Thanksgiving is about 6 weeks away and now is a good time to take action against the infamous holiday season weight gain that is associated with the period that starts with this celebration and lasts through the first of the New Year. Holiday parties at work, family celebrations, and gift baskets of food from thankful clients challenge adherence to a healthful diet. Add to that the time-limiting "rush"of the holidays which not only creates stress, but often causes exercise routines to fall by the way side, and you have yourself the recipe for weight gain. Prevention is the key to maintaining your weight through the holiday season, and the earlier the start, the better.
The good news for some is that the average weight gain during this festive time is less than the common belief of 5-7 pounds. According to the investigation, "A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain," published in the March 23, 2000 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the net average holiday weight gain is a little over 1 pound, or 0.48 kilogram. The bad news is that the results of the study indicate that this weight gain is not typically lost after the holidays.
A weight gain of 1 pound may not sound significant, but it is the cumulative effects of this gain year after year that the investigators propose contributes to the large increase in body weight seen in adulthood. Furthermore, the study noted that those subjects who experienced the greatest amount of weight gain during the holidays (about 5 pounds or 2.3 kilograms) were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to those subjects who gained fewer pounds. Considering that our nation is currently faced with an obesity epidemic, this latter finding may be applicable to a greater number of Americans now than when the study was reported in 2000.
Don't wait until the New Year to resolve to manage your weight. Get a head start at warding off the holiday weight gain by following these tips:
During the weeks prior to the holiday
On the day of the celebration
- Expend an additional 100 calories per day. Walking for an extra 25 minutes at a brisk pace of about 3.5 miles per hour would result in a caloric expenditure of approximately 119 kcals for an individual that weighs 150 pounds. If caloric intake remains the same, this increase in activity over the next six weeks would result in losing over 1 pound of body weight by Thanksgiving.
- Plan. Review your calendar for the next few months. When are the holiday parties and family gatherings? Make sure you set aside time to get in your exercise. If you know you won't be able to pass up a second serving of Aunt Mable's pumpkin pie, schedule an extra exercise session to accommodate.
During the weeks post-holiday
- Exercise in the morning before the festivities begin. This will ensure you don't skip your exercise for the day.
- Make a post-dinner family walk a new holiday tradition. A major component of the holiday celebration is socializing with family and friends. That time doesn't have to be spent mostly with food as the focal point. Time together can be spent participating in group activities such as a round of Charades or a pick-up game of touch football.
- Eat in moderation. You don't have to skip your favorite holiday dessert to maintain your weight, just consume a smaller portion. Take extra helpings of fruit and vegetable offerings if you are still hungry (but be careful, if they are smothered in butter or other high caloric dressings you may end up packing on the pounds).
- Leave the table upon finishing your meal. Sitting in front of the food, even if you are full, may trigger you to eat more. Occupy yourself with another activity while you are waiting for others to finish, such as helping the host by clearing or washing the dishes.
- Make a New Year's Resolution to maintain the exercise program you began prior to the holiday season.
- Continue to eat in moderation.
Thanksgiving may seem like a long way away, but once the holiday rush begins, you might find it more difficult to formulate a plan of action. By preparing during the weeks prior to the celebration, you will have the time to develop a few strategies which will allow you to enjoy the holiday season without putting on the extra weight.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.
The New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 342:861-867, Number 12, March 23, 2000, "A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain," Yanovski, J.A. et al.