You don’t want to be standing on the scale after the holidays and wondering what happened. We want to avoid that problem. Holiday weight gain: everyone thinks about and everyone fears it. Is it inevitable? What can you do to avoid it? How do YOU make the best choices?
Here are a few statistics. It’s often stated that the average person gains 3-5 pounds during the holidays. But, this is not true. The average American does gain about 1.1 lbs. during an entire year. So, it doesn’t take that many years to start getting into some problems. About 10% of the population gains greater than 5 pounds in a year. This is typically the population that I see. One of the problems is that it’s not just the entire year. About 80% of the weight occurs during the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. A significant proportion of people (my patient population) will gain a significant amount of weight during a year. And, most of this occurs over the holidays.
There are a lot of factors that lead to overeating during the holidays. There are a lot of social gatherings. We get together for social functions over the holidays with friends and family and it usually revolves around food. The holidays tend to bring about more stress (family, gift buying, decorating). The stress can lead to exhaustion and we make poor food choices. There’s a lot more emotional eating during the holidays. We can be sad, depressed, or stressed. Cold weather causes us to desire comfort food. One of the issues is the food around the holidays tastes good! It’s very palatable and it’s everywhere! Cookies everywhere! Plenty of temptation. Often there are treats that only come out during the holidays.
How do you avoid that holiday weight gain? I like to look at what I call the 3 basic pillars of weight management. The three pillars are: eating (home and at parties), exercise, and behavior modification. We’re going to look at these three things and how we can use them to help us.
Eating is the biggest one. Don’t skip breakfast. A couple of good studies have shown when people don’t eat breakfast they tend to eat more by the end of the day then what they normally would. The exception is if your breakfast is going to be a high carbohydrate meal. You’re better off skipping breakfast. If you start off with a carbohydrate breakfast, you’re going to end up eating more during the day. If you have a good protein start to your day you’ll actually eat less during the day. Recruit family and friends to help you. Let them know you’re trying to lose weight and you need their support. Typically they will be supportive if they know about it. Hopefully they want try and sabotage you. You might need to avoid them for a period of time. At home you might need to have an “off limits” area for yourself. If you have treats in the house for other family members that could tempt you, place them in an “off limits” area. Make it a rule that you won’t go into that off limits area. If you don’t make that rule, it makes it harder to avoid temptation. Don’t purchase or make the things that tempt you the most. If you need to make holiday cookies for your child to take to school, make ones you don’t typically like. Use the “catch and release” program. If someone brings you cookies, try one, and they immediately give it away. Get it out of the house.
A different scenario is eating at parties/functions. They’re occurring all the time during that 6 week period over the holidays. Here are some things to do to help protect you. Don’t go hungry. The last thing you want to do is show up at a holiday party starving because then you’re going to eat everything. Eat something healthy before you go. Bring a healthy choice with you so you know you’re going to have something you can eat. Increase the water. Water loading makes us feel full. It doesn’t last very long but it can prevent over eating. Use small plates and small utensils. If you use smaller plates and smaller utensils you will eat less. This has been shown in multiple studies for multiple years. Watch the alcohol for numerous reasons. It has a lot of calories in it. Also watch the high calorie drinks like egg nog. We tend to get that “drinking amnesia” where we forget that we had drinks and don’t consider all the calories involved. Alcohol releases inhibitions and we tend to eat more. Do the “walkabout” first. Look around at all the food and figure out what you’re going to have. Choose the good protein sources and colorful veggies. Choose your poison carefully. You can choose some things you don’t get to eat often. Complete deprivation doesn’t work well. I’m not a big fan of deprivation diets. If you tell yourself you can never eat something, you’re going to fall off the wagon at some point and go crazy. Have the mindset that you can be happy with just a small portion of the food. Don’t stay in the room that has the food in it. Get your food and leave the room. Eat in another room. Keep your hands full (not food related). You’re less likely to eat if your hands are full. Hold your drink in your dominant hand. Most people don’t eat very well with their non-dominant hand. These little tricks can be very helpful in avoiding the dietary disasters of the holidays.
Exercise to avoid weight gain. In encourage people to schedule their workouts. This is the time to go more intense. You’ll boost your metabolism somewhat. You might get a little more leeway with your eating. Make sure you’re doing the weight training. After you’re done eating go for a brisk walk. Get out of the chair and move as opposed to just moving to the couch to watch TV. You could buy yourself an early Christmas present and purchase some personal training sessions. It will keep you accountable. It can help you into the New Year getting your exercise on track.
There are behavior aspects to avoid weight gain over the holidays. Plan! It’s especially important if you’re going to travel and visit family. Once we get out of our usual environment and have less control, it’s important to plan ahead. A lot of these social things revolve around eating. It’s good to revise your recipes. Nowadays this is relatively easy to find online. You can find many recipes with lower carbohydrates. Remember why you are celebrating the holiday and what the main focus is. Focus on the socializing with friends and family. Keep healthy snacks close at hand. If you know you’re going to struggle, have the better choices readily available. Keep unhealthy things out of sight. Handling stress effectively is easier said than done. You can take a brisk walk, practice deep breathing, warm bath, or whatever positive thing you can do to keep that stress under control. Finally, get your rest. If you get quality rest, you’re going to handle these situations better. If you do overindulge, get back on track immediately. Don’t let a few bad choices turn into days or weeks. You don’t want to lose the momentum. You have to be very careful. 98% of our patients are sensitive to carbohydrates. If they drift, they struggle. It doesn’t take a whole lot of drift to have a big struggle. It’s like a drug. If you have a little bit, you’re going to want more.
Holiday weight gain is NOT inevitable! You need to plan, socialize with family and friends, watch the alcohol, and bump up your exercise. When you indulge, get right back on track. Yes, it is that important.