Among the more sinister characters making an appearance around the holidays is the Spirit of Holiday Weight Gain. While not entirely mythical, its claims of uncharitably delivering an unwanted five, seven or even 10 pounds to unsuspecting revelers are heavily exaggerated. Although many of us may overindulge in coveted cookie recipes and Bubbie’s Potato Latkes, the typical weight gain during the holidays is generally less than two pounds.
That’s good news — or is it? While a smaller weight gain may seem more manageable and thus easier to lose, that’s not always the case. Some will make the inevitable New Year’s resolution to lose weight, exercise more and live healthier, but fewer than eight percent of people fulfill their resolutions. Small weight gains are easier to ignore so people are not as motivated to do something about it — and they don’t. This is a problem. These small weight gains add up, especially in the long-term. Many who are at a healthy weight slowly and steadily move toward obesity. Although reduced physical activity, particularly in cold weather areas, may be cited as a reason for weight gain, in reality, increased food intake is the culprit and the holidays make it easy and inviting.
This year, in particular, will be additionally challenging. An increase in the number of COVID-19 cases will necessitate fewer large gatherings and many cities offer limited, if any, indoor dining. While this may reduce the number of corporate parties and extended visits from the in-laws, families will no doubt try to maintain a semblance of normality by keeping with their holiday traditions, many of which surround food. Further, home confinement due to the virus is already contributing to weight gain and those with overweight or obesity are at greater risk.
As we move into the heart of the holiday season, there are preventive measures that can be offered to patients. First, drink more water! Alternating glasses of water between those of holiday cheer or a soda not only cuts unnecessary calories, it helps maintain hydration to help minimize post-imbibing effects.
Many people plan their holiday purchases well in advance or do comparison shopping to make sure they get the best bang for their buck. Encourage patients to extend this practice to their holiday consumption. If big meals are planned on certain days, plan for healthier alternatives on the days leading up to and following holiday feasts. Portion control can also help and pre-packaged products, such as Robard snacks and desserts, can provide a satisfying alternative to calorie heavy options.
For those whose annual weight gain requires them to consider a new approach to weight loss and management, programs that utilize meal replacements are safe and effective. The quick initial weight loss is highly motivating and the convenience, portability and taste of the products are appealing to those who have struggled with other programs. This makes adherence easier, which the Endocrine Society suggest is the most critical element to successful outcomes. Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) programs are also supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute.
The holidays mark the end of the year (and what a year!) — and it will be here and gone before we know it. While it’s certainly tempting to wish 2020 it on its merry way, take a moment to focus on the real message of the season: peace, joy and hope. Stay the course — we’ll get through this!