OTTUMWA — Being healthy, maintaining weight and burning off calories can be a challenge during the holidays, but Ottumwa YMCA and Active Ottumwa don’t believe it has to be.

YMCA Membership/Marketing Director Garrett Ross said there are many ways a person can maintain healthy habits. The YMCA is having a “Maintain Don’t Gain Challenge” and a “Turkey Burn Off Challenge.”

People can sign up for “Maintain Don’t Gain” until Nov. 26. They pay a $10 fee, get weighed in by a YMCA staff member, then weigh in again between Jan. 2-12. If a person maintains their weight, their name goes in for a prize drawing. If a person loses weight, then their name can go in twice for the prize drawing. The second challenge takes place from 9-11:30 a.m. Black Friday at the YMCA, offering special exercise classes.

The purpose of the two challenges?

“We give people so many opportunities and options for people to work out,” Ross said, “so whether you’re a weight lifter or whether you’re a body stepper, we just want to encourage people to stay active over the holiday season.”

Ross said a primary way a person can maintain their weight over the holiday season is to control their calorie intake and eat before a large holiday gathering.

“Which is weird,” Ross said with a chuckle, “but really what you do at that point — we know there’s going to be copious amounts of some kind of meat, turkey, ham, any of those things. There’s going to be green bean casserole, there’s going to be mashed potatoes, there’s going to be rolls, there’s going to be butter galore.

“Eating before you go to the event helps,” Ross said, “so you don’t walk into the event really really hungry. It’s kind of like the tip — you never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry because you buy everything. This way you do a much better control of controlling the calorie intake you have.”

Ross said controlling what you drink helps, too. Water is best. There are also alternative drink options like silk nog instead of eggnog. For alcoholic drinks, moderation is key.

Going for a walk after a meal helps promote digestion, keeps a person moving and burns off calories. Starting a fitness regime helps, too. Once a person establishes an exercise plan, then they can move in moderation instead of clinging to an ambitious plan they might not be able to keep.

“Getting active and healthy doesn’t have to start in the gym,” he said. “It’s important over the holiday season, especially in Iowa with unpredictable weather of trying to find ways to stay active, even when it’s cold outside. Brisk exercise improves a person’s mood.”

Registered Dietitian and Active Ottumwa Leader Becky Graeve agreed. She said a person should rely on habit formation. “It takes anywhere between three to six weeks to establish a new habit,” she said, “a way a person can tackle that is to focus your efforts on that. It’s a lot about having a SMART goal — specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely.”

Having an accountability partner, Ross said, such as a friend can also make a huge difference. Ross wasn’t talking about “aggressive accountability,” but rather “friendly accountability.” He used the example of knocking at a person’s house and saying something along the lines of ‘I was walking my dog the other day. I came by your house and you were supposed to come out [for the walk].’”

The ultimate changer in maintaining weight or burning off calories is to treat it as a lifestyle. Stress, for instance, can be a health-risk factor. Ross said a person should try to find an activity that alleviates stress or lets them “roll down their shoulders at the end of a day.”

“Health means mind, body and spirit,” Ross said. “That’s the YMCA mission; we put Christian principles into practice through programs that help the mind, body and spirit. It’s a three-legged stool. Without one of those legs, it falls.”

Healthy habits don’t end at Thanksgiving. Graeve said it’s a lifestyle that should not end at the holidays.

“Is there ever an endpoint?” Grave asked. “It’s a road [a healthy lifestyle]. It’s a journey of constantly trying to work on our habits, you know improving our eating and refining what we know.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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