By Tiffany Melanis
Edited by Doug Fisher
After losing 20 pounds, Jon Luttrell says he no longer fears the holidays. Bob Jarvis has lost 14 times as much and isn't so confident about avoiding holiday weight gain.
But both men know that even an extra pound or two can have long-term consequences, and both are more conscious of thier diets and possible health risks.
A National Institutes of Health study shows that average holiday weight gain is only about 1 pound, but year after year those pounds accumulate, adding to the overall obesity rate.
Luttrell, a Columbia electrician, said he turned to food because of depression related to lack of work. He gained 40 pounds over the past two years and reached 280, but about six months ago found a job he really likes and began working 70 hours a week.
He says he lost 20 pounds quickly and isn't worried about getting them back this holiday season.
"I have become accustomed to healthy food to the point that eating junk food is hard," he said. "I no longer fear the holiday season."
Mary Loke, a private Columbia dietitian, said people tend to become lax about their health duiring the holidays. But with state health department figures showing about two-thirds of South Carolinians were obese or overweight last year, Loke said she hopes health is something people will especially keep in mind during the next couple of months.
"With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, people forget to take care of themselves," Loke said, and they run afoul of the things that generally lead to holiday weight gain:
• Emotional eating – Stress, isolation, anxiety – all can rise around the holidays, and all those comfort foods just beckon to be eaten.
• Unusual eating habits – Fitting in as much family time as possible by visiting at meals can mean eating more than usual, and at unusual hours.
• Variety of food – You're surrounded by high calorie, starchy, sugary, fatty foods – and they're just calling your name.
• Last call before resolutions – Sure, you're going to give up the bad stuff after New Year's, but for now, just one last bite – or two, or three.
Jarvis, who lives in Columbia but is a flight dispatcher at Chicago's O'Hare airport, says his weight piled on over years to nearly 500 pounds, something he knew he needed to fix before getting hit with heart disease and diabetes.
Hes said that through strict portion control and gastric bypass surgery five years ago he has lost 280 pounds.
"I work in a very stressful environment, so snacking to deal with stress is a constant worry for me," he said. "I just have to stay away from the cookies and leftovers."
Both Jarvis and Luttrell agree they'll be visiting the gym to keep the weight off and not feel guilty about eating a holiday treat or two.
Steven Shaffer, a trainer at KnuckleUp Fitness in Sandy Springs, Ga., said it's important to exercise during the holidays to burn up those extra calories.
But Lane Mitchell, a mother of four, said exercising isn't enough when you have kids expecting holiday sweets.
"The kids look forward to the sugar cookies and sweets that come along with the holidays," she said. "When that's in your house, the phrase ‘healthy holiday' becomes an oxymoron."
Loke said you can make a couple of exceptions and treat yourself, but "putting on the weight and not losing it can lead to diabetes and heart disease."
Shaffer and Loke have a few other suggestions:
• Plan your eating – Try writing down what you eat. It could mean losing up to 50 percent more weight. Limit yourself to one of each hors d'oeuvre, a portion-conscious plate, one alcoholic drink and one dessert.
• Walk it off – Take a 30-minute walk after your holiday meal. Invite everyone you just ate with. Surrounded by good company, you'll forget you're even working out.
• Do quick workouts – Try sneaking away from your busy day and doing 10 to 15 reps of push-ups, squats and crunches. Doing this twice during the day burns calories and will help build lean muscle and increase your metabolism.