Published on 01/03/02

Don't Overreact to Postholiday 'Scale Shock'

So you lost control of your Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's eating. Don't lose your head now over the "scale shock" from your holiday overindulging.

"Use restraint in your postholiday diet," said Connie Crawley, an Extension Service nutrition and health specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

A healthy weight for you is whatever you weigh when you eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly.
-- Connie Crawley

For starters, don't rush into any kind of diet.

"Go back to your normal, healthy eating habits," Crawley said. "Eat three moderate meals a day and allow time to rebalance your diet."

After a week or more, you'll get a more reliable count of the pounds you've gained. "Then you can decide what little things to do to get the weight back off," she said.

Don't Skip Meals

Don't skip meals or cut out broad groups such as breads or fats. Make little changes, such as cutting out the chips or the extra margarine. "You always need a balanced, healthy diet of foods in all groups," she said.

Trimming dietary fats can be important. But don't try to eliminate them. "A totally fat-free diet wouldn't be good for you," Crawley said. "Fats make fat-soluble vitamins available to you. And they make your diet more satisfying."

Americans do tend to eat too many fats, she said. Generally, fats should be no more than 30 percent of the calories you eat. "But that percentage varies from person to person," she said.

'Ideal Weight' Overvalued

Crawley isn't a stickler for the "ideal weights" on height-weight charts.

"That's probably not the best way to determine your ideal weight," she said. "A healthy weight for you is whatever you weigh when you eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly."

The "ideal weights" from charts sometimes lead people to set unrealistic weight-loss goals. The healthiest choice, Crawley said, is to monitor what you eat, not what you weigh.

Keep a Food Diary

"Food diaries are a great way to keep your weight down," she said. Keep a small notebook with you. Before eating any food or drink, measure or estimate how much you will eat and write it down.

"An easy way to estimate," she said, "is that a half-cup or 4 ounces of anything is about the size of the average man's wallet or the palm of an average woman's hand."

By writing down what you plan to eat or drink beforehand, you're more conscious of how much you're taking in. And you may consume fewer calories. "Many overweight people are unconscious eaters," Crawley said.

Don't Set Goals Too High

On average, dieters are most successful in losing only 10 percent to 15 percent of their preloss weight. Once they've lost that, most are satisfied. "They feel better, and they realize how hard that weight loss was," she said.

If you have to focus on a weight-loss goal, make it no more than 15 percent of your preloss weight. If you want to lose more than that, make 15 percent your goal anyway. Once you lose that, you can reevaluate.

"Setting too high a weight-loss goal leads to discouragement," Crawley said. "No diet will be successful if you don't feel good about yourself."

Exercise Is Critical

Exercise is a critical part of weight loss, too. "Include weight training, aerobics and stretching in your regular activities," she said.

If you want to be a healthy weight, you have to exercise.
-- Connie Crawley

"To lose weight, you need to exercise five to seven days a week for at least 30 minutes a day," she said. "But don't expect to be able to exercise that much at first if you've been inactive in the past."

Do less than you think you can at first. Gradually add to the time and intensity of your exercise.

The body's natural appetite controls don't work, Crawley said, if you're inactive. "Your body doesn't know when to stop eating," she said. "If you want to be a healthy weight, you have to exercise."

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.