A study published a little over a decade ago in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that most of us do in fact gain weight over the holidays. The good news is that the study also found that we gain a lot less than we think we do – with participants guesstimating that between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, they'd gained just over 3l pounds but only put on an average of 12 ounces.
That we gain weight over the holidays simply isn't surprising. Since time immemorial, food has been used by humanity to celebrate religious holidays and personal milestones, and when celebrating with food, both our portions and our choices tend to differ from the humdrum of our day to day.
At the end of the day, I've no doubt that everyone who celebrates Christmas has a food (or foods) that would fit into the sentence: "It wouldn't be Christmas without ______." Similarly, I would tell you that it wouldn't be Hanukkah without latkes, which my wife and I calculated contain roughly 100 calories per thin, tiny potato pancake!
But what of people trying to manage their weight? Working for over a decade with folks trying to manage their weights, I can tell you that when I see patients in January, I worry far more about those who lost weight over the holidays than about those who gained. I worry because losing weight over the holidays means that there's a decent chance that those folks felt that they weren't entitled to celebrate, socialize or find comfort with food. Instead they felt that their weight management efforts needed to be 24/7, 365-day-a-year efforts, where calories, points or portions are always tightly controlled.
Putting this another way, these are the folks that believe suffering, sacrifice and perpetual restriction are the ingredients they need to gather to successfully manage their weight. Of course, if suffering were a sustainable plan, the world would be slim – I'd venture that virtually no one with any significant amount of weight to lose hasn't tried one form of suffering or another to lose, only to regain what they lost when they got sick of suffering.
This holiday season I'd like to encourage you to make it an all-you-can-eat season – an all-you-can-thoughtfully-eat season that is, where the key word there is "thoughtfully". Eating thoughtfully means thinking things through and making informed holiday dietary decisions – just like you do when you buy holiday gifts.
[Read: The Secret to Gift Giving.]
There are many considerations prior to gift buying. For instance, knowing how much money you make each month, how much is in the bank account and what your upcoming expenses look like will allow you to more thoughtfully consider price tags. But of course, there's more to a purchasing decision than just a price tag, isn't there? There's also who and what the gift's for, when you last bought the recipient a gift, perhaps what they've purchased for you in the past and when you think you might be buying them a gift next.
Dietary indulgences shouldn't be any different, only here the price tags, at least weight-wise, are calories. Things to include in your dietary decision tree might be how many calories you burn every day (easily calculable by Googling an energy expenditure calculator), how many calories you've had during the holiday season (maybe now's the time to start a MyFitnessPal food journaling account) and how many calories are in the indulgence you're considering (before you sit down to your festive meals, tool around CalorieKing to looking up your regular holiday indulgences' price tags).
[Read: On Practicing Calorie Awareness.]
But of course, don't forget to factor into your decision making with whom you're eating, why you're eating, when the last time was that you had those indulgences, when you think you'll have them next and how much you happen to want them along with your health and weight concerns.
An all-you-can-thoughfully-eat life is as easy as asking two questions. The first is, "Is it worth it?", where, again, there are many variables beyond calories and health that come into play. And the followup to that question is, "How much do I need to be happy?", where the amount on Christmas day, for instance, is likely to be a great deal more than today.
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him on Twitter. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book, The Diet Fix: Why Everything You've Been Taught About Dieting is Wrong and the 10-Day Plan to Fix It, will be published by Random House's Crown/Harmony in 2014.