Understanding holiday weight gain

Strategies for Well-Being

Reports of your holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. Media stories often suggest that the average person gains 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And in surveys, people say they gain, on average, about 5 pounds this time of year.

But several studies now show that the average weight gain during the winter holidays is just 1 pound.

The news isn’t all good. Most people don’t ever lose the pound of weight they put on during the holidays, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about 1 to 2 pounds a year, this means much of midlife weight gain can be explained by holiday eating.

No matter what you call holiday weight gain, the fact is it happens to a lot of people. You may think those extra pounds are a result of attending more parties or snacking on all those treats around the office, but there are some less obvious reasons that are also at play.

Exercise routines are often disrupted with friends and family visits and travel. This excess weight puts an extra strain on the heart and joints. For seniors, this weight gain is especially serious if they have an existing heart problem or high blood pressure. Every extra pound of weight forces the heart to work that much harder. If the heart must pump harder, the blood pressure will go up. For seniors with diabetes, weight gain makes it much harder to maintain blood sugars in the normal range.

While most Americans gain about a pound during the winter holiday season, this extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life.

The good news is that people don’t gain as much weight as we thought during the holidays. The bad news is that weight gained over the winter holidays isn’t lost during the rest of the year.

Except for people who have very muscular builds, anyone who is 20 percent or more over their “ideal” weight is considered obese. This excess is made up of fat stores. Fat stores are designed to protect our organs and prevent starvation. Nature actually makes sure that we have fat stores because fat is the main source of energy. The problem with body fat comes in when our poor diet and/or lifestyles cause us to have an imbalance between the fat that is stored and the fat that is used for energy. Once this happens, the body’s ability to use fat for energy decreases. As you can imagine, eating fried foods, sweets, fast foods and the like contributes greatly to this problem.

You might think that the solution is lots of hard exercise and a light diet. Wrong.

This will only cause the body to hold on to the fat stores for dear life and convert whatever else we eat to fat, because the body recognizes your wonderful exercise and dieting as starvation.

Keep in mind, that if the weight loss plan you undertake is to work, it must include these four key points.

With some planning, you can make this a healthy and happy holiday season:

• Eat a substantial breakfast that includes protein. Protein takes longer to digest and helps you to feel full for much longer.

• If you are attending a potluck function, make your contribution a healthy one. A simple mixed fruit or spinach salad is easy to make and carry.

• If you are attending a sit-down dinner, let your host or hostess know in advance of any food restrictions you may have. If a friend or family member knows you are on a special diet beforehand it will make dinner a more pleasant experience.

• Don’t try to start a weight loss diet now. Save the diet for your New Year’s resolution. If you cheat, you may feel guilty and end up eating more.

• Include some time for exercise. Don’t just go to the mall to shop, go for some exercise also. Malls are wonderful places to walk, out of the elements and climate controlled. If time is limited, try to park as far from your stop as you can.

Please don’t take this information as a license to be the “Holiday Food Police.” No one wants a killjoy at his or her holiday celebration or a family get-together. But when it comes to dealing with the temptations of the season’s high-calorie food offerings, you don’t have to be a “Grinch.”

You do need a plan.

The key to successfully navigating the holiday season for your family is to plan ahead by outlining a practical weight management strategy that doesn’t leave you and your children feeling deprived, but will help kids and their parents to avoid weight gain during the next couple of months. The good news is that adults and children alike can enjoy the wonderful foods of the holiday season if they do so in moderation.

Hopefully, this information will give you a running start as you go through the year and embark on the holidays at the end of the year.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

Disclaimer:

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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