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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Calories from extra holiday treats far from harmless

Wina Sturgeon McClatchy-Tribune

This is for all of you over the age of 50 – especially the men. If you don’t want your belly to balloon over the winter, especially during the holidays, watch your nibbles.

Thoughtless nibbling can, and will, pack on the pounds. It’s so easy at this time of year, because all kinds of food is shared. From the foil-wrapped chocolate balls in candy dishes on desks or kitchen counters, to the offer to grab a fist full of that delicious smelling microwave popcorn, little bits of calories are everywhere. They add up quickly.

Suppose you help yourself to six of those little chocolate balls in one day. The caloric count of that treat ranges between 220 and 250 calories. Suppose you do it every day for two weeks. That’s a whole pound’s worth of calories. Worse, the sugar and fats in that chocolate will probably be stored as fat.

Then there is the abundance of seasonal comfort food. Mounds of mashed potatoes fattened up with butter or gravy. Rich gooey cakes with thick layers of lard-like sweet icing. Dinner invitations double and triple, and a lot more alcohol than usual is consumed.

Some facts you may not know about alcohol: it may stimulate your appetite. So it may make you eat more calories, while dumping calories down your gullet. For example, a beer has about 130 calories, a small glass of wine contains about 75, and one shot of hard liquor holds almost 100 calories. There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat.

Don’t think you’re doing yourself a diet favor by switching to smoothies or juice drinks. They’re just as packed with calories as alcohol. Thus, combining cream or juices with alcohol for a flavored drink is a double whammy. And, because alcohol is more often consumed in a social setting, you don’t even work it off. So the liquid calories are even more easily stored as – you guessed it – fat.

There are two big problems with winter fat storage. First, fat has a lot more volume than muscle. Muscle is much more dense. So a pound of fat takes up more room than a pound of muscle. You may not see fat storage showing up on a scale, but your clothing will be tighter. There may be a new little gap between shirt buttons. The waistband of your jeans may need a slightly harder tug to close. But these are subtle signals, easy to ignore.

The second problem mostly affects those over 50: the taste buds lose their sensitivity. You may not be able to taste spices like nutmeg or paprika. In addition, there are a lot of parties and social occasions at this time of year, so you may not be getting the same amount of exercise as you did during the warmer months.

At the same time, many folks are making New Year’s resolutions about getting in shape, so they crowd into gyms. It’s tough to work out when you know all the treadmills will be taken and all the machines will be sweaty. Going for a brisk walk on a gray slushy day is even less inviting.

Preventing winter weight gain under these circumstances is hard. It requires two kinds of discipline – appetite control plus a sweaty, unsavory workout. But here’s the bonus: fat that is quickly gained can be quickly lost. It’s only when you maintain that extra fat for a few months that the body adjusts to it, and it becomes more difficult to lose.

If you’ve been over actively snacking or gobbling or imbibing, increasing your self-control for just a week or two may bring down the thickness of the fat layer you’ve recently put on. Getting some active exercise, however reluctant you may be to do it, also reduces the fat while it’s still easy to lose.

Do it now, so you’ll be glad to put on shorts and a tank top when the weather turns warm.