Tuesday, November 27, 2001

‘Tis the season of indulgence, a time when many Americans push the limits of everything from bank accounts to belts. “If you don’t keep an eye on what you eat you can gain between five to 10 pounds in two months,” says Dr. Thomas Goldbaum, a cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center.
Overeating and the possible subsequent weight gain is not just a question of looks or feeling uncomfortable. Being overweight, or even obese, can lead to the development of heart disease and adult-onset diabetes in children, Dr. Goldbaum says.
“Obesity is a health hazard and we have an epidemic of obesity in our society,” Dr. Goldbaum says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 percent of the American population in 1999 were either overweight or obese.
November and December are the traditional weight-gain months. In January and February many of the same people who have piled on the pounds flock to the gyms for quick fixes, according to local trainers.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Dr. Goldbaum. You can sample everything at the holiday party provided you don’t overdo it, he says.
“Don’t go for that second, third of fourth helping The focus for the holiday season has to be on enjoyment and moderation.”
Dr. Goldbaum’s advice is right in line with a trick that nutritionist Denise Feeley at Washington Hospital Center uses and tells patients about.
“One thing I tell people is, ‘Portion out what you are going to eat. And then get away from the food,’” Ms. Feeley says. “A lot of the time, we overeat because the food is there. Just get away from it.”
However, limiting the intake of calories is not the same thing as denying oneself the holiday season’s delicious treat.
“I say everything in moderation. Just watch the serving sizes,” Ms. Feeley says. “I don’t believe in eliminating anything because when you do, you will make up for it later.”
While you may think that everything at the Christmas or holiday party buffet is to be avoided, there are usually a few things that are not just low fat, but even healthy for you.
“Sweet potatoes, for example, are full of antioxidants and Vitamin A,” Ms. Feeley says. “There are usually several vegetable dishes at the parties and white turkey meat, which is a lean source of protein.”
For healthy holiday recipes, Ms. Feeley suggests that her patients look at www.cookinglight.com, the online site for the magazine with the same name. The Web site has at least a dozen light holiday recipes, including apple-cranberry cobbler and hot spiced fruit punch.
Among potentially very caloric foods are gravy, mashed potatoes, cheeses and, of course, desserts.
“A piece of pecan pie can have 500 calories,” she says.
Alcohol is another calorie packed-treat at most holiday dinners. A glass of egg nog might seem harmless. But one 8-ounce glass of rum-based egg nog can contain just like the slice of pecan pie up to 500 calories, which is about a quarter of the calories most people need in a day, she says.
“I usually say ‘Don’t waste your calories on liquid.’ Those calories really add up,” she says.
Many people are more likely to have several drinks than they are to have four or five pieces of pie, but the caloric intake is the same.

The holiday season runs from mid-November to the end of the year. Some people may have already gained a pound or two, but both Dr. Goldbaum and Ms. Feeley say not to despair. It’s not too late to become more health-conscious.
“I always tell people this is a wonderful time to diet,” Dr. Goldbaum says. “If an individual truly wants to diet there is no better way to express their desire to do so than to enjoy a reasonable portion of food instead of overindulging.”
Both Ms. Feeley and Dr. Goldbaum say that in their professions, the holiday season is a slow time.
Another way to prevent your body from packing on the pounds is to plan meals extra carefully during weeks that hold several parties with heavy foods and drinks.
“It takes an additional 3,500 calories to gain a pound of fat. And adding 500 calories a day over a whole week, especially during the holiday season, is not that much,” Ms. Feeley says.
So, for the party-heavy weeks, she recommends cutting down the calories in meals before and after parties. If you think you might have that extra drink or piece of pie, try to cut a few hundred calories from a meal or two in the days before the party.
“Cut back on your meals prior to [the party meals]. You want to make up for the extra calories that you will be taking in,” Ms. Feeley says.
Oftentimes, people get an all-or-nothing mentality: If they have already overeaten they figure may as well go all out with their overindulgence. But that is not a good mind-set, Dr. Goldbaum says.
“It’s the marginal eating that extra piece of pie or drink that adds on the weight,” Dr. Goldbaum says.
Another tip is to slow down your eating. It takes a while about 20 minutes before the brain registers the “full feeling,” so if you slow down and allow yourself to feel culinarily satisfied, you may be able to avoid overeating, Ms. Feeley says.

The last portion of the “stay healthy” equation is exercise. If your body takes in more energy than it has to use, that extra energy will stay on the body in the form of fat.
“There has to be a balance between consumption and exercise,” says Dr. Goldbaum. “The problem is, our outdoor activities diminish in the winter while we have all our holiday celebrations.”
For most people, a 30-minute brisk walk can keep the weight off during the holiday season.
You can divide it up during the day. It doesn’t have to be all at once, Ms. Feeley says. “I also tell people, ‘Take the stairs when you can and park farther away.’ Try to increase your physical activity any way you can.”
Jeff Taylor, director for group fitness and health and wellness at the National Capital YMCA on Rhode Island Avenue NW, says many people cut back on aerobics classes and gym workouts in November and December. However, some people, who know they will be out of town, ask fitness instructors and personal trainers how to continue to stay in shape on their own.
“We try to take care of the members while they’re away,” Mr. Taylor says. “We tell them to take walks and maybe use a set of dumbbells and a medicine ball at home.”
However, there are those who would happily stay away from the buffet, but won’t leave the gym’s treadmill alone unless they really, really have to.
“We’re closing early on the 24th [of December], but some people will be here until we close, and we’ll have to push them through the door,” Mr. Taylor says. “But I would certainly rather have it that way than people not coming at all.”

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide