ADVENTURES IN FOOD AND FITNESS: Red, green and lean — How some people manage to lose weight during the holidays

Matt Wilson, second from left, weighed 452 pounds when he started the Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner program in 2016. (Courtesy photo)
Matt Wilson closed out 2016 147.8 pounds lighter than he started the year. (Courtesy photo)
Quinton Horton turned to his sister Brittany Horton for help when he needed to lose weight to reverse his type 2 diabetes. Brittany, who lost more than 200 pounds, shared her story on national TV when she appeared on "The Harry Show" in February. (Courtesy photo)
Quinton Horton felt like a new man during the 2016 holiday season after losing 85 pounds. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Personal trainer and power lifter Lalane Burhenn challenged herself to drop a weight class for a competition during this year's holiday season. Here she assists a client at the Jorgensen YMCA over the summer. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Longtime local Weight Watchers leader Debbie Powers, left, lost 100 pounds as a teenager in the 1970s. (News-Sentinel file photo)

With the holiday feasting season upon us, personal trainer Lalane Burhenn has been advising clients to fill up on veggies, lean meats and water.

“Don’t go to the dessert area until you’re full,” admonishes the Jorgensen YMCA employee.

Burhenn is even tougher on herself. As a competitive power lifter trying to drop into a lower weight class, she’s been avoiding sweets entirely – and eating sparingly after a large but low-carb lunch.

“This woman is going to control herself,” Burhenn vowed two days before Thanksgiving. By the following Monday, she was three pounds lighter.

It’s not like Burhenn isn’t into the holiday spirit. She was wearing sparkly green nail polish last week at the Y, and recently donned a Santa hat for a Facebook selfie.

For her, setting up a personal challenge adds to the excitement of the season. A meaningful goal transcends the temptation of instant gratification.

Here are some other tips from people who’ve experienced what some might call a Christmas miracle – losing weight during the holidays.

NO EXCUSES

Matt Wilson closed out 2016 nearly 150 pounds lighter than the previous January. This year he’s struggled to increase his weight loss while traveling for work, but he refuses to let up just because it’s December.

“Personally, for me, it’s knowing it’s times like this that got me to where I used to be,” Wilson says. “The holidays were just another excuse for my poor habits.”

Identifying his blind spots while participating in Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner, where he was the record-setting season nine champion, has been life-changing, he says.

This holiday season, Wilson intends to stay hydrated, eat plenty of salads and plan some kind of activity after meals.

But he will also enjoy a few of his seasonal favorites – in moderation – “because everyone is human.”

TOOLS OF TRANSFORMATION

It took 2005 Snider graduate Brittany Horton three years to lose 208 pounds after being denied health insurance in 2012 because of her size.

Since then, Horton, a respiratory therapist in Nashville, Tenn., has learned not to panic when she returns to Fort Wayne for holiday gatherings.

“Thanksgiving was somewhat of a challenge because my mom is such a good cook,” she said. “But I did well and worked out every day that I was at home, so that really helped.”

Besides increasing the intensity of her workouts to account for eating more, Horton uses a food-tracking app, monitors alcohol intake and limits high-carbohydrate foods.

She’s also learned not to give up if her willpower fails.

“Consistency is key for me,” she told Harry Connick Jr. when she she shared her story on NBC’s “The Harry Show” in February 2017. “If I mess up at one meal, I just make sure I get right back on it the next meal or the next day.”

Horton coached her brother to an 85-pound loss as well, which helped the Lincoln Financial employee get off the insulin he was taking for type 2 diabetes.

For Quinton Horton, Thanksgiving 2016 was the highlight of his transformation, when he performed with his old hip-hop band again, the Hometown Hooligans, after several years of feeling he was too heavy to take the stage.

“Pick your battles,” he advises. “Try to continue eating healthy in between events and big dinners that involve consumption of junk food.”

He thinks it’s especially important to monitor your weight this time of year.

“Yes, the scale will probably be all over the place. But at least you can make adjustments in real time before letting things spin out of control.”

SHARING THEIR SUCCESS

You’d think a post-Thanksgiving Weight Watchers meeting might be a gloomy affair. But at Debbie Powers’ Nov. 26 meeting at Northcrest Shopping Center, well over half the class registered a loss.

“In 34 years as a leader, I don’t think I’ve ever had a group with this much success after Thanksgiving,” Powers said.

As Powers quizzed members what helped them triumph over temptation, one woman who hosted a dinner said she used small serving spoons to scoop out a taste of everything that looked good.

“There was space between everything on my plate,” she said. “Nothing was touching.”

Powers’ aunt, Frances Milan, reported that she ate a plate of steamed vegetables before attending this year’s feast at a relative’s house. She was down three pounds.

A woman named Karen took fruit and veggies to her family’s gathering so there would be safe foods to snack on. She skipped the mashed potatoes so she could savor her Aunt Cheryl’s stuffing, a once-a-year treat.

“Normally I get a whole plate of desserts,” she said. “But this year I only had half a pumpkin roll. It was empowering.”

One member who gained a half-pound wished she’d eaten something healthy and filling before she started cooking for 30 guests. Snacking during feast prep used up all her extra points the day before Thanksgiving.

“I feel like I should’ve been better prepared,” she said. “But now I’m motivated to do a better job at Christmas.”

Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at tischcaylor@gmail.com. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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