Is holiday weight gain really a thing? North Americans generally believe it’s an issue, with some people feeling they could potentially gain up to 5 or even 10 pounds due to overeating during the Christmas season. And of course, businesses selling fitness and rapid weight loss products are happy to capitalize on our fears!
But will you suddenly become obese after eating too many Christmas cookies and drinking too much eggnog? In reality, most people gain just under a pound during the Christmas season.
Making extra room next to your turkey for extra mashed potatoes and stuffing, or indulging in a little sucre à la crème between meals isn’t necessarily the end of the world. But it is important to recognize how treating ourselves to big meals, rich foods and sweets, and larger amounts of alcohol during the Christmas season can impact on our eating habits after the holidays.
Why Binging During the Holidays Carries Over After Christmas Too
One issue we need to be aware of is what’s called “creeping obesity.” Basically, it’s a failure to return to our former weight after we experience a small weight gain. So if we enjoy a couple weeks of hedonism during Christmas and New Year’s, we need to address that holiday weight gain promptly.
If we write it off as “just a pound or two” and don’t make any changes to our diet or activity levels, that weight will stay with us. And then the next time we come around to a holiday or special occasion, we’ll be starting with a slightly higher weight before we add on that pound or two. I hope you can see how this habit would add up pretty quickly over the space of a couple of years. It’s like compound interest, and not in a good way!
So if we don’t actively work to lose weight that’s gained over the Christmas season, however small, it will likely stay with us permanently. And the bad news is, once we throw caution to the wind, we may continue to overeat long after all the Christmas parties are over and done with.
Researcher Brian Wansink of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab says we usually try to get back on track after the holidays, actually buying three times the healthy fruits and vegetables when we go to the grocery store. The problem is that we don’t stop buying the junk food, and we end up consuming 14% more calories at a time when we need to be cutting back a bit so we can work off the holiday weight gain.
You can see how that adds to our predicament! But forewarned is forearmed. So if we go into the Christmas season knowing consequences of our little holiday indulgences, and most especially if we can plan ahead so we can avoid the worst of the pitfalls, theoretically we should be able to limit our holiday weight gain and maybe even manage to lose weight before Easter comes rolling around!
How to Avoid Overeating at Parties
The very best advice I’ve read on this subject is so simple: eat at home before you go to the party. More specifically, eat healthy protein like lean meat, low-fat yogurt, or legumes. You should also load up on low-carb veggies – or consider bringing your own, just in case there are few on offer at the party. It’s important to have the protein because it stays with you longer. The fibre in the vegetables is also really great for making you feel full and satisfied. And that means you won’t be letting your eyes control your portion sizes at the party!
Once at the party, use a plate to serve up your food. If you wander around and graze a little here and there, you won’t see how much food you’re consuming. Putting the food on a plate forces you to look at it all together at once. Try to balance your plate and to choose a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, in addition to the cheese, seafood, deli meats, and fried or breaded foods.
Once your plate is full, it can help to eat the high-fibre vegetables and lean protein before foods that have a higher carbohydrate load. Just like eating protein and loading up on veggies before the party, this trick will help you prioritize the foods that are going to do the most good for your body. That may result in you eating fewer starchy, fatty, or highly processed foods. Research also suggests that eating vegetables and protein before cabs can help to regulate insulin levels and prevent blood sugar spikes that promote weight gain.
Watch the Calories in the Drinks!
Remember that drinks count towards your energy intake, and not just foods. Those calories can really add up, especially if you choose one or more alcoholic beverages throughout the night. The calories in alcohol come mostly from sugar, so it’s important to limit them despite any health benefits associated with beverages like red wine.
Drink alcohol in moderation, and respect the low-risk drinking guidelines to minimize caloric intake and health risks associated with over-consumption;
Drink a glass of club soda or infused water at the beginning of the party and after every alcoholic beverage. This will help you cut calories and alcohol, and help keep you hydrated. If you drink about 15-30 minutes before going to the buffet table, you may also feel more full and make healthier choices about the foods you put on your plate;
Choose a shandy or a spritzer as a lower-alcohol option;
If your drink comes garnished with a slice of fruit or a stalk of celery, eat it. In fact, ask for extras and take a little time to munch before going back for a refill;
Check the alcohol content on the bottle. Light and extra light beers in Canada have 4% alcohol or less, which also means fewer calories from the sugars in alcohol;
When making cocktails, opt for drinks that contain a single shot. Watch out for drinks that contain 3 or more different kinds of alcohol. Those can be a killer in more than one way!
Ice wines often have a lower calorie count than other wines, so if you like them you may want to opt for them instead of that glass of Shiraz or Chardonnay;
In a similar vein, mixed drinks that include a shot of liqueur may have more alcohol and calories than those using other distilled spirits;
Drinks mixed with milk, cream, or ice cream are going to have more calories than those made with club soda or pure fruit juice. And the whipped cream on that boozy hot chocolate counts too! If you’re going to partake of the hot cocoa bar or drink a little eggnog from the punch bowl, you probably want to forgo the other creamy drinks.
It’s OK to Indulge – Just a Little!
It really is OK to indulge a little every now and again, especially during the holidays. So if you want to enjoy the seafood bar or eat a little of everything from the buffet table at the réveillon, that’s OK. Eat a little of everything you like. Let me repeat that: eat a little of everything. Indulging doesn’t have to mean eating until you have to unbutton your pants!
But please, don’t deprive yourself either. It’s less healthy in the long run than allowing yourself a treat on a special occasion.
Scientists back in 1975 did a really cool experiment in which they gave people a milkshake to drink and then left them in a room with three bowls of ice cream, telling them they could eat as much of the ice cream as they wanted. People who weren’t dieting would eat less of the ice cream if they’d consumed more milkshake, because they were already feeling full. But people who were dieting actually ate more ice cream if they had drunk more of the milkshake.
Weird, huh? Well, it turns out this may just be human nature. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself – if not with food, maybe with time management, shopping or paying your bills, studying, or in some other area of your life. The harder you try to “be good” and the more you focus on not breaking any rules, the easier it is for you to throw all the rules out the window as soon as you break just one of them.
People who try to restrict their eating too much seem to lose sense of when their bodies are hungry and when they are full. Restrained eating patterns are associated with a loss of impulse control once the diet is broken or the forbidden food consumed.
While other people would eat a moderate amount of a richer food or stop eating when they feel full, people who practise restrained eating will tend to write the whole day off once they feel they’ve broken the rules. What follows can be a pretty serious binge eating session. So really, give yourself small treats and allow yourself richer foods now and again. If you don’t feel deprived, it’s easier to continue making healthy eating choices.
Holiday Weight Gain: The Takeaways
It’s OK to indulge a little during the holiday season. In fact, trying too hard to stay away from less healthy foods can set us up for binge eating later;
Don’t try to “bank” calories by skipping meals before the party: it’s actually healthier to eat before going to the party. Eat protein and load up on low-carb veggies before you leave home;
Watch out for the hidden calories from alcohol;
Beware of creeping obesity. Even a small weight gain is a problem if you can’t lose weight soon after the holidays. Balance party days with a few days of austerity to minimize both weight gain and falling into continued bad eating habits;
Do eat more healthy fruits and vegetables after the holidays, but beware of the increased calorie count that comes from buying both them and the junk foods. After the holidays, you need to reduce caloric intake for a bit. So clean out your pantry after the holidays, and leave the chips and pizza pockets at the grocery store for a while longer!
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!
Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition expert or health professional. I am just sharing information I have learned so you can further your own exploration of healthy foods. The information is as complete and accurate as possible at the time of publication, but some sources vary in their recommendations and the science of nutrition is always changing. Nothing presented here should replace the advice of a licensed dietitian, certified herbalist, or medical doctor. You and only you are responsible for obtaining professional diagnostics and advice, and only you can make your own healthy eating choices. If you choose to consume alcohol during the holiday season or any other time of the year, please do so responsibly and find a safe way home from the party.