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Neighbors of Kane County

Five ways to reverse holiday weight gain

By Richard J. Wolff, RD, LDN   

Health professionals are noticing an unhealthy trend.  Americans gain weight, but never seem to lose it.  In the past, weight gain was often balanced with January weight loss.  However, recent trends indicate fewer Americans are choosing to lose weight in January.  Despite this trend, there are simple ways to take control of your weight.  Here are five real-life strategies that can make a difference.

1.  Twice a Week   

The holiday season presents unlimited overeating opportunities.  To offset the extra calories, you need at least two weight-loss days per week.  A weight-loss day is simply a lower-calorie day that offsets high days.  First, commit to your two days.  I usually pick weekdays because they are more structured.  I like Mondays to get my week off to a strong start.  After a successful Monday, I am more likely to focus on my second day of the week.  To calculate your maintenance calories (the calories required to maintain your weight) multiply your weight by 11 (for men) and by 10 (for women).  On a weight-loss day, your total calorie intake should be below your maintenance calories.      

2.  No Zero Days  

The long dark days of winter make it tough to manage your weight.  One of the most effective weapons in the fight against weight gain is daily physical activity.  I call this “No Zero Days” (doing something daily).  Scientists have studied the effects of inactivity and concluded that it produces abnormal stress on brain chemistry.  This stress can contribute to poor decision-making and overeating.  To support better decision-making, try a 15-minute dose of physical activity every day.  Over the years, my most successful clients have been those that make a non-negotiable commitment to daily physical activity.  Strive for a brisk 15-minute walk (or comparable activity) every day.     

3.  Healthy Environments  

Your environment is by far the strongest predictor of what you eat.  Therefore, building a healthy environment automatically improves your diet.  The easiest way to build a successful environment is to add in lots of low-calorie, high-nutrition foods.  Given our crazy environment, adding in food you can carry with helps.  I have a small insulated food bag that goes everywhere with me.  It usually contains fresh fruit, a nutrition bar, and a variety of other good-for-you snacks.  Having my food bag around helps me eat less of the high-calorie stuff that is everywhere. 

Start building successful environments by adding healthy foods to your home and work – it can make cutting calories more automatic. 

4.  Eat More   

Most people try to lose weight by eating less.  While this sounds good on paper, it usually doesn’t work.  Eating less can leave you hungry and malnourished.  A more effective way to cut calories is to fill up on nutritious, lower calorie foods.  While it seems counterintuitive to eat more, this approach really works.  Evidence supporting an eat more approach comes from dozens of studies on the use of meal replacements over the past 30 years.    

A 2010 study from Harvard University found that adults using meal replacements over a 10-year period weighed, on average, 32 pounds less than those not using meal replacements.  In a nutshell, meal replacements are portion and calorie-controlled foods that help you fill up on fewer calories.  Meal replacements come in many forms including shakes, puddings, cereal, entrées, soups and bars.  One of the best ways to use meal replacements is to eat them with fruits or vegetables (such as frozen unsweetened fruit added to a meal replacement shake).  

5.  Use Brainpower   

Every January hundreds of pills, potions and weight loss books hit the shelves.  This is ironic given that fewer people are trying to lose weight.  When it comes to weight-loss aids put your thinking cap on.  Millions of dollars are wasted every year on products that are completely worthless.  Common sense and discipline can save your wallet and waistline.   

Several years ago, a company marketing “Exercise in a Bottle” made nearly 100 million dollars before the Federal Trade Commission shut them down.  Don’t be duped by the latest high-powered, marketing campaigns that promise instant success.  Get help avoiding common weight loss myths by watching my “Top 5 Weight Loss Myths” video. 

Richard J. Wolff,RD, LDN is the president of MEDFITNESS, a strength training studio specializing in efficient, evidence-based workouts. He is an adjunct faculty in the Graduate School at Northern Illinois University, and serves on their Health and Wellness Advisory Board. Learn more about the MEDFITNESS Workout at