The festive season is something to look forward to: all that amazing food! Unfortunately, it is often followed by guilt and regret, once you weigh yourself afterwards. Is it possible to celebrate well and not gain weight?
Extra holiday pounds are realHoliday weight gain is not a myth: according to statistics, an average American gains about 1 pound between Thanksgiving and the New Year (and not 5 pounds, as many believe – see the study here), while an average German gains twice more. What’s worse, this weight is usually not shed: it remains till the next holiday season. Over the course of several years, these pounds accumulate, seemingly regardless of the promises we make to ourselves. Overeating once cannot really give you extra pounds, but a festive season is not just one meal: it is a series of family celebrations, meetings with friends and parties with colleagues, all of which involve hours of eating. We end up feeling (and looking) bloated, heavy, and utterly disappointed with ourselves. Is there a better strategy?
Get in controlIt is completely useless to promise yourself to exercise daily and not eat unhealthy foods over the holidays, because you will break that promise anyway. However, there are many tactical steps you can take:
- Do not try to go hungry until the event in order to “save room”: you will end up binge-eating. Instead, have a healthy breakfast (and perhaps lunch) – fruit, yogurt, and a big salad are the best options. Try to arrive at the party half-full.
- Fill your plate wisely. Don’t pile up everything you see; take a good look around first and choose the things you like best. Fill most of your plate with vegetables and lean proteins, but allow yourself some of the less-healthy, fatty treats, too.
- Drink lots of water – both during and between events. In fact, a glass or two of water before a party create a feeling of fullness. Remember: good metabolism requires water. Aim for 1.5 liters a day.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Festive meals are difficult to digest by themselves, and alcohol creates an additional strain on your liver and pancreas (more details here). Besides, although wine can make you feel drowsy, it actually prevents deep sleep, so you will get less rest.
- Do try to exercise – perhaps you won’t be able to do it everyday, will all the parties and cooking that is going on, but aim for a workout every other day. This will speed up your metabolism and create motivation not to eat too much.
- Have a good chat. You cannot eat much while you are talking or telling a story. Therefore, it is in your best interest to be more sociable: this way you will eat less!
Beware of pancreatitisThe festive season usually marks a spike in hospital admissions for lots of reasons: people cut themselves when opening presents, get injured in house fires, and so on. Some major health risks are associated with holiday eating, too. The most serious of such risks is acute pancreatitis. This dangerous and potentially lethal sickness can be caused by a combination of lots of fatty, heavy food with large amounts of alcohol. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, which produces digestive enzymes (more info here) . It is expressed in strong pain in upper abdomen and often develops on the next day after the party. Acute pancreatitis requires urgent hospitalization and can kill you if left untreated, so seek medical help immediately!
As you can see, holiday eating is a challenging matter: you can end up bloated, sick, and even in a hospital if you don’t do it right. However, it’s possible to avoid the weight gain: all you need is some planning ahead and a good resolve. In fact, make this your early New Year resolution: no holiday weight gain this festive season!
A prospective study of holiday weight gain – New England Journal of Medicine. 2000 Mar 23; 342(12): 861–867.
Acute pancreatitis – Merck Manual
The impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review – Nutrition Revue. 2010 Sep; 68(9): 505–521.