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Holiday Weight Gain: The Gift You Can’t Return

Eat, drink, and be merry. In moderation, hopefully. But if not, there’s a fix to shed those unwanted 7-10 pounds researchers say are typical. [1]

There’s no need to deprive yourself during the holidays, which last well into the New Year for many. You can treat yourself. But remember, good things come in small packages. So hopefully you’ve watched your portions and kept track of all your bites and nibbles. Indulged, but not overly.

Speaking of overindulgence: that second helping of stuffing, a fourth or fifth cookie, another slice of pie, and that bowl of chocolate kisses are calling. After the mammStart the New Year Rightoth meal at Thanksgiving, or on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day—you know, where you’ve filled your plate, maybe twice—it’s straight to the couch to sleep it off. And even if you didn’t overeat at your holiday sit-down dinner, temptation is everywhere: cookies and candies and pastries…oh, my.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve—with Valentine’s Day fast approaching—are the most fattening holidays. [2] Mounds of loaded buttery mashed potatoes, slices of turkey, ham, or beef roast slathered in thick gravy, brown-sugared candied yams topped with marshmallows, baked gooey mac-n-cheese, and pecan pie at Thanksgiving. For Christmas, eggnog or hot buttered rum, honey-glazed ham, buttery rolls, cookies and more cookies. And then cheesy dips, crab cakes, calorie-laden cocktails and champagne (for some of us) at New Year’s.

Just writing this I feel full—and guilty.

Avoid Any More Holiday Weight Gain

We’ve been slowly packing on the pounds since November! But it’s not too late to cut back a bit on the helpings. It’s not too late to go lighter. In fact, you can start right now: try a few ideas for satisfying noshes, appetizers and snacks perfect for New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl parties, even Valentine’s Day and Easter. Folks, you can eat the good stuff—the fun, delicious foods that you associate with holidays—but do it smartly.

Instead of green bean casserole loaded with creamed soup and sodium, try green beans with citrus and pine nuts: beans blanched, then sautéed in olive oil and tossed with lemon or orange juice and a few toasted pine nuts—rich-tasting but low-calorie. Or mash sweet potatoes instead of white, adding a little olive oil and rosemary. There’s no shortage of recipes that substitute out bad fats and refined sugar with healthy fats and natural sugar substitutes without sacrificing tastiness. It’s a process you learn over time when you start to rethink the way you eat.

Still, we’re in the middle of the holidays and lots of folks are shaking their heads saying, “The damage is done, it’s too late to turn back now, we’ll just make a resolution.” Let’s look at that.

Not a New Year’s Resolution; a Reset

A New Year’s resolution is all about starting fresh; in our case, to start eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods and reset our bodies. So from now on we’re calling it a New Year’s Reset—not resolution. Because let’s be honest here: how many New Year’s resolutions do you think you’ve made over the years? And of those, how many have you stuck to?

Not surprisingly, the number one New Year’s resolution people make is to lose weight. And even though nearly half of Americans make resolutions (with losing weight at the top of the list), most of us fail completely.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says establishing unrealistic goals is a setup for failure. And there’s a study to prove it:

“This study prospectively tracked the self-change attempts of 200 New Year’s resolvers over a two-year period in order to more fully understand the coping determinants of maintenance and the natural history of lapses and relapses. Seventy-seven percent maintained their pledges for one week but only 19 percent for 2 years.” [3] (emphasis added)

The takeaway? The vast majority of us last one week. One week!

So since we overdid it this holiday—and even if not—most of us are still hoping to get healthier, so let’s talk about how to lose weight, be more active and, ultimately, stick to it. Not just for the New Year, but for life.

Losing Weight After the Holidays

There’s little disagreement that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or Mediterranean diets help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, help lower the risk for heart disease, stroke, and even some cancers. DASH, in particular, is praised and recommended by American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), and fits federal dietary and high blood pressure treatment guidelines.

And the best part is, on the DASH diet—or at least adopting the basics—you’ll lose weight. It’s not a quick fix. And it shouldn’t be. I know this to be true because I did this very thing: re-thought how, what, and when I ate, incorporating the DASH diet suggestions, but also almost completely cut out processed foods or those made with refined sugars and flours. And I lost 18 pounds in three months.

Then Thanksgiving happened. I will be going back on this way of eating (not a fan of the word “diet”) on January 1. And I will work hard to be one of the 19 percent who sticks to it.

So what do you eat on DASH or Mediterranean? Vegetables. Lots of vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables. Healthy portions of fruits, and judicious portions of whole grains. Limited dairy—and when you do dairy, keep it light (but watch out for added sugars!)—good-for-you fats like olive oil, and healthy portions of lean proteins: heart-healthy fish, poultry, beans, and nuts, with lean beCrazy Wrap Thing ef and pork cuts thrown in only occasionally.

What don’t you eat? Foods high in saturated fat, like fatty meats, full-fat dairy, oils like coconut and palm kernel oils, and walk away completely from sugar. Just do it.

How do you do it? Since an average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day to maintain her current weight, she’ll need at least 500 calories less per day to lose. And it’s easier to cut 500 calories from your food than to try to rack up 500 calories worth of exercise (though combining the two is easier than you might think). Figure it this way: a pound of fat is around 3500 calories. So to lose a pound a week, you have to cut around 500 calories from your current diet every day.

When I was actively on my modified DASH diet, every plate included mostly fruits and vegetables (half the plate), and proteins and whole grains made up the other side. I ate avocados and black beans, quinoa and other whole-grain breads and pastas. I didn’t eat potatoes. I ate fish, beans, yogurt (watch the sugar!), eggs, nuts, seeds, and lots of lean proteins—though mostly boneless, skinless chicken breast. My dessert? Dark chocolate. Every day. A small portion, but still…chocolate.

Will that work for you? Maybe. It did for me, and I’m going back. The NIH is convinced folks can lose weight on the DASH diet, too. [4]

Getting—and Staying—Active After the Holidays

I haven’t found the research, but I bet you a few bucks that diet gimmicks and gadgets sell well in the first few weeks of the New Year. For our purposes though, let’s kick this section off by urging you not to spend money on fancy gyms, or purchase “quick-fix” contraptions.

Like the Crazy Wrap Thing  from It Works! It’s expensive, and I’m unconvinced it can help with anything, frankly, especially since its use must be continual—it works only if you don’t stop working it. So if you use one of these things—not reusable—every three days, to keep up so everything doesn’t fall south, it’ll cost you thousands in a year. And that’s just the wrap, not the gel It Works! says you need. So this is a huge no way, for me.

Or how about the Tummy Tuck Belt? Don’t waste your money. Plain and simple. This is useless. If you want “instant slimming,” buy Spanx. If you want to tone your abdominals, you must exercise. Sorry, but that’s the simple truth. And as we get older, it’s harder and harder to lose that belly fat, so you have to stay vigilant.

What you could do instead is spend a few dollars on resistance bands—there’s a great deal on Amazon at just over $10—a good pair of walking shoes, and a set of small hand weights. You’re all set. [5]

I live in Florida, so it’s swimming and walking for me. But even if you live in the frozen tundra, you can still walk. In fact, walking in the cold is pretty darn good for you, it turns out. Just take it easy. [6] So walk. When spring comes, get on a bike. By summer, swim if you can. Come autumn, who doesn’t love a good stretch of the legs with the leaves crunching underfoot? That’s how you move.

It’s a marathon, folks. Not a sprint. Just make sure to move your body every day. Take the stairs. Park away from the store entrance (during the day only). Put on the oldies and dance. Just move.

How to Stick to Your Resolution (Reset)

Speaking of marathons, that’s one problem resolvers tend to have. If all you’ve ever done is once around the track, a marathon next week is a goal too far. The first goal should be twice around that track. Then three times. Then four. And so on until it adds up to a marathon.

If you want to stick to eating better and exercising regularly, to lose weight and live longer, here are some tips from me and the American Psychological Association (APA). Yes, because psyching yourself up should be step one! [7]

Keep it Real(istic)

This is the first trap: setting a goal that’s not achievable. When changing eating habits—as per my suggestion and the NIH’s—make it gradual. Don’t cut out every carb or sugar cold turkey. You’ll crave them and you’ll relapse. Instead, slowly swap in brown rice for white, whole grains for refined flour, pick up one more fresh fruit or vegetable and one less pack of cookies. Spend more time in the produce section of the store. And give yourself a day or two each week at first to cheat a little so you won’t feel deprived (another reason folks give up). Become a friend of single-serving sweets. And about exercising: start with two or three days a week and work up to daily.

Give Yourself a Break

It took a lifetime of eating poorly (or a six-week holiday season of pigging out) so if you fall, it’s okay. Get back up and start again. I am guilty of quitting because of just one misstep; it’s an easy out. Don’t beat yourself up, but don’t give in either. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Buddy Up

I’m reminded of an image from Winnie the Pooh:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” [8]

We need to be sure of each other. We work best as a team, looking out for each other. So buddy up with a friend, your sister, or a co-worker. Join a class or support group, or perhaps create a Facebook group. The APA says, “Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating.” [7]

You’re Not Alone

Nearly 30 percent of adult Americans are obese. It’s shocking, really. Or maybe it’s not. And ironically, the weight-loss industry in the U.S. is a $66 billion dollar behemoth. So you are far from alone. [9] [10]

There are myriad online resources available for free. This is an important point, folks; virtually everything you need to know about losing weight and exercise is widely available online. So don’t pay a dime for anything but good, whole, fresh food. [11] [12]

But also accept that you may need more help from professionals: nutritionists, dietitians, counselors, therapists, and/or support groups. When you’re doing life-changing work, you may need a little lifting up.

And I’m always here with you, so there’s that.

References

  1. Travis Saunders, “The Truth About Holiday Weight Gain,” Obesity Panacea, PLOS Blogs, posted 17 December 2014, accessed 26 December 2017, http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/2014/12/17/the-truth-about-holiday-weight-gain-2/.
  2. Eustacia Huen, “America’s 10 Most Fattening Holidays,” com, last updated 30 November 2016, accessed 26 December 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/eustaciahuen/2016/11/30/americas-10-most-calorific-holidays/#2715131378a4.
  3. C. Norcross and D. J. Vangarelli, “The Resolution Solution: Longitudinal Examination of New Year’s Change Attempts,” Journal of Substance Abuse, 1988-1989; 1(2): 127-134, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2980864.
  4. “PREMIER Study,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, last updated March 2011, accessed 26 December 2017, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/research/resources/obesity/completed/premier.htm.
  5. “Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands…” sales page, com, accessed 26 December 2017, https://www.amazon.com/Fit-Simplify-Resistance-Exercise-Instruction/dp/B01AVDVHTI/ref=sr_1_3?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1514319543&sr=1-3&keywords=resistance+bands.
  6. Sarah Robertson, “Cold Weather Ways to Burn Fat Fast!” com, last updated 3 November 2011, accessed 27 December 27, 2017, https://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/cold-weather-and-winter-walking.
  7. “Making Your New Year’s Resolution Stick,” American Psychological Association website, accessed 26 December 27, 2017, http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resolution.aspx.
  8. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, (New York: Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Putnam Inc., 1956).
  9. “Adult Obesity in the United States,” The State of Obesity website, last updated 31 August 2017, accessed 26 December 27, 2017, https://stateofobesity.org/adult-obesity/.
  10. “U. S. Weight Loss Market Worth $66 Billion,” Cision PR Newswire website, last updated 20 December 2017, accessed 27 December 27, 2017, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-weight-loss-market-worth-66-billion-300573968.html.
  11. “Interested in Losing Weight?” gov, last updated 27 December 2017, accessed 26 December 27, 2017, https://www.nutrition.gov/weight-management/strategies-success/interested-losing-weight.
  12. “Facts & Statistics,” President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, gov, last updated 26 Jan 2017, accessed 26 December 27, 2017, https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html.

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Written by Ellyn Santiago

Ellyn Santiago

An award-wining investigative journalist for more 30 years, one of the things I never really wrote about was health, wellness, and fitness. Ironically, I've been overweight my whole life so I know diets. Intimately. And, having been a​n editor and writer for a​ fitness magazine ​recently, I learned a thing or 10. Now, I'm committed to exploring the many weight loss options out there to try to help folks make good choices.

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