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Football fans gain average of 10 pounds during regular season, poll finds

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Football season ends Sunday night with the Super Bowl, and besides mourning (or rejoicing) your team’s final outcome, there may be more to deal with come Monday– weight gain.

An online Harris Interactive survey of 1,283 football fans found that 25 percent of respondents said they gained weight during the football season. The average gain was 10 pounds and 16 percent of fans admitted they gained 20 pounds or more.

While football season does overlap with the holidays, the poll, which was sponsored by Nutrisystem, does show startling results.

“The average weight gain over the holiday season is about three pounds. Yes, football season is a lot longer, but 10 pounds is a lot of weight,” Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told FoxNews.com. “I actually wouldn’t have expected it to be so significant.”

According to Nutrisystem, the company gets double the orders of their men's program the day after the Super Bowl compared to the average day, and they receive double the amount of orders from men than they do on the day after New Year’s.

“[It’s] kind of a delayed New Year’s Eve for football fans…a natural finish line at the end of the season, just like there is at the end of the year,” Dr. Anthony Fabricatore, vice president of research and development at Nutrisystem, told FoxNews.com. “The day after [the Super Bowl] becomes a New Year’s Day of sorts to people who’ve put their New Year’s resolution on hold.”

Several factors may lead to weight gain during football season.

“There’s less chance for physical activity, a lot of calorically-dense food and an environment where [this type of eating] is normal,” said Ochner, who is also a research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center.

Gaining a large amount of weight can potentially affect metabolism and weight loss abilities. But the real danger is that many people never end up losing the weight, especially if they are heavier. For heavier men, losing 10 pounds doesn’t show a difference in their bodies, making them less motivated to try, Ochner said.

“If you’re gaining 10 pounds a year… you’re massively increasing your risk of early mortality,” Ochner said.  Normal weight gain is 1/2 to 1 pound a year.

To work toward a healthy weight, follow these tips:

1) Be aware of what you’re eating
It’s fine to splurge now and then, but be aware of the food you’re putting in your body and keep things in the guard rail.  Know what your major offenders are, such as chicken wings with ranch dressing, meat and cheese-loaded pizza, and chips and dip.

2) Eat what you love, but make small changes
Don’t restrict yourself from your favorite foods. Instead, find ways to make the foods you enjoy a little healthier. Try fat-free condiments and salad dressings. Those little changes will save hundreds of calories, but you won’t notice. According to Ochner, studies have shown that people can’t differentiate between foods made with low-fat and non-fat ingredients.

“If you can’t tell the difference, you’re just getting love handles for no reason,” he said.

3) Don’t think about it as a “diet”
A “diet” implies you’re doing something in order to achieve a goal, and then you’ll quit when you’re done. Instead, think about making nutrition choices that you can keep up for the rest of your life. The average diet only lasts three months. To maintain sustainable changes, focus on changes that won’t make you feel limited.

“When people start feeling restricted and notice they’re missing calories, basically the clock is ticking [to failure],” Ochner said.

Check with your physician before starting a weight loss program. One to two pounds per week is healthy, but focus more on nutrition than the number on the scale. Physical fitness will help, but your weight will follow what you eat, Ochner said.