The holidays are coming. How can you keep the pounds off during this season of over-indulgence?
Losing weight is challenging any time of year, but during the holiday season, it can feel downright impossible. With holiday dinners, parties and treats at every turn, it’s easy to overindulge, sabotaging the good intentions of even the most conscientious dieters.
But, it is possible to stay on track, get healthy, and lose weight during the holidays so you’ll look and feel your best to start the new year. Fitness, health and wellness experts say the key is to stay committed to the goal, rely on proven strategies, and seek help when necessary.
A balanced approach
Dr. Mike Edenzon, a chiropractic physician and a diplomat of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition who works with patients at South Jersey Health & Wellness Center in Cherry Hill, says too often people mistakenly focus on weight instead of health. Instead, he combines traditional medicine with complementary and alternative health care to help patients improve overall health and wellness while losing weight.
He uses a science-based, nutritional approach, first conducting a comprehensive analysis of the blood and other body systems. “Based on the blood panel, we can identify nutritional deficiencies and improperly functioning systems,” he explains. “Then we’ll craft a targeted and specific program for healthier living, including a list of supplements to take, foods to add or avoid, increased water consumption, and exercise.”
At Future Fitness, with locations throughout South Jersey, on-staff nurses offer clients free monthly monitoring of heart, lungs, blood pressure, and body-fat percentage, as well as nutrition counseling. In addition, free personal trainers continually change up exercise routines for maximum weight loss. The program works: According to owner and company President Craig Ehleider, his club has among the highest retention rates of any fitness facility. “This wouldn’t be the case if people didn’t see results,” he notes.
Virtua Health, based in Marlton, provides one-on-one weight-loss counseling programs with registered dieticians, as well as group programs, which meet weekly with registered dieticians for weigh-ins and discussions on practical topics such as healthy restaurant choices, carb confusion and emotional eating. According to Virtua Health’s diet and nutrition coordinator April Schetler, the latter is ideal for someone motivated by the accountability of a group setting, while private sessions might help a yo-yo dieter resolve personal weight-loss roadblocks.
Anthony Capozzoli offers one-on-one and two-on-one personal training sessions customized for clients’ weight-loss goals at Smart Bodies, the fitness center he owns in Marlton. “No one ever works out by themselves here,” he says. “A personalized approach with individual attention works best for weight loss.”
This is a philosophy shared by Darren Garland, owner of Emerge Fitness in Mount Laurel, and author of Results Fitness. Once obese himself, Garland understands that long-term weight loss requires not just dieting and exercising to meet a goal—such as losing weight for a wedding—but a complete paradigm shift and lifestyle overhaul. “The focus has to be on long-term health,” he says. In addition to year-round programs, Emerge Fitness offers a “Holiday Hold ‘Em” program with the realistic objective of maintaining weight during the holidays.
Eat this, not that
“Many people use the holidays as an excuse to eat whatever they want,” shares Schetler. “Don’t make holiday events about the food; make them about the fun.” For example, arrange activities such as a scavenger hunt or touch football game to take your mind off food. She also suggests exercising the morning of an event. “You’ll feel so good about yourself; it reduces the temptation to overeat and inspires healthier choices later in the day.”
Schetler recommends tweaking recipes with lower-calorie swaps and healthier substitutions. For instance ,the classic green bean casserole can be updated with less fat and sodium by using reduced-fat cream of mushroom soup, fresh green beans instead of canned, and half the fried onions.
When invited out, offer to bring the dish that would normally trip you up. “If appetizers are your weakness, bring hummus and veggies, or if dessert is your downfall, bring a fruit-based treat,” she suggests.
“Fats and carbs serve important roles in the body by improving immunity and healing, and providing energy,” explains Edenzon. “But, we want people to eat a moderate diet, sticking mainly with protein, fruits and vegetables and limiting side dishes like potatoes and stuffing. Taste everything you want, but have just a little. Don’t completely deprive yourself, because that leads to binging.”
Edenzon says a surefire way to curb hunger is to drink water. “Many people are dehydrated and confuse thirst with hunger,” he notes. He advises drinking a large glass of water prior to meals and more water in between.
Get in motion
It’s easy to push exercise to the backburner during the hectic holiday season. “But, just a half hour a day is enough to lose weight in conjunction with a healthy diet,” Capozzoli says. He recommends weight training three times a week, alternating with cardio workouts. In addition, he suggests exercising first thing in the morning before opportunities arise to get sidetracked by work or family obligations.
“Studies show cardio workouts on the treadmill or elliptical alone will not burn fat,” adds Garland. “The average person does not have hours to spend in a gym, so strength training produces the best results in the shortest time by increasing the basal metabolic rate.”
Ehleider explains the body adapts to exercise after four to six weeks and then weight loss levels off. “That’s why our personal trainers change a client’s exercise routine every month to maximize basal metabolic rate.” In addition, Ehleider cautions against skipping meals; eating small meals or snacks, such as meat, cheese or yogurt, throughout the day actually speeds up metabolism and weight loss. “When you don’t eat, blood sugar drops and the body thinks it’s starving, so it secretes hormones which slow down metabolism and store fat,” he says.
Capozzoli recommends packing healthy snacks—fruit for early in the day and almonds for later—to satisfy cravings and keep blood sugar stable without resorting to fast food or vending machines. In addition, he suggests eating a healthy snack before going to a party so you won’t be as likely to overeat.
For many, the holidays serve up an extra helping of stress, which raises levels of cortisol hormones and helps pack on the pounds, according to Capozzoli.
“You can’t stop stress from happening,” says Edenzon, “so it shouldn’t be an excuse to overindulge.” To cope, he recommends adopting a positive attitude, relying on supportive friends, and exercising. “Exercise triggers a chemical response in the body, releasing endorphins, which control cortisol and help you feel better.”
And if you cheat? “This is not an all or nothing approach,” Garland says. “It’s a process and the goal is a healthy lifestyle. If your car gets a flat tire, you don’t junk it; you fix the flat and move on. Likewise, if you overindulge at a party, you fix it and move on.”
Fitness Forever: A Worthwhile Pursuit
Craig Ehleider, Future Fitness Centers
Like most pursuits worthwhile in life, fitness takes time. However, the proper approach hastens results. The following tips may be of value as you persevere toward your own ideal shape:
1. All muscle eats fat. Aside from accentuating your body’s natural contours, protecting your joints, normalizing your hormones, hardening your bones, and enhancing all physical performance, toned muscle accelerates your consumption of fat 24 hours a day.
2. Muscle hardens best in response to anaerobic isolation resistance training, i.e. weights and toning machines. Using higher repetitions (10-20), one should (in time) increase intensity by resting less between sets so the muscle is in a weakened state when it is called upon to work again.
3. Fat accumulates and vanishes as it was genetically determined to do regardless of how you put it on or how you take it off. All muscle eats up fat based on that same genetic predisposition. For example, 100 calories burned during an arm workout will take fat off the body in exactly the same proportions as 100 calories burned during sleep.
4. To achieve maximum muscle tonus and the resulting increase in BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate—calories consumed at rest), one must strengthen and tone new muscle fiber regularly.
5. Eat often—every three to four hours, but never a big meal. Skipping meals allows your blood sugar to drop too low. Don’t forget to drink a lot of water. Try for two quarts a day.
Persist for 12 weeks and the palpable improvements in your appearance, self image, energy and health will be all the motivation you need to make this healthy life style yours forever. Specific medical problems should first be discussed with your doctor.
3701 Church Road, Suite 6
Serving South Jersey
117A Route 73 S.
South Jersey Health & Wellness Center
1919 Greentree Road
Serving South Jersey
Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 8 (October, 2012).
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