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Nutrition Q&A: Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Smart guidelines for navigating the holiday season without putting on the pounds.

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Q: How can I get through the holiday party season without gaining weight?

A: The simple fact that you are intending to not gain weight during this holiday season already puts you ahead of the game! Here are my top five tips for avoiding unwanted weight gain:

1. Set your goal. It sounds as if your goal is to maintain your current weight. Other triathletes may allow for three, five or even eight pounds of off-season weight gain without stress or worry. Whatever your intent is, set it, write it down and check your weight once each week to ensure you stick to it.

2. Pick your food “battles.” All too often holiday party food choices are not really made — it’s always hard to say “no” when a friend offers her own homemade cheesecake. But this year, vow to make conscious food choices at each event. Decide in advance that you will eat, for example, only three hors d’oeuvres, only two cookies or only one helping of your Aunt Millie’s famous mac-and-cheese.

3. I have my clients bring a healthy fruit- or vegetable-based item to gatherings and continue their in-season intake of fruits and vegetables during their off-season. Doing so will help keep your energy stable, immunity high and belly full, and minimize intake of unhealthy fatty foods.

4. Beware of liquid calories. Resist the temptation to drink high-calorie beverages you wouldn’t normally drink during the season (do the words “cocktail,” “eggnog,” “milkshake” or “aperitif” mean anything to you?).

5. Be honest about (and then consistent with) your holiday exercise schedule. We all need a break after a long, hard season of tri training, but “off-season” means different things to each of us. Some take four to six weeks completely off, while others continue to exercise daily, or switch to winter cross-training activities. Whatever you choose, being honest about your expected decrease in exercise will help you avoid weight gain.

RELATED: Nutrition Q&A: Eating Healthy On The Road

Q: I hear a lot about good fats vs. bad fats — what is the distinction and how much total fat should I be getting? What are the best sources of healthy fats?

A: This is a classic case of confusion by attempt to oversimplify science and certainly requires some clarification. “Good fats” include both poly- and mono-unsaturated fats, are liquid at room temperature, and are found in foods such as fatty fish, walnuts, avocados, seeds and olives. These fats are high in vitamin E, help aid muscle recovery, have an overall anti-inflammatory effect on our body and an overall positive effect on health. Gone are the days of the low-fat diet craze as we are aware of the health benefits of including healthy fats daily. Triathletes should be mindful to include these fats in their daily diet.

The “bad fats” include saturated and trans fats and are found in foods such as butter, lard, and partially hydrogenated oils that come in packaged goods. These fats are considered harmful to health because of their ability to raise cholesterol levels, heart disease risk and overall inflammation.

Approximately 20–35 percent of your total calories should come from healthy fats. When I work with individual clients, I first ensure they are getting adequate protein to meet their training, recovery and/or muscle-building needs. We then discuss carbohydrate needed to fuel training and finally check that the remaining calories from fats are at least 20–25 percent of total calorie needs. As for the “bad” fats, the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating no more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fats and less than 1 percent of daily calories from trans fats. Now run to get some olives, avocado and walnuts!

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