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Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

It is officially Pig-Out Season, the time of year that all efforts to maintain your healthy diet go out the window.  I understand the mentality of letting it all go and giving into the enjoyment of the occasion.  Holiday foods are not only delicious, they also connect us socially to each other, they conjure happy memories, and they are a way to show love and affection for others.  

Throwing caution to the wind, however, can have some serious consequences.  The average American does gain weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and does not take that weight off.  Ever.

Weight gain is a very serious side effect of over-eating during the holiday season.  It often leads to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, and can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and increased pain.

Your body has an incredibly complex hormonal system that carefully regulates your body fat.  This internal “set point” controls how much fat we burn vs. how much we save.  Evolutionarily, this body fat set point can determine who survives during a famine and who is physically able to hunt, gather, and survive predators (in this day and age – modern stressors).  The body fat set point helps us maintain ideal weight for survival.

Weight gain, even modest gains over long periods of time can actually raise your body fat set point, so that your body sees that as the new normal and puts mechanisms into place to keep your body fat at that new level.  This set point is very difficult to change once it is raised, and many people who try to lose weight can attest to the difficulty of resetting your body to where it once was.

Because of this, it is really important that you just don’t allow yourself to go crazy during the holiday celebrations.  If you don’t pack on the pounds, you won’t have to fight your body’s set point to take them back off.  

Obtaining and maintaining optimal weight is essential when it comes to disease prevention as well as the treatment of many diseases.  Ideally, we should work towards our optimal weight all year, not just after holiday season.  

With this in mind, I would never ask you to forgo your Grandma’s Christmas Cookies.  Just remember that there is a difference between eating a cookie and eating the entire batch.  If you got in a fender-bender with your car, you wouldn’t say to heck with it all and crash your car into a pole, would you?  Likewise, the occasional indulgence is not going to do the same damage as eating every sweet treat that enters your field of vision.  

Practical Tips

Preventing weight gain during holiday season doesn’t mean depriving yourself of all of those delectable holiday treats, it just means being mindful, and using a few tricks to help you succeed.

  • Eat Well: Stick to your healthy, nutrient-dense diet.  If you aren’t already eating that way, why not?  Start now, don’t wait.  You deserve to feed your body right.  I recommend the Paleo Diet.
  • Keep Your Home Treat-Free: With goodies everywhere else, there is no need to have them at home.  Make your house a healthy haven.  If you make cookies with your family, eat a few and send the rest to school with your kids or to a neighbor.  This way you don’t have to resist temptation inside your own home.
  • Indulge A Little: There is no need to miss out on fine holiday foods, just be mindful of your portion sizes.  Wait 20 minutes before allowing yourself a second serving.  It takes the brain this long to realize that the stomach is full!
  • Party Tips:
    • Drink water and eat a small, healthy snack before going to a party.  This ensures that you eat something nutritious AND helps prevent you from overeating.  Going to a holiday party hungry is a recipe for over-indulgence.
    • Take a cocktail sized plate instead of a dinner plate to sample party food.  You can always go back for more – but don’t forget to wait between servings.
    • Try to find a spot to mingle away from the buffet.  This will help you control the “munchies.”  If you are far enough away and engrossed in conversation, you are less likely to interrupt your discussion and head for the food.
    • Finally, my personal favorite, try wearing pants or a skirt that fits snuggly across your waist.  There is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortably full in pants that are suddenly too tight.  Tight clothes may just make you a bit more mindful of the amount of food you eat.
  • Enjoy the Holidays:  Remember that holidays are a time to celebrate with your loved ones.  Do what you can and don’t beat yourself up if you overindulge.  Although we should always strive for better health, this is a time to celebrate.