Come January, advertisements for weekend detoxes, fat-burning shakes, and weight loss plans to shed 10 lbs in 10 days will be circuiting to the masses who are uncomfortable with their holiday indulgences. The stash of cream puffs, short bread cookies, spiced nuts, eggnog lattes will be put away. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy – been there, ate that. All that’s left in the fridge may be limp lettuce or dried out veggies that remained on appetizer plates, obviously left behind for something more delectable.
While I’m not opposed to decadent holiday food – I have my far share and enjoy every bite! – I am opposed to the mindset with which people approach holiday celebrations. Broadly it is summarized as the “enjoy now, lose weight later” mindset. People with this approach are usually the ones looking for drastic weight loss methods to recover their pre-holiday weight. They may use semi-starvation, fad diets, non-therapeutic food restrictions, medications, or intensive detoxes to shed holiday pounds, fast.
Of course, a few-pound increase over the holidays is quite normal, owing to Christmas truly being a special time of celebration that involves more sugar, fat, and salt. Extra sugar and salt hold more water, so the weight gained is not entirely all extra padding (a.k.a. fat). The problem is when holiday weight gain exceeds a little, and the overeating taxes the body and weakens the immune system. This article is intended to help you assess whether you have conscious or unconscious mindsets that promote weight gain over the holidays. The battle is lost and won in the mind, so let’s do some mind work now to save later.
1. Are you deferring weight loss to your 2018 New Year’s resolution list?
Discussing New Year’s Resolutions may sound premature with Christmas still a month away. But hear me out: Going into this Christmas season already thinking of using quick weight loss programs come January is giving the mind liberty to indulge in whatever looks appealing. Essentially, strength for self-control (we all have it) drops a few notches because the mind is set on future reactionary approaches for weight management rather than present proactive approaches. Encountering the dessert table that seems to call your name from across the room will be much easier to deal with holiday eating is dealt with head-on. Preventing excessive weight gain requires an active plan, a resolve to be healthy, to respect yourselves, and to use your resources (time, energy, mental clarity, skills) for things other than weight loss.
Don’t get me wrong. New years are great times for making changes, setting goals, kicking bad habits, developing a new skill. January speaks motivation simply because we associate it with a fresh start. However, this motivation may be more worthwhile for personal development rather than losing holiday weight because holiday weight gain can be prevented.
2. Are you skipping meals prior to a holiday feast?
Those who save their daily calories to splurge on a later meal are not doing their waistlines any favours. Eating one large, rich meal over a day versus multiple meals – even if both scenarios provide the same number of calories – will have vastly different effects on weight. Spikes in blood sugar, thus insulin levels, is to blame.
As carbohydrates-containing foods are digested, blood sugar rises. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, rises in response to blood sugar to facilitate movement of sugar from the blood into cells. Without insulin, sugar would remain in the blood and damage blood vessels. The downside to insulin is its fat-stimulating effect. Blood sugar spikes, thus insulin, are related to eating foods with simple sugars (e.g. white bread and pasta, desserts, refined foods) and large portions. Even eating oversized portions of healthy carbohydrate-rich foods, such as quinoa, amaranth, steel-cut oats, and wild rice, can elevate blood sugar levels. So can powdered protein powders, because the body can converts excess protein to sugar, which is then stored as fat. In summary, do your body a favour: don’t starve it during the day to indulge at one meal, regardless of how decadent the food is.
3. Are you socializing near food and have treats left in the open – everywhere?
Whether at the office or at a family Christmas gathering, food, especially high sugar, high fat, and high carb food, tends to be everywhere. Frequent exposure to calorie-dense, nutrient-low food, characteristic of the holidays, makes it tough to prevent weight gain.
I’m not suggesting holiday foods should be avoided outside of a couple holiday meals. No. People express the joys of the season through food – and rightly so. The giver infuses food she prepares with love; the grateful consumers receives this love as pleasant satisfaction on their taste buds. If there was ever a person who appreciated the rich value of food, outside of its mere nutritional value, I’d be she. However, I’ve learned the art of tempering low-nourishing food with food that nourishes my body. Feeling like crap when I eat not-so-good-for-me foods is very motivating to stay the healthier course.
We can’t deny that too many of these holiday treats add up over a month and a half of celebrations. To make it easier on yourself this Christmas, take your socializing away from food. It will be there later. At holiday parties, chat away from food tables. Be more engaged in people than the food. Help put food away after holiday meals, so there is less chance of nibbling all evening. Don’t sit next to the nut bowl. At least if you have a handful it will require walking over to the bowl instead of just reaching for it. Encourage family members or colleagues to join you in a walk to grab some fresh air and exercise rather than grazing over snacks. Lastly – and this may sound rather odd – brush your teeth after a meal. For some, a clean mouth may add extra motivation to avoid more finger food.
4. Are you eating like Christmas dinner is your last supper?
Christmas holidays come once a year, yet birthdays, weddings, baptisms, baby showers, Easter, summer BBQ’s, etc. offer many other times throughout the year to celebrate with special food and people. Still many approach Christmas like it was their last good meal, the mindset of getting their fill before Christmas passes. Certainly, my grandma’s homemade perogies, nalysnyky, cabbage rolls, and kasha are special to Christmas and Easter. I look forward to these traditional Ukrainian foods every year. However, good food doesn’t end with the season. Temper what you eat this holiday season, knowing celebrations continue over the year.
A new mindset I leave you with
There are several conscious and unconscious mindsets people have around the holidays that lead to easy weight gain. Prioritizing healthy foods in appropriate portions is valuable for preventing weight gain over the holidays. Keep in mind that enjoying holiday foods with friends and family is equally valuable and health-promoting. Calorie counters: Go easy on yourself. Rather than feeling regret from overindulging or lonely from adhering to a long list of “do not eat,” the best mindset to approach holiday eating is one of thankfulness for good food, a healthy body, and your loved ones.