Shedding the pounds after holiday weight gain

11:07 AM, Dec 26, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - Eat, drink, and be merry! This is what most of us do over the holiday season and unfortunately most of us also gain some unwanted holiday weight during this time. It is predicted that the weight gained during the six-week holiday season may lead to half of all annual and cumulative weight gained in the United States. So after all that holiday cheer, how do you shed those few unwanted pounds?

You gained how much weight!? The average American consumes about 4,500 calories and 229 grams fat during a traditional holiday meal and this doesn't include the calories from breakfast, lunch, or a late-night snack of leftovers which can lead to a daily consumption of up to 6,000 to 7,000 calories. General perceptions of holiday weight gain range between 5 to 10 pounds, although studies have shown that the average American really only gains about one pound.

Even though this might not seem like much, these holiday pounds can accumulate over time and may contribute to obesity and chronic diseases. This season is particularly dangerous for those who are already overweight and obese, as studies have shown that those who are overweight prior to the holiday season were more likely to gain 5 or more pounds.

The first step to shed those holiday pounds starts with setting realistic, healthy goals. A realistic goal is a specific, achievable, and forgiving goal. To do this make daily or weekly short term goals, such as eating at least one fruit a day for a snack instead of a treat, but don't beat yourself up if you make a mistake, just get back on track.

If you focus on one or two smaller goals at a time it will be easier to see progress and avoid feeling overwhelmed or like a failure. Small changes every day can lead to a big change in the long run. It takes commitment to stick to your goals to lose weight but even modest weight loss will provide great benefits.

Losing just a few pounds of that holiday weight can improve blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars. By setting realistic goals you will already be on your way to adopting a healthier lifestyle.

It's not a post-holiday diet, it's a lifestyle change! After putting on those holiday pounds it's easy to think about doing a fad diet to drop weight quickly but most individuals who do this end up gaining all the weight back. If you want to shed those holiday pounds and maintain a healthy weight it requires a lifestyle change. Research shows that those who focus on losing weight gradually and steadily (1 to 2 pounds per week) are the most successful at long term weight loss.

One pound equals 3,500 calories, so in order to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week your daily caloric intake should be reduced by 500 to 1000 calories. However, this doesn't mean just cutting foods out of your daily diet but adding in exercise to your daily routine.

Make healthy habits a part of your lifestyle after you have shed those few holiday pounds, this will not only help you look better but will also help prevent chronic diseases in your future.

Use these tips to help you get started on shedding those holiday pounds and taking a step towards a healthier lifestyle:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast filled with fiber every day- many studies show that those who eat breakfast typically weigh less and are more likely to engage in physical activity.
  • Increase your movement- adding physical activities and exercise into your daily life will help you burn an additional calories. Strive for 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise and 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This may sound like a lot but over the course of the week, it equals about 30-60 minutes a day. There are a number of things you can do to stay active during the winter months, such as, sign up for a gym membership and do different classes to keep you interested. Physical activity can also be achieved at home; walk/run up stairs, do indoor body weight activities (wall sits, abs, push-ups), or include outdoor winter activities, such as snowshoeing, skiing, or even a snowball fight!
  • Eat foods rich in fiber- such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. These foods will help you feel full longer which will help you not feel hungry after a season of being "full" and they also provide valuable vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients with fewer calories. Make half your plate fruits and veggies, eat a whole grain for at least half of all the grains you eat, and increase consumption of beans, peas, and lentils in your diet.
  • Keep a food diary- to track what you eat, this will make you more aware of the foods you consume. Start looking at the calories in popular restaurant foods; the numbers and serving sizes are much different than you would expect. Also, start to examine your current lifestyle, what are your barriers to weight loss, and why you choose the dietary habits you currently have. Then think of how you can change your lifestyle by individual steps.

If you find yourself a couple pounds heavier after this festive season make the decision to shed that holiday weight and start a better, healthier lifestyle. Ditch the quick-fix fad diets and make healthy choices become lifelong habits. Losing weight includes a mental, emotional, and physical commitment and a realization of a long term lifestyle change.

Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD is a nutrition scientist and registered dietitian at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, University of Colorado Denver. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MichelleCardel for daily nutrition tips!

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