Peter Madrid

Scaling down

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It’s a battle we face each year at this time. It’s the holiday season and we’ll either gain undesired weight by the end of the year, or, as part of our New Year’s resolutions, we’ll promise to eat better and drop at least 10 pounds.

The holiday season is particularly difficult for dieters and those with voracious appetites or little self-control. The tamales, the muffins, the pumpkin pie, the pastries at all the parties at home and at work are big temptations.

Have you asked your tía about the caloric count in one of her famous tamales? We dare you.

Dr. David Junno, a psychologist and author on healthy eating, understands. He says, “Most of us put off making any plans to diet or exercise until our New Year’s resolution. The problem is most of us don’t follow through.”

Starting a diet during the holidays may sound crazy and unfeasible. Think it through, though, and you’ll realize it makes perfect sense. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner can add up to 3,000 calories, including stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, pecan pie, and potatoes and gravy. Why wait until after you have eaten exorbitant amounts of high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods to start taking care of yourself?

Ron Hoyos, a technician for Qwest from Phoenix, went on a low-carb diet to get back in shape. He lost about 35 pounds six months into it. However, he says, he did tumble off the wagon a few times during the holidays.

“There is always an extra amount of sugary foods and treats. They’re everywhere and out all day long,” Hoyos, 46, says about holiday fare. “It’s a daily effort [to resist it all]. But a low-carb diet allows me to eat enough food to feel full. You can do it; you just have to stay within the parameters of your diet.”

He included a fitness regimen that inspired him to work out; will power was his best friend.

“You have to stick to it and be strict. Once you get past the first couple of weeks, it’s not that hard. That’s when your body goes into that weight-loss mode. The holidays were always tough. The thing is, those carbs can sneak up on you. Oh, you can grab a piece of muffin in the morning and think you’re doing OK. But as the day goes on, you have eaten hundreds of calories of carbs.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, 95 to 98 percent of people who lose weight gain it back within five years. Just 2 to 5 percent of those on a diet succeed in keeping their weight off and 90 percent of those gain back more weight than they lost.

Make healthy and smart choices when it comes to proper eating, losing weight and keeping off those pounds around the holidays.

“Eating habits during the holidays suffer because of the comfort food we eat,” says Cara Osgood, a registered dietician at Banner Estrella Medical Center. “We’re around family; the food is not the type we eat every day, and we drink more alcohol as a society during the holidays. We gravitate to celebration and gluttony.”

Osgood’s advice is to try new approaches for changing eating habits and weight-loss attempts. Keep a food journal. Jot down everything you eat, when you eat it, and how much  you eat. Keep it personal, says Osgood. This will help you realize that you didn’t really need to eat the chips and the cookie that came with your chicken salad sandwich lunch combo No. 6, or drink that extra-large orange soda. Write down your calorie consumption with each meal when possible. This will give you an idea of why you’re not shedding those extra pounds. (A daily intake of 2,000 calories has been determined a good limit.) For motivation, share your progress with your doctor or significant other.

Stephanie Sanchez, a registered dietician at John C. Lincoln Deer Valley, agrees. “A journal will help you notice if you are consuming foods high in salt, processed or packaged foods, or instant foods; foods that are high in fat.”

Portion control is also important. Don’t just restrict your eating. Eat smaller meals at least three times a day. There is no forbidden food if you know how to moderate your portions or stick by a healthy meal plan.

New research shows that if we eat with skinny people, we tend to mimic their food portions, regardless of how much they take. However, if we eat with overweight companions, we generally try to adjust our portions to be different.

“Weight and portion sizes are linked together in people’s minds,” says Andrea Morales, associate professor of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, one of the authors of a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. “When our overweight companions take a large portion, we usually take less food to eat. However, it may surprise people to know that when overweight eating partners take small portion sizes, we still try to differentiate ourselves by taking larger portions.”

Another tip is to make sure your goals are attainable. A good weight-loss goal is about 1 to 2 pounds a week.

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