Remember when the “holidays” were only 6 weeks long and the first Christmas commercial (Santa riding a Norelco razor) didn’t air until Thanksgiving Day? Today, eager retailers deck the halls before the black and orange of Halloween has a chance to fade and seasonal goodies, like eggnog, can be enjoyed 3 months out of the year!
The time frame for typical holiday weight gain, once considered to start with Thanksgiving, now seems to begin with the temptation of bite-sized candy bars in October. So does that mean that the “average 7 pound holiday weight gain” has also increased?
Seven pounds has long been reported as the average of an assumed 5 to 10 lb. gain, but research by the National Institutes of Health found that the actual average gain in the six week interval between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is much less – only 0.8 lb. And from the initial weight measurement in late September through early March, the study volunteers gained an average of just over a pound – 1.05 lb. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that a year later, the study volunteers had not lost the weight gained over the winter months. This means that even minimal holiday weight gain can really add up over the years – in 10 years you could be carrying an e xtra 10 to 15 lbs!
While fewer than 10 percent of the participants gained more than 5 pounds, those who were already overweight were more likely to gain five pounds than those who were not overweight. According to the study, “the researchers found that only two factors influence weight gain: level of hunger and level of activity”. Those who were “more active or less hungry” were the least likely to gain weight and those who were “less active and more hungry” were more likely to gain.
The conclusion that “the holiday season may present special risks for those who are already overweight” may come as no real surprise, but the fact that few people are able to lose even the minimal amount of weight after the winter holidays is of utmost importance.
Therefore, we must consider the 2 factors that influence weight gain, the first of which is “level of hunger”.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made in an attempt to avoid holiday weight gain is fasting in anticipation of a holiday binge. Knowing that a party has the potential to cause a dramatic increase in daily caloric intake, people often skip meals before such an event. But “saving” your appetite is practically a guarantee that you will be starving and more likely to overindulge.
Following such a binge, some may forgo meals the next day in a misguided attempt to further offset the overindulgence. Additionally, people may carefully “diet” nine months out of the year, but go “off” their diets to take a “vacation” come holiday time. Worse yet, some actually feel guilty about “going off” and give in to every temptation – unable to resist “forbidden” foods – so they simply resolve to return to their diet and exercise come January.
While it might summarily be called a “level of hunger”, many people overeat for reasons other than hunger. Not only is it dealing with an increased availability of tempting treats, but there are social and emotional factors that contribute to the holiday mind-set and there’s little doubt about the role food plays in our traditions.
Emotionally, we may deal with the feeling that it just wouldn’t be the holidays if we skipped Grandma’s pumpkin pie – even though we already unbuttoned our pants after our second helping of stuffing. To justify our choice to “further stuff”, we tell ourselves that it would be rude to Grandma to refuse her pie!
Now consider what “level of activity” means. The holidays are indeed a busy time of the year with holiday preparations and lots of shopping. However, while one might be actively busy, one should not confuse “busy” with “active”.
I recall being told by someone who did not exercise that she was so “busy” at work – running up and down stairs, constantly on the go, with little time spent at her desk – and yet she was still overweight. While being “actively busy” at work may burn a few more calories than just sitting at your desk, it’s not going to do much for you in terms of weight loss.
The same is true for being “actively busy” during the holidays. Although you may be more active in your level of “busy-ness”, chances are it’s going to do little to offset a sudden increase in your holiday caloric intake.
Your best bet is to develop a plan now and make a pre-holiday resolution to stick to it – forget about procrastinating until January to just burn it off because it’s not easy. Now is the time to get your calendar and actually schedule your regular exercise sessions amidst your holiday parties – don’t just “pencil them in”, write them in bold black pen!
Since you will be busier than normal, be realistic and only schedule 4 sessions per week – 2 for cardio and 2 for strength training. As you enter the holiday season and festivities come up, move your sessions but don’t skip them – this is a minimal fitness schedule at best. No doubt you will have to fight the urge to ignore the bold black ink, or conveniently forget in the midst of your “busy-ness”. Remind yourself that exercise will help with holiday stress and allow you to enjoy holiday treats without overwhelming guilt.
When you get to the gym, work hard because your exercise time is limited. Add short sprints of higher intensity work effort to your cardio sessions to reduce time and increase caloric burn. Do a time-efficient, complete-body workout on your strength days. Start with major muscle groups first, performing compound or integrated exercises, then work your way out to other body parts like arms and shoulders. Remember that the idea is not necessarily to make strength gains, but to maintain your calorie-burning muscle mass.
If you find yourself ignoring your sessions, reschedule them for first thing in the morning – even if it means getting up earlier to exercise before work. You will have less time to think about all the other things that you have to do – and more likely to be truly “active”.
If you will do it, you’ll be able to enjoy a little bit more of all that the holiday season has to offer and hopefully have nothing to lose in 2007. But if you just can’t do it, I’ll see you at the gym in January, along with all the other “more hungry and less active” New Year’s resolutionists!