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Nov 08

Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Body Mass Index (BMI)The 2018 holiday season is about to begin. In a quick progression, we will have Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The “holiday season” will not truly end until February 4, 2019 (Super Monday) when many people are most likely to miss work and discover that their clothes are a bit tight.

Only the Grinch would cancel the holidays; they are great occasions to be with family and friends. Unfortunately, the holidays can also bring stress, to which many people react by overeating or excessive drinking. The season also exposes people to an easy availability of food and beverages that they would not normally have.

Several times in the past, our blog has commented on a study of holiday overeating published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. The investigators found that most people overestimated the extent of holiday weight gain. The average person involved in the study guessed their holiday weight gain would be in the neighborhood of five pounds, but the actual measured gain was “only” a little over one pound. That’s the good news; the bad news is that the New Year’s Resolution to drop that weight is seldom achieved. Put simply, the weight gained over the winter holidays isn’t lost during the rest of the year, and those small increases add up over the decades to major medical problems. This study also found that people who were already overweight at the start of the test period were likely to have the greatest weight gain.

In the field of bariatric surgery, we see a lot of patients who have gained “just a pound or two” for three to four decades (that adds up to 60 to 80 pounds). Many of these people will have developed serious medical problems related to obesity that could have been avoided. Weight loss surgery procedures like the gastric sleeve or gastric bypass can dramatically improve conditions like diabetes and hypertension as well as produce substantial and lasting weight loss. Nevertheless, it would be far better to avoid creeping weight gain at the earliest possible time.

Now is a good time to make some “November Resolutions” to sidestep the problem of creeping obesity.

  1. Weigh yourself now. You cannot know if the holidays have added a little to your normal weight level if you don’t have a reliable starting point! So, get a weight reading now, and then again after New Year’s Day. Do not do this casually; use the same dependable scale at the same time of day for both measurements. If your weight has increased by even a pound or two, do not pass it off, even if your appearance is the same. Most people can take off one or two pounds in a month by walking 45 minutes a day and using moderate diet restrictions. If you wait until it is 20, 30 or 50 pounds, it is far more difficult.
  2. Exercise is important every day of the year, but it may be especially helpful during the holidays. Exercising relieves the inevitable stress that comes with the holiday season. Try to get your daily exercise early. Go for a 1- or 2-mile walk in the morning, and later in the day volunteer to do things like walking the dog or taking the kids out to throw a football.
  3. Don’t fool yourself by skipping meals. Many people reason that if they just sacrifice breakfast and lunch, they can eat all of the main meal they are able to hold. This is a small calorie savings that will lead you to eat more in the long run. Go out of the way to eat an especially healthy breakfast and lunch before holiday meals.
  4. Plan healthy options ahead of time. Stock up on high fiber, lower calorie foods (see our article, Fiber Is Your Friend”). Try whole-grain cereal for breakfast and a sandwich made of whole grain bread for lunch. This can help to ward off hunger pangs later when high-fat, high-calorie holiday dishes are readily available.
  5. Limit your alcohol intake. Besides the danger that drinking poses to driving, alcohol is a major source of excess calories. “Holiday Cheer” aside, a single glass of wine can range from 110 to 300 calories and a regular beer is in the neighborhood of 150. Alcohol also has the effect of sometimes increasing appetite, so limit that holiday toast to just one round.

You can enjoy a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Holiday by just keeping to those few “November Resolutions,” so make them now and stick to them. If you are already fighting obesity, our practice may be a source of help and support. Each month, on the 3rd Thursday, we hold a Monthly Bariatric Support Group Meeting. This meeting is located in Dr. Birkedal’s office at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center (305 Memorial Medical Parkway in Daytona Beach). Our office is located in Suite #205 and you may reach us by phone at 386-210-9794. By resolving to attend this meeting, you may be taking the first step to a happier, healthier and longer life!

Happy and Healthy Holidays to you and your family and loved ones!

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