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Healthy Living: Holiday Strategies

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Big dishes of warm, orange sweet potatoes.

A turkey rubbed with sage and roasted to toasty, golden perfection.

Dressing stuffed with oysters and ladled with creamy giblet gravy.

When it comes to the holidays and health, we prefer to think of those images, not rolls of mottled fat on thighs, waves of jiggly flesh around our middles, and miles of arteries clogged with plaque.

Yet as the holiday --- and eating --- season officially opens Thursday, fitness experts and nutritionists say we should think about the effects of excess holiday eating and plot a strategy to avoid extra, damaging pounds.

"We have bounty year-round," said Jennifer Nelson, director of clinical dietetics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "Some people are saying it's a toxic environment; we're polluting ourselves with food."

The average American gains at least a pound during the winter holidays, suggest studies by the National Institutes of Health. A bigger problem is that the average adult American never loses that pound. In 20 years, a person can add 20 pounds just from the holidays.

Concerns about the growing obesity rate in the United States go well beyond vanity, as continued research shows links between obesity and a litany of diseases from diabetes to cancer to heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines obesity as having a body mass index, or ratio of height to weight, as greater than 30 (to assess your BMI, go to:

Just as financial planners stress good money management to get out of debt, the best way to deal with weight gain is to avoid it. Nutritionists suggest having a pre-holiday strategy for eating and for exercise.

"What happens usually, psychologically, is that it starts at Thanksgiving and continues for 30 days," said Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director for Crunch gyms, a nationwide fitness chain with six facilities in metro Atlanta.

Holiday gorging can easily go over the top, Nelson said, especially because Americans overeat even on non-holidays.

"We need to make a conscious effort to link our celebrations with other blessings in life," Nelson said.

While some of the suggestions sounded a wee far-fetched (Doing sit-ups while the turkey bakes? Come on; it's all most of us can do to fit in a shower before the guests arrive), many were truly sensible and doable. Consider these morsels of advice gleaned from several health and fitness experts.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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