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It’s that time of the year again…we’re just getting over the turkey and stuffing, and any day now we’ll be hit with latkes, eggnog and the dreaded fruit cake. And with these holiday treats come a barrage of advice on how to avoid gaining weight during the holiday season.

First, the good news: The average person who gains weight during the next six weeks will only put on about 0.8 pounds. Not so bad, right? It’s true that more overweight individuals may gain a bit more, but it tends to be much less than we’re led to believe.

But the not so good news? That 0.8 pounds sticks. Like, forever. It turns out that most Americans gain on average about a pound each year during their adult lives. But the fascinating part of it is that it seems to happen primarily during December. So it stands to reason that if we can hold off the holiday weight gain, we might have a shot at avoiding the upwards weight creep that seems to happen to almost everyone else you know.

So let’s focus on December, and worry about New Year’s resolutions in the New Year. Try these ten ideas on for size!

1. Weigh yourself every day from now through New Year’s Day.
2. Keep a food diary during the month of December.
3. Limit television/screen time for the whole family during school holidays.
4. Limit holiday snacks and treats to one a day.
5. Bring healthy food to potlucks and parties.
6. Fill your plate with veggies first.
7. Plan your alcohol intake ahead of time.
8. Don’t skip meals in anticipation of social/food events.
9. Lay off the sauces.
10. Go skinless and avoid processed meats.

Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season for all!

How are you eating these days? Are you eating low-fat? High-protein? Vegetarian? Are you eating according to your blood type, your genetics — or something else? Diets sure tend to move in trends, don’t they?

One year everyone avoids saturated fat, and the next year, it’s trans fats. Throw a famous low-carbohydrate diet book into the mix, and the discussion topic usually progresses towards processed food in general, and added sugar in particular.

So what’s the problem with excess sugar?

When you consume sugar, the pancreas secretes insulin. This pushes sugar into cells to be utilized as energy, if not used as energy, the excess sugar is stored as glycogen. When excess sugars are a part of your daily diet, the pancreas is stressed to produce even more insulin. This can lead to beta cell (insulin-producing cells) burnout, or a condition more commonly known as diabetes, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease.

Studies have demonstrated that higher consumption of added sugar in your diet can increase your risk of heart disease, primarily through excess calories. Carbohydrates are classified into two categories: simple carbohydrates, which includes sugars, or complex carbohydrates, which includes starches and fibers. Carbs are the primary source of calories for most Americans, but many people consume too much added sugar.

Next time you’re in the kitchen, open your pantry and look at nutritional label of any item. A recommended amount of total carbs for most adults would be between 45 to 65% of a day’s total calories. According to the AHA’s diet and lifestyles recommendation, it is prudent to limit the intake of added sugar as a part of total carbohydrates. Most American women should eat or drink no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars, and most American men should eat or drink no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars.

It seems that when the low-fat movement hit its heyday, people figured that they had to eat something — and instead of focusing on eating more protein or fiber, we moved more toward eating more carbohydrates. In a sense, it was the nutritional equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The solution? More balance. Yes, you should reduce the amount of refined foods in your diet. Yes, you should reduce the carbs — particularly those with added sugars. And yes, reduce the amount of processed meats you eat. That leaves you with variety that you can live with, and you’ll end up eating more vegetables as a result.

And we haven’t found anything wrong with vegetables — yet!

Many of us were intrigued by Walmart’s recent announcement to make some improvements in the nutritional quality of the products sold in its stores. Between eliminating trans fats from its shelves by 2015 and reducing sodium by 25% over the next few years, Walmart may ultimately have a greater impact on the public’s health than many of us who are supposedly doing this for a living. Is this surprising?

Walmart’s move highlights the power of large corporations in making sweeping changes — for better in this particular case — but also makes us reflect on the fact that healthier choices tend to be made when healthier options are presented to us. It seems that while education is essential, it may not be sufficient. I was reminded of this recently by a study published in the American Journal for Preventive Medicine, which found that adding nutritional information (fat, sodium, calories) to the menu at a fast food chain did not significantly change the overall purchasing behavior of consumers. While I’m sure that some individuals do respond to this point-of-purchase education, most people continue to choose what tastes best to them.

Armed with these sobering statistics, we might consider a two-pronged approach. Educate consumers, but also consider ways to make healthier behaviors more convenient. It doesn’t have to be as obvious as a fitness center in your office building — it can be as subtle as positioning certain items differently in a grocery store, adding some additional lighting to make walking on the street safer, or just eating at the table or in the lunchroom rather than in front of the television or while sitting at your desk.

I previously blogged about a soda tax as a method to create obstacles to engaging in less healthy behaviors, and acknowledged the controversy when such a measure is levied by the government. But a corporation has the ability to create obstacles or reinforce behaviors too, just as long as it positively impacts its bottom line.

Let’s hope that this decision works out well for Walmart…

Recent research suggests that people have a better chance of getting healthier if we focus on making good choices, as well as taking control of the food choices that we are presented with. In other words, by shaping your environment so that unhealthy choices become less convenient, you become more likely to take on healthier behaviors.

Eating while you’re on the road is a great example. Even though many fast food restaurants have been pressured to add some healthier items to their menus, the truth is it can be pretty tough to choose a grilled chicken salad over a burger and fries, especially when you are sitting in the drive-thru lane. If you find yourself unable to make the healthier choice, consider eating a kid’s meal instead — fewer calories and you get a toy. But better to avoid drive-thru’s altogether. If you make a commitment to give drive-thru’s the drive-by, and refrain from eating in your car, you’re bound to make healthier decisions at mealtime.

Another tough aspect of eating while traveling is making good choices while staying at hotels. Room service can be an attractive option if you’re on your own or have an expense account at your disposal. It can be tempting to sit back in your room with a nice steak and a Caesar salad, and watch television. But mealtimes are a great opportunity to get out, explore, and try something healthier.

How do you stay healthy when you’re on the road? What foods tempt you the most?