This is a frenetic time of year for most people and even the most dedicated person can be thrown off his or her healthy lifestyle plan. Social events seem to revolve around tables full of food and drinks, and all-day shopping sprees find people eating in the mall food court — or worse. Exercise time gets replaced with parties, shopping and family visits. It would be easy for the fitness professional to give in to the wave of good tidings, but I believe we would be doing a disservice to our clients. Certainly we want our clients to enjoy this time of year, but there are ways to help them keep things in check.

Holding a contest challenging clients to maintain their weight during the holidays can be extremely effective. The original concept is to have your clients weigh in the week before Thanksgiving and then weigh out during the first week of January. Those people who maintained weight within two pounds (to account for scale error) get placed into a random drawing for a prize. The prize needs to be relatively significant. One other piece of the contest is to send out weekly motivational e-mails to the participants. Important: To retain participant anonymity when you build your e-mail address list, send the e-mail to yourself and blind copy the participants.

Because you are receiving this issue of Club Industry after Thanksgiving, you could modify the contest this year and challenge clients to get back on track immediately after the holidays. Much of the holiday weight gain occurs because people tend to extend the holiday celebration well into the New Year. You could run a contest that challenges them to maintain their weight during the month of January. Once your clients are successfully maintaining their weight, then you can realistically begin focusing on weight loss in February and March.

Here are several points you will want to share with your clients through flyers, bulletin boards, e-mails or discussion:

  • Don't try to diet. Your goal should be to maintain weight, not lose it.
  • When shopping, pre-plan several quick, healthy snacks and have them readily available (pack a small cooler and leave it in the car).
  • Offer to bring a favorite healthy dish to holiday parties, so you know there will be at least one “safe” item for you to eat.
  • Stand far away from buffets so you're not tempted to constantly nibble.
  • Don't completely cut out high-fat, high-sugar holiday favorites. Instead, choose small portions after filling your plate with healthier options.
  • Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to overeating and overdrinking, so eat a small snack before going to a social event and alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
  • You need exercise more at this time of year than at any other time. Exercise burns calories and also lessens stress, which commonly leads to overeating.
  • Invite visiting friends and family to go to the gym with you.
  • Take long walks before or after a meal.
  • National statistics range, but most tell us that people gain an average of five to eight pounds during the holiday season. You can help your clients stay focused by establishing the underlying theme of “moderation” during the holidays — not deprivation. If you tell your clients to abstain from eating cookies and gravy, you will lose them completely. Instead, lower the bar just a bit and encourage your clients to maintain their weight and keep exercising.

    Christine Karpinski, M.A., R.D., owns Nutrition Edge Inc. in Wilmington, DE. She is a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist. She can be reached at www.nutritionedge.net; or by phone at 302-656-FOOD.