Share This Page

Moderation key to keeping holiday weight gain at bay, experts say

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 11:38 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A group of hikers, under the guidance of Joe Harkiewicz of Venture Outdoors, make their way along a trail in Fall Run Park in Shaler on Saturday, November 9, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Tim Whitford (left) of McCandless, Anne Poux of Erie and Kevin Gorski of McCandless take in the view of a waterfall along a trail int Fall Run Park in Shaler on Saturday, November 9, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A group of hikers, led by Joe Harkiewicz, of Venture Outdoors, make their way along a trail at Fall Run Park in Shaler, Saturday, November 9, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
A group of hikers, under the guidance of Joe Harkiewicz, of Venture Outdoors, cross a wooden bridge while they make their way along a trail at Fall Run Park in Shaler, Saturday, November 9, 2013.

In the words of a popular song, the holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

In trainer Jason Stowell's mind, it's one of the most stressful because it often leads to poor nutritional choices.

“Between all the shopping, all the cooking (and) seeing extended family you may care for or may not care for, we tend to stress out,” said Stowell, fitness sales and wellness director at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. “And so what happens when we stress out? Generally, we reach for something to eat.”

The holiday season that begins in late November with Thanksgiving and ends with the New Year carries images of weight gain thanks to too much pumpkin pie and other high-calorie foods.

The average holiday weight gain is about one pound per adult, according to studies from the past decade, but most adults don't lose that pound and overweight people tend to gain more.

Stowell estimated 80 percent of a person's overall fitness level comes down to diet.

“The holidays equal more food,” said Dr. Timothy Gaul, a family physician specializing in osteopathic medicine and vice president for medical affairs at UPMC East. “That makes it more difficult for (people) to stay motivated to keep their weight down” but it's important to stay diligent.

People shouldn't treat the holiday season differently from other times, Gaul said. “If you're getting into habits and disciplines, you're trying to make those good decisions whether it's Christmas Day or it's the middle of June,” he said.

A typical problem is that some people treat the holidays as a full month, instead of a few days during that month-long period. Others feel guilty about eating a big meal, and try to make up for it either before or after the holiday.

Neither approach is advisable, said Danielle Ross, a trainer at the Allegheny Health Network's Club Allegheny.

“You don't want to overdo it, (and) you don't want to underdo it,” she said, advising that people exercise “three days on, two days off. Don't stop just because you're ready for turkey.”

Weather over the holidays often makes exercising outdoors more difficult. Stowell said some people don't enjoy a gym atmosphere, which takes away some options.

But other opportunities exist. Cathy Muscato, director of the Bethel Park Community Center, said usage of the recreational facility and the exercise classes it offers jumps beginning in the fall. Several Western Pennsylvania communities have similar facilities.

Gaul said even household chores — bringing in firewood, shoveling snow and taking walks with your dog or family — could work as exercises.

Indoor options include gyms and YMCAs, and even mall walking. UPMC kicked off a mall-walking program this week at Monroeville Mall, and will hold monthly walking events throughout the year.

Outdoor exercise holds tangible benefits because exposure to light helps a person's mood, vitality and Vitamin D levels, Gaul said.

Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit, holds outdoor events throughout the fall and winter in Western Pennsylvania, including hikes each weekend. It offers snowshoeing expeditions and outdoor exercises for all skill levels.

“Any time you see people outside, they're happy,” said Lora Woodward, program director at Venture Outdoors. “It's fairly hard to be angry when you're outside because it's such a soothing environment.”

Stowell said the key to surviving the season without weight gain is balance and moderation.

“Don't get down on yourself if you miss a workout, if you eat a little bit extra food (or) if you have a glass of wine at dinner on Thanksgiving,” he said. “Enjoy your family and friends. Fitness is something we do for the rest of our lives. It's not something we do for today or next week. At some point, we all fall off the horse.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.