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Battling Holiday Weight Gain

Dr. Christopher Ray
Dr. Christopher Ray

By Sam Baker, KERA Morning Edition Host

Dallas, TX –

Thanksgiving's past with plenty of Christmas, New Year's and holiday party food and drink still ahead. But in our KERA Health Checkup, Dr. Christopher Ray of the Center for Healthy Living and Longevity at the University of Texas at Arlington told Sam Baker you can avoid the potential weight gain by keeping track of the calories you intake and balancing them with exercise - or just plain simple movement.

Dr. Ray: A lot of diets over the years have focused on excluding food groups or certain types of food. I tend to believe that's a more difficult way to go about it. For example, if you enjoy pecan pie around the holidays, by all means have some pecan pie. But at the end of the day, you need to account for that calorically. That means reducing sedentary time or

Sam: So exercise is key here?

Dr. Ray: We can try to get people engaged in vigorous or moderate activity, but it's just decreasing sedentary time.

Sam: Now you yourself practice this notion of caloric balance. So, what all do you go through to maintain this?

Dr. Ray: I've lost somewhere around 50 pounds over the last three years. The big catalyst for that was when I started being evidenced-based in my approach. What I think the misnomer is is that it's difficult to count our calories. But now with technology and the use of smartphones, there's a lot of apps people can use whether you're at a restaurant. There's apps that allow you to scan the UPC code just like when you're at the grocery store just as you're checking out. It actually scans and gives you the nutrient densities, the serving size, everything of the food you're about to consume. It takes a minute a meal to log your calorie intake, even less than that to log an activity. If I were to go out and run for 30 minutes, I can simply say "My activity. Run. 30 minutes." It might ask me my pace and it estimates on my height and weight and my age my caloric expenditure. If I'm up and I've consumed too many calories, then I can simply supplement my activity - maybe going on a walk with my family or do some housework.

Sam: Just how much activity do you have to expend to burn off that pound?

Dr. Ray: If you are carrying a little bit of extra weight, weight loss early on can be a little easier because of that extra weight. A 150 pound individual versus a 250 pound individual, if they're on a cycle or cycling at the gym at the same rate, they're burning that same number of calories. If they're walking or running or if they're doing elliptical - because that's weight-bearing - that 250 pound individual has an extra burn because of that weight they're carrying. As an example, I would say, a 250 pound individual could burn somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 to 400 calories for 30 minutes of elliptical time. You know, like a low-impact aerobic activity. That 300 to 400 calories can make a big difference. But just increasing the number of steps we take in a day, that also can burn another 300 to 400 calories.

Sam: The food that we eat - you're saying we need to make more sensible choices. Are there things, though, that we should avoid?

Dr. Ray: I'm not a big restrictive person, but we do, as a general rule, want to avoid high sodium foods, usually packaged and processed foods. Saturated fat. You know, those are the creams and the butters and the fried foods.

Sam: All the fun stuff.

Dr. Ray: Right. And we want to increase our dietary fiber in our diet. Those are our fruits and vegetables.

Sam: Alcohol?

Dr. Ray: What I get concerned with with alcohol is the ancillary behavior associated with it. We do see increased salt, saturated fat foods. People tend to crave those when they consume alcohol.

Sam: Sweets?

Dr. Ray: If you enjoy it, pre-plan. You know make sure you go to the gym in the morning. After dinner, maybe before dessert, go for a walk with a spouse. Sometimes, it's nice to get out of the house when you have a lot of family around. Those are opportunities we have to kind of increase our activity, increase our expenditure and avoid that holiday weight gain.

Dr. Christopher Ray is director of the Center for Healthy Living and Longevity at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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