Thursday Thoughts: Holiday Weight Gain

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Actually, maybe you don't, or perhaps maybe it is just a memory hidden in the far reaches of you mind.

Either way, it is Thursday, and this means that it is time for Thursday Thoughts.  

This is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic. Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses. Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting. In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

I stopped doing Thursday thoughts because with the move and so much going on, I was not always able to get in a post for Thursdays, and I was not able to focus clearly.  But I am back, and ready, to share my thoughts, starting today...Thursday!

This week I wanted to write about a topic I know so many people are conscious of this time of year.  With Thanksgiving down and Christmas/Hanukkah/New's Years coming up, many people are concerned with their weight and the worry of gaining too much.  So here are my thoughts on the topic of holiday weight gain.

1) My first impression of holiday weight gain, especially when anyone approaches me and starts to make a fuss about this, is that they are probably over-reacting about the effect the holidays had on their weight.  I was reading a magazine today and one reported stat, coming from the NIH (a pretty good source) was that most people only gain 1# during this time.  This of course confirms what I has seen and thought over the years.  I don't think most (I say most because there will still be some people that do gain a bit of weight) people gain as much as they think.  My first question usually is to ask about their weight before the holidays and how often they checked in on their weight.  A slow and steady gain over the year is a lot more likely than a full 5-10# just in one month.  My best guess is that in many cases the person was not paying attention all year and did not notice the slow gain since the last Holiday season.  Then comes the holidays and a preoccupation with weight, and BAM, now you notice this was not what you weighed before last Thanksgiving, leading you to (possibly) automatically attribute it to your current holiday eating.

2) Think water weight.  A lot of the quick weight gain is probably associated with fluid retention.  It is no surprise that many holiday treats are prepared using a lot of sodium, which aids in that fluid retention.  While it does put on extra weight, this is not in the form of fat, and will be much easier to get rid of than actual body fat gain.  If you find weight gain from fluids to be a problem for you, consider cutting back on those salty foods, and perhaps do some of the food prep yourself to make sure less sodium winds up in the food.

3) The holidays are a busy time and while we all struggle to stick to our exercise routines and keep up the physical activity, it is not always possible to continue with 100% commitment.  Don't worry, you are not the only one.  The trouble then comes when you are eating as much as before the holidays (for some people I am not sure the calories increase much-fast food/some restaurant meals come out the same as your holiday meals), or perhaps a little more, and then you stop working out as much.  Energy in may stay the same (or be a little more) but energy out suffers in this equation.  But, I am still not convinced this can make enough difference to create a weight gain of about 10# (a commonly reported gain this time of year) in 4-6 weeks.  Well, there are two ways to go about fixing this.  That will be my next two thoughts.

3) The first is to find a new routine that works for you in the month of the holidays that allows you to fit in what you can, when you can.  Once you pop something in the oven (preparing for your holiday meals) take the time it spends in the oven to do a small workout in a room nearby where you can also keep an eye on the oven.  Or just make sure to walk the dog more often, perhaps right after the holiday meal, just to help keep the blood flowing.  Everyone rushes to the gym right after the new year, so you will also find that the gym this time of year (before the mad rush) can be calming and therapeutic, and even though it might not be your normal routine, you can find a way to fit something in that fits with your busy holiday schedule.  My last thought on this would be to find a buddy.  Yes, a buddy.  The buddy system can work.  Not only will it keep you on track and committed, but you will have someone to keep you company and vent to about all of your holiday frustrations.  It's likely that alone will save you some unwanted calories later on.

4) Watch what you eat.  Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking.  Of course the dietitian is going to tell you to watch what you eat, don't over do it, moderation, and so on.  I know, that's what everyone is waiting to hear.  But what I have to say is a little more than just that.  Obviously moderation and portion size matters.  You can eat the foods you want (and feel like you must have as part of the holiday spirit), but there is a huge difference between 2 cups of mac and cheese and 1/3 cup.  My biggest suggestion is have a game plan before heading into your major holiday meals.  Thanksgiving is down, so take this week or so before the parties and meals to kick in to really game plan about how you are going to handle all that delicious looking food.  Make compromises.  If you have 4 functions to attend, think about what you know will be served at each, what you must have, and what is simply not worth the calories.  This will prevent you from overeating, feeling sick to your stomach, and regretting something later.  Remember, it is ok to say NO.  Just because someone offers you something does not mean you should feel obligated to eat it or try it.  Again, it is unlikely your extra holiday eating will really pack on the pounds, but in reality, if you feel like it is, you may start to feel miserable (and beating yourself up) during what should be a very happy time of year.  Just passing on a few items may give you that positive reinforcement you need to keep your eating habits on track and feeling like you were keeping with your goals throughout the holiday season.

5) Do not go crazy weighing yourself.  Really, this will make you crazy, and you do not need the extra stress.  It is simply not worth it.  We all have so many other things to stress about.  Stay positive, happy, socialize, fit a work out in when you can, take a time out (with a deep breath) and be proactive.  That holiday weight gain is really not as bad as you may think, and it may take a week or so after the new year for things to start to settle out weight wise.  Do not drive yourself nuts fighting with the scale during the holidays.  You may got up and down all day long, and it just won't be an accurate account of actual fat gain during this time.  Wait until after the new year, when you have gotten back into your holiday routine, and you feel more like yourself (the less stressed version of you).  You may just find that you did not gain as much as you thought.

So, those are some of my thoughts, mixed with some tips, about helping yourself stay sane during the holidays and not wrapped up in holiday weight gain.  The best thing you can do during this time is take some time out for you.  Doing something relaxing.  Plan in advance for parties and dinners.  Cook some of the foods yourself to make sure that you are going to have dishes that you want to eat.  Make veggies, cut out some sodium, and prepare lean protein dishes.  Stay in control, but most importantly, don't beat yourself up of not following your "diet" during the holidays.  Remember, diet really (historically before the media took over) means the food or drink you consume for nourishment, and I think this would mean the foods you eat at the holidays are already part of your diet.  Just aim for balance and moderation, plan ahead, don't skip meals, and look for veggies, fruits and fiber containing foods to help you get in nutrients and keep you feeling fuller longer.

QUESTIONS:  What are your thoughts on holiday weight gain?  What are your tips for managing weight during the holidays?


Gina; The Candid RD said...

I do think that people overreact, sometimes, but also one pound gained in a three month period is a lot, and it's especially not good because most people don't lose that 1 pound throughout the year. So combine all holidays together and you could easily put on 30 pounds, or more, over the next thirty years, just through holiday indulgences! No bueno.
Great tips! I think the part about not going crazy weighing yourself is very important. That can just lead to MORE overeating!

Unknown said...

Just wear tight pants so you can't eat as much (this is the opposite of Joey's Thanksgiving Pants on FRIENDS). LOL :)

chow and chatter said...

the same as you don't worry about it focus on the big picture year round

special K said...

I was just thinking of how much happier I am when I tell patients: Decemeber is NOT the time to be worried about dieting, or your lifestyle. I think that if we ALLOWED ourselves more taste. eat only what pleases, and to only do activities that mourish us (rather than all the obligations) we wouldn't be so focused on WHAT or HOW much we eat...

I think we need more time of relaxing during the holiday and not frenzied to dos...

Post a Comment