Thursday, the celebrations begin. Thanksgiving kicks off a holiday season that for most Americans is filled with gatherings of family and friends, office parties and other activities. Along with the good comes the bad – stress, fatigue and even weight gain can accompany this joyful time of year.
According to a recent Weight Watchers report, the average American gains from 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and the new year. Experts say the weight gain is a result of both an increase in social activities encompassing food and a more hectic schedule.
Williamson Medical Center registered dietitian Lori Black says we tend to eat more calorie-dense foods during the holidays and planning is the key to surviving the season with our waistline intact.
“We know we have certain holiday traditions – grandma is always going to make your favorite pie,” she says. “It is easier to say no or eat a smaller slice of pie if we anticipate the situation.”
Black says in addition to eating more sweet foods, we eat fewer fruits and vegetables during the winter months and should make a conscious effort to include those in our diets.
“Eating fruits and vegetables or eating a small salad before attending an event can curb your appetite and help you eat less,” Black says.
Modifying traditional recipes is another way to cut calories. Black says cooks can cut the oil and sugar in most dishes by one third without changing the taste of the end product. If a recipe calls for a cup of oil, use only two-thirds of a cup. Applesauce also may be substituted in equal portions for liquid oil in many recipes. In addition, Black suggests changing family traditions to take the focus off food. Families can play games or begin going for walks in the afternoon.
Much of the danger in gaining the extra 7 to 10 pounds is that often it is not lost in the new year.
“People have good intentions, but they set expectations too high when they start an exercise program and set themselves up for failure,” Black says. “People should look at simple behaviors they can change like ordering smaller coffee drinks in the morning.”
She adds “diet” is a negative word, but the connotation can change by simply rearranging the letters. “Diet” becomes “edit,” signifying people can edit some of their behaviors to make a positive change.
Art Williams, D.O., family practice physician, says Americans often try to do too much over the holidays and instead should keep expectations reasonable.
“Parents may spend a lot of money on gifts for children, only to see them ignored after a couple of months,” he says. “Parents want to see their children happy, sometimes leading to overspending and causing financial stress.”
Williams says the holidays also are a time of reflection for many people, but sometimes memories of happiness can inadvertently cause sadness.
“We tend to think about what we were doing last year and five years ago at the same time,” he says. “If there has been divorce or death in the family, times can be tough. We should look toward the future to create new memories, instead of focusing on the past.”
Holiday celebrations are sometimes accompanied by alcohol, and while it is a source of extra calories, it also is a depressant, Williams says. Black adds that consuming alcohol often leads to overeating as well.
In addition to the added stress and calories, this time of year is not as conducive to exercise because of cooler temperatures and shorter days. Black suggests working out at home to DVDs or asking for new walking shoes to get excited about exercising. About 30 minutes of daily exercise has proved to relieve symptoms of both stress and depression in addition to burning calories.
“We can enjoy all of the activities of the holiday season, continue to be healthy and feel good about ourselves at the beginning of the new year,” Black says. “All it takes is a little planning and willpower.”
Holiday eating tips
• Ask if you can bring a dish to a meal or party. Then you will be sure to have something that fits your meal plan.
• Don’t go to a dinner or party hungry. Have a small, healthy snack before you go.
• Remember portions count. Taste everything that looks too good to pass up, but take only a taste, not a serving.
• Go through the buffet line only once and wait until you sit down to begin eating. Believe it or not, it is easier to overeat standing than sitting.
• Position yourself far from the buffet table and try to keep food out of your line of vision.
• Eat slowly. Talk with friends as you eat. Make the food last. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal you are full.
• To help avoid weight gain, increase your activity.
• Give and request healthy holiday gifts such as walking shoes, exercise tapes or books to inspire you.
• Choose holiday favorites that are naturally low in fat, such as turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, fruit, etc.
• Don’t spend the holidays alone. Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a very sad time for some, particularly if they have lost a loved one. Negative emotions such as sadness or depression may lead to overeating or not eating at all. If you don’t have friends or relatives who live close by, invite a neighbor to spend the holidays with you or adopt a nursing home resident or shut-in to spend time with. You will help yourself and somebody else, too.