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A Little Planning Can Help Keep Off The Holiday Pounds

Photo via Flickr// Bill Couch

Holiday parties sparkle. Lights twinkle in trees, and dancers clad in satin and sequins cast pinpoints of light into mirrors.

Seasonal fare offers its own sort of glow.  Cherries dipped in chocolate as thick as paint gleam on platters. Sugar crystals glint from pillars of cookies, and bubbles rise in champagne flutes.

Studies indicate even people who routinely make healthy eating choices and maintain an exercise regime feel derailed during this time of year. Bathed in festive moods and surrounded by an abundance of sumptuous choices, people often overindulge. Travel interrupts workout routines, whether it’s the pre-workday neighborhood jog or solo sessions at the gym.

This combination of more food and less exercise leaves celebrants feeling sluggish. Despite the ubiquity of treats and the temptation to lounge (and snack) while catching up with seldom-seen relatives, experts report that a little planning goes a long way toward keeping exercise and eating habits stabilized.

“People say, ‘Oh, I will worry about what and how much I eat in January,’ ” said Dr. Eric Greska, assistant professor of exercise science at University of West Florida. “Why put yourself behind with that kind of thinking?”

It’s not that you can’t enjoy everything, just make conscious choices, Greska said. Consider portion sizes, and eat fruits and vegetables before moving to things that are more fattening.

“Use strategy,” said Stuart McCrory, a graduate assistant who works with Greska. “Decide you are not going to eat an entire bag of chips when you know you will have real mashed potatoes later.

Registered dieticians urge adults to consider examples they set for young ones during family gatherings. Volunteer to provide fruit and vegetable trays when hosts ask for help prepping for a special event.  Steer away from the snack bowls during a party. Lack of proximity prevents mindlessly dipping into goodies while engrossed in conversation.

Those concerned about effects of culinary excess can keep in mind another simple concept: Move. Throw a Frisbee.  Play fetch with the dog. Get a game of volleyball going, said Dr. Ludmila Cosio-Lima, an associate professor of exercise science at UWF.

Besides teaching, she oversees research in the exercise physiology lab. She also competes in triathlons, and when she travels to professional conferences, her bicycle goes, too. Though her workouts might prove more rigorous than most people’s, Cosio-Lima emphasizes the benefits of unstructured periods of exercise that meld easily with holiday travel schedules.

“Don’t feel guilty about indulging,” she said. “If you usually take a walk in the morning, add a little something – like take another walk in the evening.”

Fitting in a cardiovascular session like running, walking and jogging can happen anywhere, said David Aaberg, a personal trainer who manages Anytime Fitness on East Nine Mile Road in Pensacola. Exercisers who find it hard to stay motivated when schedules change can look for gym-like locales, Aaberg said.

“Meet somewhere, like at a local track. If it looks like exercise, then you exercise,” Aaberg said. “Plus you can encourage each other.”

Gunnar Bowling, a UWF junior studying finance, adheres to experts’ advice about maintaining a consistent exercise routine. Bowling trains with weights four to six days a week at the Pensacola Campus fitness center, but he will spend the winter break in Niceville.

“I picked up the phone,” he said. “My family belongs to a gym, and I have already called to check; I can use a visitor pass while I am there,” he said.

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.