Every new year, it’s the same. Patients that I haven’t seen since the holidays come in for their first doctor visit of the year. Their blood pressure is 20 points higher, their sugars are out of whack, and they’ve packed on an extra 10 + pounds. In the exam room, they can barely meet my eyes when they admit “ Doc, I really overdid it around the holidays ! I couldn’t resist all the [insert ridiculously unhealthy holiday food]!”
I call it the HOLIDAY EFFECT, and it sucks for both the patient and for me, because weight gain is associated with higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, higher blood sugars, arthritis …the list goes on and on.
I see the holiday effect in 60-70% of my patients, and that’s not an exaggeration. But sometimes, in comes the Miracle Patient who has managed not to overindulge, has kept their weight steady, or even more shockingly, has intentionally LOST WEIGHT over the holidays. For this patient (let’s call them Mr/ Ms Smith”, I give a SLOW CLAP (I really do), and then ask “ Mr (s) Smith, how did you do it?!” Time, and time again I hear the same advice, and this is what I want to pass on to you today, just in time for the last Holiday feast!
FIVE HEALTH HACKS TO OFFSET THE HOLIDAY EFFECT:
1. CHANGE YOUR PLATE REAL ESTATE
Mr(s) Smith came to the buffet line with a game plan, and you should too! Before reaching for the serving spoon, scope out all the options. Then make your way over to the salad and vegetable portions and make sure half your plate is filled with that (and no, apple pie is not considered a fruit *side eye * ) What you want to do with the other half of your plate is up to you, but now you’re forced to have smaller portions of less healthy stuff. Win!
2. MAKE A VOW TO SKIP THAT SECOND PLATE
Mr(s) Smith didn’t totally skip holiday dinner or dessert. Let’s be real, and not sabotage ourselves with unrealistic goals. The holidays are a wonderful opportunity for spending time with loved ones, and special seasonal treats which help make this time of year special and enjoyable. The thought of skipping it altogether is sad.
So instead, practice PORTION control. Don’t use Christmas dinner as an excuse to pig out completely. Taste a bit of everything on the buffet if you like, but try not to pile the plate too high (which defeats the purpose of portion control), and then resist the urge to reach for seconds. Bonus points if you eat slowly, because after 20 -30 mins your brain will let your body realize that actually, you’re not hungry anymore and actually, you DON’T need that extra dinner roll!
3. DON’T PLAY WITH FIRE
We can sabotage ourselves way before the holiday party. Just walk into the grocery store this time of year, and you’ll be immediately assailed with delicious pumpkin pies at “BUY ONE GET ONE HALF OFF!!”. Mr(s) Smith probably bee-lined to the pie shelf, threw a box in the grocery cart, looked down and then….put it back on the shelf. Walked away. Mr(s) Smith is the epitome of self-control.
When people moan about how they hate themselves for how much butter pecan ice cream they scarfed down at 2 am the night before, I like to ask the simple question “if you don’t want to eat it, why is it in your freezer?”. The point is, let’s not set ourselves up for failure, and then act surprised when we fail.
4. WALK IT OFF
The thought of exercise- especially in colder climates when an evening stroll around the neighborhood requires 5 layers of clothing, or after you fall into a food coma- isn’t very appealing. But the walk doesn’t have to be outside. Commit to at least 20 minutes of physical activity on most days, it can be as simple as walking in place while watching Jeopardy in the evening. Exercise is proven to help keep weight off , and help offset the holiday blues if you’re prone to it.
Just a caveat: A 30 minute walk, on average, burns only 150-200 calories (depending on weight, speed of walking of course). One cup of eggnog is about 350 calories. Here is a list of calories in common foods. See my point? If you eat crap, don’t expect that 30 minute walk to help you lose weight. But at least it may help offset the extra poundage you might have gained otherwise. And of course, exercise has a host of benefits that has nothing to do with weight loss (click here)
5. IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED….
OK, you had the best intentions. You were doing amazingly well. Then, Aunt Shirley rolled in to the party with your FAVORITE macaroni pie, and you were powerless in the face of that 4 cheese crust. Three plates later and you’re overwhelmed with a wave of guilt, and start searching for the towel so you can just throw it in until January 1. DON’T DO IT!
So you had a bad day, my friend. Tomorrow is a new day. If you eat right 90% of the time, then overall you’re doing GREAT! Mr (s) Smith doesn’t beat themselves up too hard, they just commit to doing better the next day. And they DEFINITELY wouldn’t take any of that macaroni pie home; they know that thing is kryptonite!
So now that you’re armed with Mr(s) Smith’s secrets for success, I wish you a Merry rest of the Holiday Season! And tune in for an upcoming blog in a few weeks where we’ll review a post-holiday detox plan.
Cheers to healthful happiness !