How to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays
One to five. This is the average amount of a weight (in pounds) an adult will gain each holiday season, beginning Thanksgiving and rolling through to New Year’s Day. ‘Tis the season to talk about a few physiological changes that happen with weight gain, some reasons we tend to gain weight during this time of year and how to avoid it!
What happens inside our bodies when we gain weight? Initially, there’s an increase in the number of adipocytes (fat cells). Sadly, this number will never return to the original number (unless you undergo a procedure like CoolSculpt®). Instead, the cells can increase in quantity (with further weight gain) and/or change in volume – either smaller (during weight loss) or larger (during weight gain). This means, the next time around it’s easier for those cells to “refill” the lost “weight”. Unfortunately, these adipocytes are not just along for the ride either, they change the way your body makes, stores and circulates hormones (among other things). Another area that’s affected, is your heart. It’s put under extra stress due to additional weight and blood volume, causing a rise in blood pressure. Poorly controlled blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and impotence – (the last one mentioned if you dozed off… but a good motivator). Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a person can become insulin resistant. Which means that the hormone, insulin, has a reduced response to the sugar (glucose) floating in your blood streams. Often, this is due to a poor diet that leads to a consistently elevated blood sugar. When blood sugar remains high for too long it becomes similar to “white noise”. Have you ever heard a white noise machine, at first you do … and then you don’t. Other profound changes include poor sleep, skin changes, digestion upset, and the ever familiar tightly fitting clothes. You see, this is more than just aesthetics.
Holidays are a wonderful time of year; I am one of the first to turn the station to Christmas tunes as soon as the calendar rolls to November. Nevertheless, just like the American way, we allow such a special time of year to become all about over-spending, overeating and under sleeping. Oftentimes when I talk to others about their holiday plans and I end up hearing them complain about too many parties, classroom gatherings, gifts for her and gifts for him. To top it off each party has a menu, with too many decadent cookies, gingerbread houses, stuffing and don’t forget the free-flowing wine and spirits. All capped off with year-end work deadlines, gift wrapping and last-minute online shopping. Just writing this makes me exhausted! You see how our over packed agendas and less than charged personal batteries cause us to store extra weight this time of year.
How do we avoid all of this?
Your holiday agenda is up to you, but here are five tips to follow this holiday season to ensure you don’t gain those few pounds. More importantly keep your body running on good fuel, improving your sleep, mood, body composition and most importantly enjoying the best time of year!
The first of the five tips, learn to eat mindfully. This means when you’re at a party and trying new foods, take small samples of what really sounds yummy! Try foods that aren’t available year-round, don’t just mow throw the standard cheese and crackers. Remember with each bite of food, see the food, smell it, then taste it. Decide if it’s delicious or dump it (no need to tell the chef). Also pay attention to when that miraculous taste begins to fade, when this happens, stop eating and move on to great conversation, dancing or gift wrapping! Mindful eating is a learned process that has benefits beyond tasting great food, for example it can benefit your digestion too!
I know you’ve heard this recommendation, but that’s because it works! Eat a bit before you go, never attend an event hungry, and be sure you fed yourself well throughout the day (if it’s an evening party). It’s best to eat some protein and veggies as a pre-event snack. This is for three primary reasons; first protein is the most satiating of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats). Second, veggies provide bulk, and are the most nutrient dense of all the foods. Lastly, parties always have plenty of carbohydrates available, you may be hard pressed to find a good veggie or clean protein source. So fill up before you go!
Along those same lines, offer to contribute a dish. This is not only a great help to the host, but it ensures that there will be something there you know you can eat (if you have food sensitivities/allergies). An added bonus, if your dish is really tasty you may convert some friends to improve their eating habits. Make a beautiful veggie platter, winter salad with sweet potatoes, greens, nuts and parmesan; or a homemade hummus with coined carrots or parsnips.
A simple, yet overlooked tip is making sure you stay hydrated. We lose water routinely when we breathe, as humidified air leaves the body, when we sweat to cool the body and urinate or have a bowel movement. Did you know that even subclinical dehydration is often masked as feelings of hunger? When really your body just needs fluid, you misperceive that signal as hunger. This is because the same place that regulates hunger also regulates thirst, the hypothalamus. So, if you’ve eaten a pre-event snack, had a couple bites at the party and still feel hungry, drink a tall glass of water and wait 20 minutes to decide if you need more to eat, or if you were just thirsty.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly I’ll leave you with a behavioral tip. Don’t think about food (and your diet) as all-or-nothing. This is what phycologists refer to as dichotomous thinking, when your thoughts are only good or bad, black or white, I ate a piece of pie, so I might-as-well eat the whole table, and everything on it too! You’re laughing! (I hope), so you realize the lack of reasoning in this statement. Trust me, a piece of pie won’t undo your day. Lose the restrictions you’ve created about certain foods. Enjoy yourself and listen to your body. This is known as intuitive eating, it’s a process to help you make peace with food and yourself.
Those are five great tips to help you minimize the dreaded weight gain this time of year. Hopefully you can take at least one of the tips and use it this holiday season. Find what works for you, and enjoy yourself! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!