Some of us accept a bit of holiday-related weight gain as a fact of life. But instead of sidelining our health goals until after the New Year, what if we avoided holiday weight gain in the first place?
Why Do We Often Gain Weight During the Holidays?
Stress eating is one of the most common reasons for weight gain during the holidays and throughout the year. Our environment plays a substantial part in what we eat, so if we surround ourselves with unhealthy foods, we usually set ourselves up for bad decisions.
Planning and shopping for holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Eve can be emotionally and physically draining. This stress can carry over to affect our eating habits. During stressful times, it’s easy to want to comfort ourselves with the hormonal high of eating starchy, sugary carbs.
How Much Weight Do People Gain During the Holidays?
Here's a bit of Yuletide cheer: Your holiday weight gain may not be as bad as you think it is.
On average, most people assume they gain about five pounds during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. In 2015, a team of doctors, scientists and registered dieticians published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzing holiday weight gain. They found that weight gain averaged about 0.37 kg, or less than a pound, during the holiday period. Increased consumption of salty foods and alcohol combined with less sleep can lead to an increase in water retention, which may show up as weight gain on our scales.
This study isn't an invitation to throw caution to the wind, however. Eating and drinking high-calorie foods and beverages for an extended period will have both a short and long-term effect on your health as well as your weight. The study tells us that we can still enjoy this time of year and all it has to offer within moderation and still achieve our personal wellness goals.
How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
The desire to change our habits is one of the most powerful tools we have. Hard to believe, but internal motivation is even more potent than most weight loss medications. If we continue to make the same choices, then we will continue to get the same results. If we can convince ourselves that it is worth it to make healthy decisions for our long-term health, those changes seem to be more attainable.
Think about your reasons to lose weight (or avoid weight gain) during the holidays. Fitting into clothes better, improving your blood pressure and being a good role model for your children are all good examples. Once we have a strong foundation in our minds of why we want to change our current habits, we can incorporate small changes in our routine.
Planning for the holiday season and managing our time better can help avoid rushing towards the end. Try to be realistic about what you cannot do, even if this means declining individual invitations or skipping activities that will be sources of stress. This year make time to reflect upon the holiday season with immediate family. Spend the last weeks of the year relaxing and enjoying quiet time together instead of being rushed from one project to another.
When you make your plate this season, be mindful of your serving sizes and being selective when it comes to fried foods, cream sauces, starchy casseroles and sugar-laden desserts. For more strategies, check out these 10 tips to outsmart the holiday dinner table from my Ochsner Eat Fit colleague Jala Lockhart.
If you can't skip dessert, have a small piece of pie, a few bites of cake or one or two cookies, and see it as a treat for all the hard work it takes to keep on track. Don't see this as a failure, but also try not to make it an everyday habit. Also, avoid the "guess I fell off the wagon, there goes my diet" attitude and instead go right back to the food habits you want to keep practicing.
Everyone can use some relaxation during this busy time. Happy holidays to you and your family and have a joyous season!
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Dec. 19, 2016.
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