The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day bring with them an overabundance of social gatherings and the giving and receiving of tasty, edible gifts all in the spirit of spreading good cheer. Unfortunately for many, this perpetual party spirit often results in a frantic search through the depths of the closet for their “fat” jeans or fashionable elastic waist pants, as holiday weight gain seems almost inevitable.
Or is it? Could it be that the fear of holiday weight gain been blown out of proportion? According to the National Institutes of Health, most individuals believe they gain up to 10 pounds over the holidays – that’s nearly two pounds per week between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
However, a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine said individuals actually gain only one pound over the holidays. In fact, according to Joseph Allen, MD, a physician with Family Medicine of Vandalia, the holidays may not bring about the weight gain that most individuals believe, but rather, it is a time that often breeds poor habits that, over time, can result in excessive weight gain.
Winter wallowing leads to springtime scramble
“Really, when it comes down to it, people look at the holidays as a time to splurge a little and to not do what they normally do – such as go for that run or take that walk,” Dr. Allen said. “They allow themselves to eat a little more and then a little more and by the end of the holiday season they have developed these habits that are hard to break right away. They can stay that way for the rest of the winter and when spring comes they are really concerned about their weight.”
Dr. Allen sees patients come into his office before and after the holidays concerned about its impact on their weight. The issue affects all individuals – male or female – and makes no difference whether they are already fit or have been struggling with weight for a long time.
“Those who are in pretty good shape are concerned about how the holidays will mess up their schedule and on the flip side you have those who are overweight that may have been struggling with the issue for a long time and feel that the holidays will make it worse,” he said.
The key is maintaining healthy habits during the holidays
Dr. Allen said the answer is not really about weight loss as much as it is about establishing a change in behavior. The holidays can still be a joyous, festive time without throwing healthy habits out the window. He offers the following tips for keeping healthy habits in check during the holidays:
Get moving: Dr. Allen encourages patients to stick to a routine that includes daily exercise. It may be hard, but it is extremely important not to take a break in exercise routines once the holidays have arrived.
Portion size matters: Secondly, individuals should watch their portion sizes when it comes to food. “You can still have the turkey and gravy, but just watch the portion size,” Dr. Allen said. A good way to measure a healthy portion size is to take portions of each food that is no larger than the fist made from your hand. Another idea is to look at a dinner plate as a pie chart. Half of that pie should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter of it should be protein and a quarter should be starch.
Aim for seven-a-day: Try to eat vegetables or fruits seven times throughout the day. The fiber-rich foods help fill up a stomach faster than traditional snacks and fiber-rich foods do not have as many calories.
Limit splurges to one-a-day: If it is difficult to stay away from sweets entirely, then allow yourself one small splurge a day.
Plan ahead: To help cut down on temptation, never go to a holiday party hungry. Eat a healthy snack such as a serving of your favorite fruit, fat-free yogurt or a low-fat, whole-grain granola bar before heading out the door.
It’s about friends, not food: And last, but not least, pour all of your focus on socializing at parties, not eating.