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Tips for taking off those pesky holiday pounds

LITTLE ROCK — As we’re nestled all snug in our beds, the visions dancing in our heads aren’t so much of sugar plums as they are of sugar cookies — not to mention stuffing smothered in gravy, chunks of homemade fudge and hearty slices of apple pie, all washed down with warm mugs of thick, calorie-rich eggnog.

The holidays are not only a time for friends and family, they are also a time for food, food and still more food. And that can lead to “scale shock” when the new year rolls around.

“When we fill our plate to the rim and think we have to clean it, because so many of us were from the ‘clean your plate’ club, we overindulge and end up paying the price with extra pounds and extra weight that we may not be able to lose after the holidays,” says Carla Haley-Hadley, Miller County extension agent for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Then the extra weight builds up over the years and can contribute to obesity later in life.”

A 2000 study of holiday weight gain published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the amount of weight people gain in the period from Thanksgiving until New Year’s is less than most people think – only about a pound.

Holiday pounds tend to stick around

However, the researchers also found that people usually didn’t lose that extra pound during the next year, which they said probably contributes to the increases in body weight that frequently occur during adulthood.

A separate study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that people who were already overweight tended to add more weight during the holidays than the population as a whole, and that weight gain during the holidays was responsible for more than half of the weight gained through the entire year.

Also, holiday overeating may affect the type of weight being gained. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma, who weighed a sample of students before and after the holidays, found that while the amount of pounds gained wasn’t significant, there was a significant gain in body fat, which can contribute to weight-related illnesses.

So what are some strategies people can use to avoid packing on pounds over the holidays? Haley-Hadley suggests starting with something simple — using smaller plates.

“We tend to use what I call mega plates – you know, those plates that are the size of the decorative chargers that we put under the plates that we eat on,” she said. “Because, hey, who wants to have to get up and go back for seconds when we can just load our plate ahead of time and save the steps.”

Fill up on low-cal foods

Another strategy is to choose foods that have few calories for their size, such as vegetables, soup or salad, which Haley-Hadley said will make people feel full sooner “and be less likely to take seconds.”

Another approach is to concentrate on foods that aren’t served year round and eat them in moderation.

“Why eat mashed potatoes with gravy, when you can have that next week with the roast?” Haley-Hadley said. “Go for the cranberry salad, or grandma’s fruit ambrosia. You have avoided unwanted calories and added fruit to your meal.”

Beverages can also be another black hole for holiday diets, particularly things like soda, punch, fruit juices and alcohol, which are all loaded with calories. A 12-ounce sugared soda has more than 150 calories, while a 16-ounce glass of punch or lemonade can top out at above 200 calories.

“For those calories, you could have had four mugs of fat-free hot cocoa with marshmallows,” Haley-Hadley said.

Desserts pack calories fast

The dessert table is another place where people can get into trouble. A slice of pecan pie has roughly 500 calories, a single butter cookie can add another 200, and a peppermint brownie adds 200 calories more.

“That is 900 calories, just on your dessert plate,” Haley-Hadley said.

But for those who just can’t seem to stay away from those tasty treats, she recommends one other way to combat those pesky holiday pounds – exercise.

“I don’t mean you have to head to the gym, but have some fun with the family,” she said. “Take a walk around the neighborhood and look at the lights, play a game of football in the yard, play Frisbee or try out the kids’ new bike. Just get moving.”

For more information about healthy eating, visit, contact your county extension office.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer