By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD
Despite many reports to the contrary, the average American does not gain that much weight over the winter holidays.
In fact, one common assertion is that we gain five pounds or more during the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But there is actually very little objective data to support this statement, according to one study.
Reportedly, Americans only gain about a pound over the holiday season.
“During Thanksgiving, the national average weight goes up about 0.2 percent…Then from the ten days before Christmas to the ten after, that weight increases by another 0.4 percent, peaking around New Year’s Day. By the end of the winter holiday season, Americans are about 1.3 pounds heavier than their thinnest point [around September and early October] in the year.”
But Here’s the Big, Fat Truth (pun intended)…
“Despite our worst fears, the average American really only puts on one pound during the holiday season — which doesn’t sound like much, unless you gain that extra pound year after year,” reports Stanford.
(And many people gain this pound, year after year).
Furthermore, there is evidence that most people never lose that pound of holiday weight gain each year. So essentially, the holidays can cause weight issues long after we take down the mistletoe and shout ‘Happy New Year!’ And being overweight or obese can lead to many health issues, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, depression and even cancer.
Moreover, if you are already overweight or obese, you may put on even more weight during the winter holiday season (more like five pounds as opposed to just one).
Now, I’m not trying to be ‘The Grinch Who Stole Dessert.’ But we can’t continue to celebrate this joyous time at the expense of our own health. There are steps we can take to prevent us from falling prey to holiday weight gain.
According to a recent study, regularly weighing yourself at home and being more aware of how much exercise it would take to burn off popular holiday foods, like a slice of cake, could be a benefit.
“For example, it takes 21 minutes of running to burn the calories in a mince pie and 33 minutes of walking to expend the calories found in a small glass of mulled wine,” says one report discussing the study.
So it might be worth it to take the time to familiarize ourselves with our local hiking trail and figure out how long we need to hike in order to accommodate that extra serving of Christmas pudding or apple pie and ice cream. Take advantage of technology and download diet and fitness apps like MyFitnessPal. Apps such as these will tell us the calorie content of specific foods and how much physical activity we need to do to compensate for all the excess holiday eating.
(Keep in mind, moderation is always advised. You don’t want to get in a habit of binging and then over exercising. This is certainly not healthy or sustainable).
Being aware of our eating habits and weight is all part of being proactive about our health. If we are more aware of these details and the impact on our health, we may be more likely to hold ourselves accountable. And being proactive allows us to still have our cake and eat it too. We just may have to go for a hike or hit the treadmill before sitting down to dinner with friends and family.
Other Ways To Be Proactive About Preventing Holiday Weight Gain?
- Manage Stress
As fun as the holidays are, they are also very stressful. People put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the perfect party host or provide the perfect gifts for their kids. And stress can cause weight gain due to the body producing more cortisol, ‘the stress hormone.’
Reportedly, “…cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the ‘on’ position — cortisol may stay elevated.” This is why several reports suggest cortisol may cause weight gain. Chronically elevated cortisol levels may also cause high blood pressure, sleep issues, mood disorders and even contribute to diabetes, according to some reports.
So meditate, take a hot bath or take a break to read. Take some time for yourself and do whatever helps you feel relaxed. Exercise is known to help reduce stress (and, of course, you will be burning some calories).
- Don’t Throw All Healthy Eating out the Window During the Holidays
Just because there are holiday treats galore does not mean that you get to ditch healthy eating habits. Be sure to properly fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables. These foods are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals your body needs to ward off serious illness and the common cold (no one wants to get sick during the holidays), prevent digestive issues and feel satiated. Have a healthy breakfast, like a fruit smoothie or veggie omelet, before enjoying cocktails and dinner with friends and family. And never go to the holiday party hungry. Have a light, healthy snack beforehand so that you will be less likely to overdo it at the buffet or when the d’oeuvre trays are passed around.
- Be Mindful of Excess Booze
Alcohol is nothing but sugar and liquid calories. Tossing back one too many cocktails is surely a way to gain unwanted weight during the holidays. Not to mention, no one wants to be nursing a hangover on Christmas morning. And alcohol is dehydrating and depletes the body of essential nutrients you need to stay healthy and feel good. If you are dehydrated and depleted of key nutrients, you will be more likely to overeat. And remember that when you’re hungover, a cheeseburger or slice of pizza usually does the trick — not a salad!
- Eat Slowly
Slow down and be mindful of the food you are eating. It takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realize you are full. So if you rush through the eating process, you may overeat because you are not getting the ‘I’m full’ signal. A lack of mindful eating may be one of the reasons why reportedly more than one third of U.S. adults are obese.
This holiday season, don’t wait until the New Year to practice healthy eating and exercise habits. If you can implement these methods into your daily lives all year, you can greatly improve your health and live longer and happier lives.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.
Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (www.phlabs.org), a national 501c3 nonprofit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. In addition to her day-to-day leadership role with pH Labs, Ms. Stephenson-Laws is also the founding and managing partner of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman (SAC), the health care industry’s premier litigation law firm established in 1989. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.