Take time to focus as holidays loom

72919774I lost a lot of weight years ago, but I always struggle during the holidays. How can I make sure I maintain my weight over the next few months?

You’re right that holidays pose a challenge when it comes to weight management. There are typically so many special occasions and gatherings that involve indulgent food and drink that it’s very easy to forsake healthful habits.

Apparently, this can be more of a challenge for people who have successfully taken off weight than for people who have never struggled with weight issues.

A 2008 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology compared holiday experiences of people who had previously lost a lot of weight (averaging about 75 pounds) and kept off much of it, and those who had always maintained a healthful weight.

The researchers found those in the first group were more vulnerable to weight gain in November and December and less likely to be able to shed those pounds in January. Even though they made greater efforts to control their eating and stay active, their attention to weight and eating during the holidays decreased significantly more than their always-normal-weight counterparts.

The authors suggested that people who have previously been obese need to work harder than others to manage their weight, and that the demands of the holiday season may overpower the resources they normally use to focus on weight control.

What could be most helpful, they suggested, is to find ways to focus on and monitor eating, weight and physical activity during such a challenging period.

How do you do that? Trying these strategies might help:

  • Practice “mindful eating,” in which you deliberately find ways to become aware of what you eat and why you eat it. There are a wide range of approaches you can use, from reducing (or even eliminating) distractions while you eat to eating with your non-dominant hand. Seewww.thecenterformindfuleating.org for information. At a holiday gathering, see if you can choose not to eat when talking with others, and then take just a small portion of a favorite food and savor each bite.
  • Revisit strategies that have worked for you in the past, including monitoring your weight and food intake. If you have a lapse, don’t dwell on it. Just use the experience to redouble your efforts afterward.
  • Take time for yourself — whether it’s to enjoy a hot cup of tea or a 20-minute daily walk — during the busy holiday season. Slowing down can help keep you centered and focused on what’s important.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, nutrition specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Holiday ideas to ‘maintain, not gain’

181431584I’ve lost 30 pounds this year. During the holidays, I want to make sure I “maintain, not gain.” Any hints? 

First, congratulations on your weight loss. You should be proud.

You probably already know this, but it’s not easy to keep weight off once you do lose it. Experts continue to examine why that is. Some cite a lack of emphasis on maintenance in weight-loss programs; others believe biology plays a stronger role, blaming significant changes in metabolism during and after weight loss. Those changes often make battling weight regain a Herculean task.

Despite the challenges, there’s hope. Here are some ideas that could help you attain your no-weight-gain goal during the holidays:

  • Be aware that you’re going to encounter a lot of cues that will tempt you to indulge in special treats. Try to counter the temptation by keeping reminders of the positive results when you resist the urge. For example, post photos of your new, svelte self on your refrigerator, inside your pantry and even on your office desk, especially if your workplace tends to be generous with holiday goodies. Another idea: Buy some healthy-living magazines and place them in spots where you know they’ll catch your eye.
  • Know your trigger foods and the times of day when you run into trouble, and ask for help. If you know you have trouble resisting nacho chips at holiday parties, ask a friend to help you keep yourself under control. If you tend to have difficulty when you’re home alone in the evenings, ask someone to call or text you each night for the next few weeks with a gentle reminder to stay the course. Such support can go a long way.
  • Think about tactics you’ve used in the past and renew those efforts: Keep a stash of celery sticks in the refrigerator to fill up on before going to a party. Brush your teeth after every meal. Park at the farthest parking space to help you add steps to your day. Think about what works for you, and make the decision to do it.
  • Be vigilant about sticking with your regular healthy routine: eating a healthy breakfast, drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s rest and engaging in some type of physical activity every day. Keep yourself accountable by keeping a daily record.
  • Give yourself permission to enjoy the foods of the holiday season, but in moderation. Go ahead and savor a few bites of your favorite treat, but realize you don’t need to eat the whole portion. And, look for ways to be kind to yourself that don’t involve food, such as going to a mind-body class like yoga or Pilates. The rewards are great — and you’ll begin the new year on the right track.