As we move closer to the holidays, weight gain increases—with the greatest gain occurring in the 10 days after Christmas.
As the weather gets cooler and daylight hours become shorter, people spend more time indoors. This can pose challenges, especially for people with obesity, when “comfort food” may seem like the only bright spot on long, dreary days. This can lead to weight gain, which is exacerbated as we move deeper into the holiday season. Beginning in October and continuing into the New Year, weight gain increases, with the greatest gain occurring in the 10 days after Christmas.1
Fortunately, there is still time to work with patients to develop a plan to deal with holiday temptations. Depravation doesn’t work, as is consistently evidenced by the poor outcomes of fad diets that rely heavily on this strategy. A more sensible — and achievable — approach is to plan ahead for the food challenges that will certainly arise and to figure out a way to enjoy the merriment while limiting weight gain. Moderation in consumption and prevention of gain are the goals.
Planning Ahead for Holiday Food Temptations
The first “test” is just around the corner with Halloween. Even those who don’t have children or don’t take part in the festivities face overflowing candy displays the moment they walk into a store. This type of temptation will continue to increase as holiday gatherings and cookie swaps start to dot people’s calendars, while they open their doors to holiday gift baskets.
Here are some tips to share with patients to help them navigate the increased challenges they will face over the next few months:
- Halloween: Buy candy that you don’t like, or offer non-candy treats. Also be sure to have a healthy, satisfying dinner to avoid snacking, and keep a cup of tea or other warm beverage at hand to help keep you full while passing out candy. If you want a piece of candy, select something special and put it aside for when the trick-or-treaters have gone so you can enjoy it mindfully.
- Veterans Day and other holidays when schools and workplaces are closed: Plan an outing that involves walking or some other type of activity. Throw dinner in the crock pot before you go and bring your own snacks so you don’t have to make unplanned stops. Make some light popcorn and watch a movie at night.
- Thanksgiving: It’s hard to avoid a feast on the holiday known for feasting, so this is an occasion where maintaining and not overdoing it are the goals. Increasing activity on the days before and after the holiday can help, as will committing to water consumption, since drinking 16 ounces of water before eating can help suppress appetite.2 There also are many ways to cut back on calories and fat without sacrificing flavor: Combine root vegetables such as parsnips or turnips with mashed potatoes to add flavor and nutritional value. Add broth to gravy to reduce fat, and many pies can be made crustless.
- Hanukkah and Christmas: Religious holidays can be especially challenging because they often are associated with family traditions that focus on foods. Again, planning is critical. If you’re going to cook, be sure to eat a healthy meal first. Many foods freeze well, and out of sight can mean out of mind. If you’re a guest, take the opportunity to catch up with others and enjoy their company — away from the buffet table — and alternate any alcohol drinks with glasses of water or seltzer. Don’t deprive yourself of the once-a-year delicacies, but don’t go overboard either.
Planning and Preparation are Key
If you are are in a weight loss program prior to the holidays you need not feel left out. A medically-supervised program allows for personalization so cravings for something sweet or savory can be accommodated, and the support from a weight management team is key as well. An experienced team will encourage behavior change and the formation of healthy habits — such as increasing water consumption and physical activity — which can have a lasting effect as you go into the season at a lower weight and, ideally, having adopted strategies that minimize the impact of holiday (over)eating.
The takeaways are: to enjoy the holidays with family and friends by having a plan for those times where the type or amount of food available will be tempting; to be mindful when eating to genuinely taste and enjoy treats; and to incorporate greater activity and healthy eating when meals are within the patient’s control.
*Robard, How Can Patients Avoid Weight Gain When Faced with Holiday Treats?, By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D., www.robard.com, 10/26/2021