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Delete that extra pound this year

Are you ready? I have good news and bad. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that "Americans gain about a pound of weight during the winter holiday season."

That's good — because in the past we've heard average weight gain was much higher—"between five and 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day."

But here's the bad news — really bad. "Weight gained over the winter holidays isn't lost during the rest of the year."

Let's say we overeat at Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season and gain weight, but maybe we're more active in the spring, probably eating less mashed potatoes and gravy, and we lose some of that weight. That's good. But apparently about one pound a year of holiday eating, starting about age 40, stays on our behinds and thighs until, at age 70 "… well, you get the picture.

Weight we pick up during the festive-eating season hangs around our hips and mid-section, gradually adding to our bulk — slowly but surely into the indefinite future. It affects, year by year, how we look and feel and it has the potential to create significant mobility challenges and disease complications in later life. This reality came upon me like a small epiphany while I was preparing for a class on arthritis management. I became vividly aware of the direct relationship between the complications of arthritis and the extra weight we carry on our bodies.

Let me quote from a recent Johns Hopkins University publication that focused entirely on "Arthritis" (worth ordering by the way www.JohnsHopkinsHealthAlert.com/bookstore). There's "an overwhelming association between "body mass index" (the best indicator of overweight) and significant knee, hip and back pain." (you can calculate your body mass index at www.aarp.org/BMI-Calculator If yours is over 25, keep reading.)

Here's the most important finding: the really good news is that it does not take very much weight loss to decrease your risk of problems with arthritis."

According to the Johns Hopkins publication, "studies show that overweight or obese women who lose as little as 11 pounds cut their risk of knee osteoarthritis in half."

Are you still with me? I'm not suggesting you avoid mashed potatoes and gravy forever and lose 11 pounds as soon as possible. I am suggesting this year, for a change, you do not gain that extra pound. Weigh yourself right now and proceed accordingly.

Have colorful, healthful snacks readily available in a front-and-center area of your fridge over the next month. And remember carrot, celery and green pepper sticks can be as easily dipped in hummus as in ranch dressing. If you're going to be a guest somewhere, make your dish-to-pass a healthful one. Once you arrive at the table, scan the food options before digging in — prioritize. If you don't absolutely love something — don't eat it. Savor flavors. Take small portions — and the recommendation to chew each bite of food 20 to 30 times is definitely worth considering.

Or how about this? One healthy-eating expert encourages us to "Party hard this holiday season — focus on family, friends and activities, rather than food."

Let's do that.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.