The Holiday season is definitely a high-risk time of year for gaining weight. However, does it mean that gaining weight during this time of year is inevitable? I think not. There are many things that can be done that can decrease the likelihood that a person will continually eat more than normal during this time of year. It is not a matter of not enjoying the Holiday season; rather it is using some simple strategies that help us, often unconsciously, to move our eating behaviors in a positive direction.
First, what is the average weight gain during the Holiday’s? Is it 5, 10, or 15 pounds? From the few studies that have looked at this specific question, it seems that the average weight gained during the Holiday season (runs from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, so about 6 weeks) is 1 to 2 pounds (Yanovski). This is much less than what most people think happens. It is also much less than what is often stated in articles on the subject. For example, a recent article at ScienceDaily.com (Nov. 6, 2010) states “the time to begin changing the pattern is now because most of us gain anywhere between 5 to 15 lbs during the Holiday season” (Methodist Hospital). Really? I am not sure where they get these numbers? They have no citation for explaining it. But it is articles like this that perpetuate the “big weight gain” view. Anyway, even the 1 to 2 pounds could be problematic over the long-term. This “long-term” view is what the studies on this subject are concerned with. The idea is that the small weight gain will not be lost and it will slowly accumulate over 10 to 20 years. Therefore, this small gain can lead to an additional 20 to 40 pounds over 20 years. Whether the hypothesis that increasing weights of Americans are due to the small increases that occur during the Holiday season is debatable. I will leave the analysis of that subject for another time. The concern here is how to mitigate the typical weight gained during the Holiday season.
The reason the Holiday season is a “high-risk” time of year for weight gain is the convergence of many factors that tend to increase food intake. These factors include;
- Eating with many people
- Many highly palatable foods that are easily accessible (the buffet effect)
- Large servings sizes
- Increased stress
- Time constraints
- Increased feelings of having to constrain eating
- Easy justifications
What results is the increased tendency to eat more at a particular meal and to do this many times during this time of year. This can happen other times of the year, but the consistency of this effect seems more pronounced now. Knowing that there are many things that are pulling you to eat more, what can be done to avoid or minimize the effect?
There really is no fool proof way to avoid many of these influences, unless you plan on living in a nuclear bunker, by yourself, for 6 weeks. However, there do seem to be some strategies that can help minimize their effects. Keep in mind that it is not about having a huge amount of will power, although it helps. It’s really not will power, because many of the variables mentioned above seem to influence us on a more subconscious level. Also consider the fact that many people do NOT gain weight during the Holiday season and some even lose weight during this time. So it is not hopeless. It is just a matter of doing a bit of planning and practicing a few behaviors that will allow you to enjoy yourself but still maintain a high level of control.
Here are my recommendations for getting through the Holidays and NOT gaining weight.
Read more »