day for a week, then you better burn at least 1,000 calories a day or expect two more pounds of fat by the end of the week.

Stacy Gillis

Certified personal trainer/figure competitor

Elite Personal Training Studio

Eating healthy around the holidays can be very challenging. The good news is you can still enjoy the holidays without gaining 10 pounds. When it comes to preparing holiday foods, try to use lighter ingredients, such as skim milk in those mashed potatoes instead of whole milk, or better yet serve sweet potatoes. Try using plain yogurt instead of sour cream for dips. Make your plate colorful with lots of fresh vegetables. Fill up on turkey on Thanksgiving instead of all the high carb sides. If you do indulge in a dessert make it a special holiday specific dessert such as pumpkin pie, not something you would eat year round.

When you're invited to a holiday party eat some fruit, raw vegetables or some brown rice before the party -- never arrive starving. If you're asked to bring a dish to the party, bring a salad, black bean dip or roasted vegetables.

Avoid drinking too much alcohol. Instead, put some sparkling water in a wine glass and drink plenty of water throughout the night.

Keep track of your weight with weekly weigh ins. Make a deal with yourself that you will only gain one to three pounds over the holidays and stick to it. Have a friend agree to do the same so you can support one another. Write down what you eat each day. Seeing it on paper makes it real.

Exercising during the holidays is crucial. Exercise will help you deal with the added stress of the holidays. If you can't stick to your usual routine, come up with a new one. If you only have 15 or 20 minutes for cardio, it's better than nothing. Run, walk, bike or jump rope and keep the intensity level high for the full 20 minutes.

If you're traveling to see family, plan ahead. Find out if they have any exercise equipment or if there are any hiking trails nearby. Write out an exercise routine before you go. Take a walk around the neighborhood after a big holiday meal to look at the holiday decorations.

Remember, you can enjoy the holidays and stay fit.