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Take steps to control holiday weight gain

December 19, 2012 · 2:58 PM
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By Dr. Daniel Clerc
For The Courier-Herald

Anyone who’s been on a diet has experienced the frustration of trying to maintain a weight-loss program during the holidays. Because food is the focus of many holiday celebrations, it can be a real challenge to a dieter’s willpower.

A stable weight depends on a balance between the energy you get from food and the energy you use. We use energy during the day in three ways:

• Energy expended during rest (basal metabolism).

• Energy used to break down food (thermogenesis).

• Energy used during physical activity.

Basal metabolism accounts for about two-thirds of spent energy. The body generally uses this energy to keep your temperature steady and the muscles of your heart and intestine working. Thermogenesis accounts for about 10 percent of spent energy.

Our bodies are set to maintain weight within a certain range. That weight range is at least partly determined by our genetic makeup. Genetic makeup refers to certain traits that we inherit from our parents. If a person has the genetic makeup for obesity, eats a lot of high-calorie foods and does not exercise, it is almost certain they will become obese. It will likely be harder for such a person to stay at a healthy weight than someone who does not have the genes for obesity.

Still, there’s a way to approach holiday eating without sabotaging a weight-loss or weight-maintenance program. First, plan plenty of activities for which food is not the primary focus. And when food is an important part of the celebration, it helps to: change some traditional holiday habits; seek support from family and friends; and reduce the holiday stress that often leads to compulsive eating.

Changing some habits can keep your diet going without having to give up holiday treats altogether. For example, make a list of your favorite holiday foods and then pick two or three to enjoy this year. Another technique is to prepare holiday treats in smaller quantities, like baking a small cake that the family will finish at one sitting with no tempting leftovers. Also, use low-calorie, low-fat substitutes for rich ingredients like sugar, butter or cream. Whatever changes you make, it is important to ask your family members and friends to respect your choices and to refrain from tempting you with other holiday goodies.

Sometimes the stress of the holidays causes people to eat more than usual. If that’s the case, it helps to ask family and friends for support and, importantly, to engage in activities that produce feelings of contentment or happiness.

For additional tips for controlling or reducing calories during the holidays, or if you have specific medical concerns about your diet and body weight, talk with your primary care physician or other professional health care provider.

About the writer: Dr. Daniel Clerc specializes in family medicine and sleep medicine at Franciscan Medical Clinic-Enumclaw and is a member of the St. Elizabeth Hospital medical staff. Need a doctor? Call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line 1-888-825-3227 toll-free.

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