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Plan ahead to maintain a healthy diet during the holidays

It's easier to help people stay on track with a diet in the face of tempting Thanksgiving feasts than it is to get them back on track after binge eating and unwanted weight gain.

But Lynn Holum, licensed registered dietician with Altru's Nutrition Therapy program in Grand Forks, says many people don't seek the help they need until the damage has been done.

"We generally don't see more people before the holidays," she says. "We see more people after the holidays and we'd like to see a shift in that trend."

Because of that unwanted trend, Altru offers more programs for healthy eating and weight loss beginning in January, when it sees an influx of guilt-ridden dieters who have fallen off the wagon, victim to juicy turkeys and Thanksgiving or Christmas feasts.

"In January, we do anticipate that and we do have new classes and new therapy to get back on track," Holum says.

Altru's Nutrition Therapy program offers one-one-one counseling at the clinic and at the Center for Prevention and Genetics at Choice Fitness. It also offers class sessions, beginning in January, at the Choice location.

"That's when people are looking to get started," Holum says, adding that the combination of holiday binging and a new year with new opportunities to get serious about health weigh heavy on many minds. The program has attempted a jumpstart on those classes during the holiday season, but turnout wasn't good.

Don't sabotage

A number of measures can help reduce temptation, and therefore discomfort and guilt, without opting out of a Thanksgiving celebration to avoid the food.

Many people will skip breakfast or lunch on Thanksgiving Day, thinking it will allow more room in their bellies and reduce food intake for the day. That couldn't be further from the truth, Holum says.

"You're setting yourself up to fail," she says. "You'll come to the table so hungry that you're almost sure to overeat."

Holum also recommends not sampling everything the spread has to offer.

"At the meal, choose your favorites and pass on the things that aren't." Don't worry about being thought rude for declining to try a certain dish.

And if the meal is buffet-style, use a napkin instead of a plate. The napkin can hold less food and will limit intake. That is, of course, if the temptation to go back for seconds can be overcome.

Holum recommends getting away from the food after the first helping.

"Set up a card game. Go outside and throw a football around with the kids.

"Brush your teeth."

A fresh, clean mouth gives the feeling of being finished and reduces temptation to have more. And who wants their cranberries to taste like Colgate?

"It's little things you can do," Holum says.

Don't skip exercise

The holiday season is busy, but reducing exercise for lack of time is a no-no for anyone committed to a healthy diet or weight loss.

"We should be increasing (exercise)," Holum says.

Nutrition Therapy does focus primarily on food intake, but exercise is a vital aspect of keeping a healthy weight and body.

"Weight always comes down to calories consumed versus calories burned," she says.

Some of the patients who come through the program are year-round participants who struggle with healthy eating habits, sometimes because of health problems or conditions. But many enlist the help of the professionals there because of holiday overeating, sudden unwanted weight gain or rising blood pressure.

And it's important to lose any excess holiday feast weight in a healthy way, Holum warns. Some people turn to extreme, low-calorie diets that are deficient in many nutrients, or over-the-counter diet pills and supplements that make big promises, but don't deliver. Fad diets are another culprit, leaving the body malnourished and nutrients imbalanced.

The human body needs a healthy balance of nutrition and well-timed, healthy weight loss.

So plan ahead and avoid the guilt -- and gut.

"It's much easier to prevent (holiday season weight gain) than try to take it off," Holum says.