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December 13, 2002


Don't Gain Weight Over the Holidays:
It Will Do Your Heart Good

ATLANTA -- If the words "plump" and "stuffed" and "full of goodies" make you think of holiday turkeys and buffet tables, you might be better off thinking about your waist line. Several studies show that pounds packed on over the holidays are rarely lost. In fact, excess toasting to the New Year and gobbling goodies may be reasons Americans are getting fatter and staying fatter. According to two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies, Americans are now heavier than ever --- and nearly a third of us are now classified as obese.

"That's very troubling because being overweight significantly raises the risk for heart disease and other chronic health problems including hypertension, diabetes and some forms of cancer," says Laurence Sperling, MD, who directs the Emory Heart Center's HeartWise Risk Reduction Program.

Does that mean you have to pass up all holiday treats? Thankfully, the answer is no, according to Neil F. Gordon, MD, PhD, President of INTERVENT USA, an individualized lifestyle management program which provides one-on-one counseling on weight control through the Emory Heart Center in Atlanta, as well as via the Web ( and by telephone. "Of course, people want to enjoy the holidays. And the food at this time of year brings back wonderful memories. Simply depriving yourself isn't going to work, " he says. "Instead, you need to plan in advance how you will deal with parties and other healthy eating pitfalls."

Gordon cites weight control behavioral strategies that have been successfully used by INTERVENT USA. "Drinking adequate amounts of water will help you feel full, too. You can taste everything but focus on smaller potions. Fill your buffet plate with fruits and vegetables first and you'll have less space for the higher calorie foods. And make the decision to drink less alcohol, which tends to make us less able to control what we want to do," Gordon suggests. "Volunteer to bring a favorite holiday dish to a party, but prepare it in a healthy way with less fat and sugar. And make an agreement with yourself ahead of time that you will not allow someone to cajole you into eating more than you should - be pleasant but decline. "

Another important holiday weight control tip: be physically active. "Increasing your activity in the winter months can potentially make a big difference in whether you gain weight or not," says Emory Heart Center preventive cardiologist Dr. Sperling.

Dr. Sperling also advises weighing yourself every morning. "If you start gaining back three to five pounds, you need to get realistic about what you're doing and watch your food choices and portions and activity levels," he explains. "Regular physical activity is key to keeping weight off. So look for opportunities over the holidays be more active - park your car farther away from the mall door than you have to so you walk further, for example. Take a break from a party and walk around the block. Just a brisk walk will rev your metabolism and keep you burning more calories for four to six hours afterwards."

The Emory Heart Center is comprised of all cardiology services and research at Emory University Hospital (EUH), Emory Crawford Long Hospital (ECLH) Carlyle Fraser Heart Center, the Andreas Gruentzig Cardiovascular Center of Emory University and the Emory Clinic. Ranked in the top ten of U.S. News & World Report's annual survey of the nation's best Heart Centers, the Emory Heart Center has a rich history of excellence in all areas of cardiology - including education, research and patient care. It is also internationally recognized as one of the birthplaces of modern interventional cardiology.

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