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Body image and healthy eating over the holidays -- it's about balance

Holiday weight gain is real -- but so is the media's obsession with it.

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Don't let the media control you

"Not everything you read or hear is good or bad," says Andy Fry, assistant director of Fitness/Wellness at Indiana University Campus Recreational Sports in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Fry said to remember that it takes the consumption of 3,500 extra calories in one week -- the equivalent of 500 extra calories a day -- to gain one pound in a week. A piece of pecan pie or a cup of green bean casserole or two mixed drinks amount to around 500 calories. Walking for a mile burns 100 calories.

"We are a society of extremes: We either exercise too much or too little or we consume too much or not enough," Fry said. "Think of the long-term as opposed to the short-term. One meal is not going make someone end up being obese; one meal is not going to make them fat."

Need some perspective on holiday weight gain? Here are some more tips from Fry as well as members of the Coalition for Overcoming Problem Eating/Exercise (C.O.P.E), psychologist Chris Meno and Megan Duracka, a predoctoral psychology intern at IU's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), a division of the IU Health Center.

Don't let the media control you

"It is important to not only balance diet and exercise, but also media exposure," Duracka said.

Limit your exposure to messages about diet and weight gain during the holidays. Recognize that change is an inevitable part of life and our bodies fluctuate on a daily basis. Accept this as a part of our biology, and any change you feel over the holidays does not mean it is permanent. Learn to be patient with yourself and your body. If you are watching TV and a commercial that promotes weight loss comes on simply change the channel."

Duracka suggests that when people feel bombarded with these messages they should participate in another activity, such as walking or assisting a family member with a task.

"Be aware that the media -- as well as others -- naturally influences us on a day-to-day basis," she said. "Be aware of this influence. And try to limit the number of times we allow ourselves to compare and feel judged."

Focus on your strengths

"Choose to reflect on other parts of yourself -- other than your body -- that make you who you are," Meno said.

Meno suggests focusing on other aspects of your life, such as family, during the holidays. "The holidays are often a time to reflect on what we are thankful for," Meno said.

Censor negative talk -- and thoughts

Limit comments and discussions about body and weight.

"If you notice that you are experiencing negative thoughts or voicing them out loud, recognize it in the moment, stop and forgive yourself," Duracka said. "At that moment it is important and often helpful to push yourself to make a positive statement about your body to 'balance out' the self-critical statement."

However, Meno acknowledges that it is a challenge not to discuss food (such as off-handed remarks like "You shouldn't eat that") especially during the holidays. "Don't make comments about yourself or other people's weight and body," Meno said.

If the topic of weight and body comes up in conversation, Duracka suggests changing the subject or promoting positive body image.

It's all about balance

Duracka said to remember that there are no "good" or "bad" foods, which means you can incorporate a variety of foods including sweets. "Enjoy eating for health, hunger and satisfaction," Duracka said. "The holiday is just another opportunity to nourish our bodies."

And remember, Meno said, "Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full." But Meno said this often is easier said than done. "This seems like common sense, but it takes practice."

Fry suggests practicing portion control during the holiday season. He acknowledges that during the holidays people often eat hardy home cooking throughout the day. "You need to realize you are going to have another meal, then a next meal and then a next," he said. "You are going to cheat on a meal here or there.

Fry warns that it is not necessarily the food the makes you put on the pounds -- it is staying sedentary. "You need to look at it through a balanced lens," he said. "You have to balance your caloric intake with caloric expenditure."

Exercise without any pressure

Fry suggests following a normal exercise regimen if you already have one -- and to plan your exercise schedule ahead of time. But Fry said, you don't need to run for miles to get a workout.

"Participate in physical activities with your family and friends," he said. "Take a walk. Play a game of soccer. This will be just as much fun -- if not more -- than sitting around the table talking and eating." And many mundane activities, such as shopping, incorporate physical activity because of the walking involved. "Just don't eat the mall food," Fry warns.

Give the scale a rest

Nothing will ruin your holiday high more than the number on the scale. "Imagine what it would be like spending a day, week or month without a scale measuring your self-esteem and influencing your mood," Duracka said.

Yes, the holidays are a time for miracles. But there is still no quick-fix weight loss solution.

There are many quick-fix diets out there that claim to help you lose weight before, during and after the holidays. But beware, Fry said. "These are just new packaging for an old trick." Since quick-fix diets such as a pill or a drink do not make you change your habits, they will not create long-term results.

Yo-yo dieting, Fry said, puts a lot of pressure no the heart. Diet fads, said Meno, may be based off of little or no research and are not even endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration. "Respect your body and be mindful of the harm these quick-fix products can do to your body," she said.

For more information about C.O.P.E., please visit

To read more articles from Campus Recreational Sports in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, visit