By Melody Gluth
The holidays can be a trying time for our diets. First comes the Halloween, toting its tasty little treats that can be hard to stay away from. Then comes the decadent Thanksgiving feast with all of the delicious side dishes you have been waiting for all year. Then Christmas and Hanukah and New Years and Valentine’s Day…. It is hard to remember our diet when we are surrounded by all of this good food!
Cornell Food and Brand Lab did a study that showed that shoppers fill their carts with more calories during the holiday months than they do throughout summertime and early fall. The study also found that most of the calories did not come from calorie-dense, health-promoting foods, but instead from processed foods filled with added fat, calories, sugar, and salt.
On average, people report gaining anywhere from five to ten pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Do not be alarmed! A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people actually perceive this weight gain, but their actual gain was just under one pound. So maybe that holiday weight gain was only an intrusive thought?
However, it is important to note that there are different levels of risk. The overweight and formerly overweight are the most at risk of a holiday weight gain. Different studies have shown that at least 20% of obese subjects and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than five pounds during these months. Only 5% of non-overweight people reported gaining more than five pounds. Know your risk and make a plan to ensure that you do not gain weight.
There are many factors that can cause a person to gain weight during the holidays. The most obvious one is the plentiful food that is traditionally a part of these holidays. However, social pressure can play a part. People tend to indulge during the holidays because they are time for relaxing. People may feel guilty about eating unhealthy foods, so they may put a little pressure on others to join in on the binging. A study done by Brian Wansink from the University of Illinois found that when people eat in groups, then tend to match their intake with those around them.
The holidays may also be stressful for some, which can cue stress eating. When people eat due to stress, they seek out comfort foods, which are not known for their health benefits. The stress hormone cortisol actually promotes weight gain, making it even harder to avoid that weight gain.
Another thing the holiday season does is break our routines. Normally, we may exercise and be more active. During the holidays, we are more inclined to stay inside and lounge about. We spend more time sitting and less time exercising.
If you are worried about gaining weight after the holidays, there may be some measures you can take to avoid it. Set goals for yourself to follow throughout the weeks. Create a balance between relaxing and enjoying the festivities, and taking care of your health. If you are worried about overeating, set portion sizes for yourself and do not eat more than that, no matter how tempting it may be to go back for seconds.
Another thing you can do is eat the right fat. This means healthy fats from grass-fed animals, like eggs, dairy, or butter. Consuming these healthy fats will give you more of a defense against the health consequences of any unhealthy foods you eat during the holiday celebrations.
One final note is to be realistic. You might gain a couple of pounds. It is okay to enjoy the holidays, but do not overdo it. Make smart choices about what is right for you, even if it means passing up the pumpkin pie.