The holidays bring all the good feels — the decorations, cooler weather, family time, special occasions and especially the food. Paint a picture in your mind’s eye of a favorite holiday pastime. Did your picture include any special foods that you associate with the holidays?
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the wonderful and delectable bliss that holiday food entails. But, there is however, a real phenomenon of weight gain around the holidays that for many is permanent. This reality can sometimes leave us feeling conflicted about our desire to enjoy the season with abandon and the feeling of guilt about some of the choices we might make along the way.
How much weight do Americans gain during the holidays? Studies suggest that the average is around 1.1 pounds per adult, but the range can be from as little as half a pound to as much as 8 pounds. And those who already have excess weight tend to gain the greatest amount of weight during the holiday season.
So there is great variability in the amount a person might gain, but the real catch here is that for most, the weight gained during the holidays doesn’t seem to go away. Even regular exercisers tend to gain weight during the holidays. (Children do not seem to be affected by this phenomenon, but instead tend to gain any excess weight during summer break.) For those who are fairly weight stable, they may see their weight increase subtly year after year, with a slight acceleration over the holidays each year.
So does this mean that we can’t enjoy Grandma’s cookies? The great news is that there are some simple strategies that can be employed to help all of us fully enjoy the holiday season with all of its treats, while still finding just the right amount of guilt-free balance and restraint.
One of the simplest strategies that has been shown to be effective is the habit of daily self-weighing. Not the obsessive kind of weigh-ins where you agonize and analyze every shift in the number on the scale. Instead, self-weighing seems helpful for self-regulation of behaviors. Meaning when you are more mindful about the fact that the scale has creeped up a couple pounds in the last few weeks, you tend to show restraint more easily and without tooth-gritting agony.
We all have an internal dialogue of checks and balances concerning decisions about what to eat, but it’s easy to override or ignore that dialogue when actually making those decisions.
For example, there may be some particular food that you always look forward to each holiday. Let’s say, it’s the pumpkin pie (because if it isn’t, it should be). When the opportunity arises to eat your mom’s homemade pumpkin pie, then by all means, eat it. Enjoy it fully with no regrets.
But throughout the holiday season, it seems like another treat pops up frequently — cookies. Your co-workers often bring holiday cookies into the breakroom and leave them benevolently for everyone to enjoy. Though their kindness is appreciated, cookies aren’t necessarily your favorite treat. You grab one most of the time anyway, maybe to avoid offending the giver or just because it’s the only thing around to snack on.
These kinds of opportunities are a great time to practice a little mindfulness. Before taking that cookie, stop and ask yourself if it’s worth it. It’s 250 calories you won’t really enjoy that much and that won’t serve your body well. In the end, it’s probably not worth it, so learn to leave it behind.
The frequent opportunities for these kinds of decisions during the holiday season can make the difference in whether you enjoy this next month or so without gaining any extra pounds or whether you gain a stubborn couple of pounds that will hang around for the next year.
Consider which indulgences are truly worth it to you. Ask yourself why you’re eating, and if the answer satisfies you, then proceed and enjoy fully. If your answer is a bit iffy (aka, I don’t want to offend Aunt Edna by not eating a heaping of her dressing), and you’re not sure if the indulgence is really something you’ll fully enjoy, then it’s probably best to bypass or minimize.
Another fantastic tradition is to start participating in more pastimes that don’t just revolve around food. Find ways to spend more time outdoors and enjoy movement together as a family. Whether it’s family park dates, walks, playing outdoor games or sports, there are always plenty of wonderful ways to spend quality time together during the cooler weather.
If the shorter days find you inside more, play games, build a fort, set up an indoor obstacle course or read books. Stay busy so there will be fewer temptations to overindulge while also moving your body or feeding your mind. I’d call that a win-win!
Enjoy your holidays to the absolute fullest. The reason they are so special isn’t necessarily just the food-based traditions. The reason they are special is that they are spent with loved ones. So focus on the who and the why even more than the “what is there to eat?” You’ll find as your priorities come into focus, that great health will naturally follow.
And if you need just a little extra help managing your weight during the holiday season, visit the Medislim clinic for free weigh-ins, supportive visits with a doctor, and one-on-one nutrition sessions with me. We’d love to be a part of your holiday.
To schedule a consultation with Angela, visit the MediSlim clinic at 3806 S. Medford Drive in Lufkin or call (936) 632-1996 for more information.