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[December 23, 2008]  SPRINGFIELD -- In an effort to combat holiday weight gain, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold encourages Illinoisans to avoid overeating this holiday season and make a pact to eat healthy and exercise.

"It is important to recognize the harmful and potential long-term effects that holiday weight gain can have on your body. Excessive weight can lead to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Gaining unnecessary pounds now, makes it more difficult to shed the weight down the road," said Arnold.

According to the National Institute of Health, most people gain approximately 1 pound every holiday season. Research shows that extra weight often gained during the holidays tends to build up over the years, contributing to long-term obesity.

Currently, 142 million Americans age 20 and older are overweight or obese; more than 67 million are obese.

The Department of Public Health recommends the following healthy habits this holiday season:

  • Be active -- If you exercise regularly, don't stop; continue to exercise over the holidays. If a holiday party includes dancing, join in!

  • Schedule feasting times -- If possible, schedule holiday dinners at normal meal times. Having meals outside of normal meal times contributes to overeating.

  • Watch what you drink -- When you're at a holiday celebration, avoid soda and other sweetened beverages. A 12-ounce can of soda can have more than 150 calories. A 16-ounce glass of punch or lemonade can have over 200 calories. Stay away from natural fruit juices -- they also carry many calories. It is best to drink water whenever possible. Diet beverages made with artificial sweeteners can help you control your calories at celebrations, although drinking them on a regular basis may not help with long-term weight control.

  • Beware of alcohol -- Alcohol can be a major source of hidden calories as well. A single shot of liquor, about 2 ounces, is nearly 125 calories. A 5-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce glass of beer is about 160. Sweet mixed drinks have even more calories. An 8-ounce margarita, for example, has 240 calories. Some good alternatives are cocoa instead of eggnog, champagne that is low in calories or a bloody mary.

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  • Food choices -- Choose foods that are lower in energy density, meaning they have fewer calories for their size. You'll feel fuller sooner and take in fewer calories. For example, start out your meal with a salad or soup. Skip the second helpings of stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy; go for more vegetables instead. If you're bringing dessert, serve angel food cake, gingerbread or fruit instead of brownies, pound cake or chocolate cake.

  • Try to avoid high-fat foods -- Fat in itself may not be the key to weight control, as people once thought, but it does have high energy density. If you cut back on foods that are high in fat, you'll likely cut down on the calories. So use low-fat or skim milk instead of whole milk or half-and-half. Skip the butter. Eat your turkey without the skin. And cut away the visible fat from meats.

  • Eat a healthy snack before a holiday celebration -- Eating a snack helps to avoid overeating at a big holiday dinner. Also, use smaller plates when they're available; bigger plates encourage taking larger food portions and eating larger quantities of food than small plates.

[Text from Illinois Department of Public Health file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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