Each year, we face a dietary gauntlet from November to New Years. Starting with Halloween, we eat our way through thanksgiving and the parade of holiday parties (with their brownie buffet bars), then pile on travel stress and break rooms filled with treats totally shellacked with red and green icing!!
It's no wonder we typically gain a few pounds over the holidays. And these yearly weight woes are worse for some than others. According to this study in the journal Nutrition Reviews, those who are already overweight tend to gain much more than people of normal weight. Specifically, those who are overweight gain five pounds (or more!) through the holiday season.
Worse, those candies and cupcakes and eggnog that can pack on the pounds tend to stay on even after the holidays are over, according to this report in The New England Journal of Medicine. So when you see those brownies in the break room, just realize that you will be with them for 5 minutes, but they will be with you through April, May, and June!! In fact, these data indicate that much of midlife weight gain can be explained by holiday eating itself.
Why does this happen every year? It's not like we don't see it coming, or don't remember what happens every single year at this time.
These dietary dilemmas happen when we get inundated by 8 weeks of bad influences, all of which add up to the perfect storm of dietary disaster. And, once you get overwhelmed, you retreat to a mentality of something I call the "dietary credit card."
THE DIETARY CREDIT CARD OF HOLIDAY CRAVINGS
The holiday season typically trucks in stuffed turkeys, cornbread stuffing, and plenty of stuffed bellies as a result. It's inevitable, so we think, and so we just give in to the food barrage and just go with the flow, treating our normal holiday habits like a credit card. "Just get it all today, and pay for it in January - with interest."
Armed with a play now, pay later mentality, these entire eight weeks are written off by dieters in lieu of the month of January. But as we know from all the diet research available, you seldom pay off that diet debt and there is no stimulus package bailout for your growing bottom lines.
There are safeguards, though - principles that can see you through this time unscathed, without having to whip out the dietary credit card, and even help you maintain a healthy weight through the holidays and beyond.
HALLOWEEN'S HEALTHY PRINCIPLE ... QUALITY
Halloween's "Candy Katrina" flood of sugary treats kicks off the confusion surrounding the yearly holiday season. For example, we've all heard that chocolate is good for you, but also that it's a candy ... and therefore bad for you. So what's the deal? Is it good for you or not?
It turns out that the cocoa itself, which is found in higher quality dark chocolate, is the part that's good for you. The thin, waxy, milk chocolate shmeared over sugary nougat, or wafers, or caramel ... well, that just does not qualify.
So chocolate makes an important point. Higher quality chocolate is good for you, while the lower quality chocolate is not.
It turns out, too, that quality and quantity affect your appetite like two buckets in a well ... if one goes up, the other goes down. When you choose higher quality foods, the quantity your body asks for drops. Lower quality foods stimulate your body to be hungry for more later, which just feeds the problem. So for Halloween, choose higher quality treats, and your body will not crave as many of them.
THANKSGIVING'S HEALTHY PRINCIPLE ... QUANTITY
Turkey is good for you. Sweet potatoes are good for you. Green beans are good for you. Yes, even pumpkin pie can be good for you. Even better, the Thanksgiving holiday is defined by a "return to the family table", which is a principle of the entire Mediterranean approach we espouse.
So wait. If each of these healthy T-Day foods is healthy, and people typically eat at the table with their families, why does the meal spark nail-biting among everyone from nutritionists to dieters?
What can make Thanksgiving bad for you is (normally) not about the quality of the food, but the quantity. A plate overflowing with turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes, and pie WILL be bad for you. But the reason it would be bad for you is not about the food, it's about the sheer volume you're shoveling. In fact, no food or drink on the planet cannot become "bad for you" ... once you over-consume it.
THE HOLIDAY'S HEALTHY PRINCIPLE ... STRESS
The day after T-Day is officially known as Black Friday, to signify the day when companies "go in the black" due to the frenzy of shoppers who rush to the stores, jockey for position, and form a rugby scrum to nab the latest gotta-have toy on the rack. The hurried and harried atmosphere makes this time of the year a frazzled, frantic recipe for stress-induced overconsumption.
Thus, this link between eating and stress is as important for the bottom line of your bottom line as it is for your emotional sanity. So if you want to focus on managing the weight of your body, you have to start by managing the weight of your daily cares. Take time for yourself this year, don't feel like you have to be a superhero and do everything for everyone all by yourself. Even better, shop online and have the gifts shipped to the location. No muss, no fuss, no stress. Your bottom line will thank you.
The holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Even though it has become infamous as the perfect storm of dietary disaster, by applying a few simple common sense principles we can give ourselves the freedom to enjoy this season without weight gain. That way, when the diet month of January does come around, you won't even need it.
Dr. Will Clower is an award winning author, media personality, and CEO of Mediterranean Wellness.