Planning can help you avoid the ‘holiday seven’

A frequent question posed to me, and I imagine to others in the fitness industry, is “How can I avoid gaining weight over the holidays?” IDEA Health & Fitness Association is always providing great information for fitness professionals, and their recent article offered some helpful hints that I have been passing on to members at the Y.

First, dieticians and trainers suggest that people plan ahead for temptations before the holidays begin. With this in mind for next year, it’s still not too late to avoid the typical seven-pound holiday weight gain this Christmas. Julie Burks, MS, RD, CSSD, ACE expert and Semper Fit sports dietitian, U.S. Marine Corps, makes the following suggestions:

— Adhere to regular workouts as often as possible. If there’s no time during the day to go to the gym, walk for at least 30 minutes, use the stairs and park your car further away from your destination.

— Eat breakfast every day and frequent small meals throughout the day. Include fruits and veggies at each meal and drink plenty of water.

— Eat a healthy snack before attending holiday gatherings and go easy on alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks and soda.

— Eat foods that combat stress (salmon, tuna, turkey, chicken, beans and legumes, walnuts and other nuts, flaxseed, olive oil, whole grains, oats, asparagus, spinach and other dark green veggies, pomegranate, berries and dark chocolate (72% cocoa or higher).

— Use relaxation techniques, including prayer, yoga, meditation, visualization, hot baths or music. Ask for help when feeling overwhelmed, as stress often triggers overeating.

— Recruit the help of supportive people including your spouse, significant others, friends, family, or trainer.

— Remove temptations from the house. Avoid buying junk food. Cut the holiday cookie recipes by half so there are fewer cookies to eat.

— Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night.

While we like to have lots of food on hand for visiting family members, Tom Godwin suggests that this is not a good idea. “Keep only ‘normal’ amounts of food and drink in the house, and have healthy alternatives on hand where possible,” says Godwin, managing director of Foresight Fitness in Manchester, England. “If we are in an environment with high-calorie, poor-quality food, we are much more likely to pile on weight.”

Godwin also relies on math to make a point. “I let clients know just how many calories they can easily consume during the festive season,” he says. “In many cases, the clients may not even realize how much they could be eating! I have a chart that shows a range of different seasonal foods, snacks and drinks, with the calories in each. I then translate these calories into hours of exercise the client would need to do to work them off. This strategy helps the client understand the energy cost of eating that extra meal,” Godwin says. Charts, books and smart phone apps are available that count calories and measure the calories burned by certain activities. Take Godwin’s advice and put one of these helpful tools on your wish list this year.

“I really try to help people redirect their focus away from holiday foods and onto family, friends, traditions and whatever personal, religious or spiritual meaning they find in the season,” explains Dana Schlossberg Weatherspoon, MS, MPH, ACE-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Doing this helps her clients reframe the way they think about holidays.

“I ask clients to look at their holiday calendars and decide when and how they would like to treat themselves. I remind them that they can ‘budget’ for these occasions by sticking to their physical activity routines and eating healthfully during the rest of the season,” Weatherspoon says.

These helpful tips from fitness professionals can help you stay on track over the holidays. But if you do gain weight, you can turn over a new leaf in the new year and resolve to get healthy and fit in 2013. Many successful weight loss initiatives begin at the start of the new year. If you need extra help, look for a program in your community. Team Lean, a YMCA weight-loss competition, begins Jan. 2. Team Lean uses cash prizes and team accountability as incentives to lose weight. Make 2013 a healthier year for you and your family. Go to albanyareaymca.org for more information about Team Lean or any YMCA wellness program.

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.