Battle of the Bulge: Fight off unwanted holiday weight gain

Story and photo by Dr. Krystal White, Contributing writer

Photo15aChristmas market food stalls; plates of festive cookies, pies, cakes and candies; parties; and celebrations all tempt us during the holiday season. If adults feel inclined to indulge in lots of treats this time of year, consider what most children feel: free reign!

Adults may worry about the consequences in the back of their minds, but most children don’t have the capacity to consider how what feels good in the short term may be bad in the long term. Even children who are overweight tend not to associate what they are eating now to how they feel in regards to their body shape later.

Research shows that most men gain two pounds of weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and most women gain one pound of extra weight. This weight sticks around. Since we don’t lose it over the warm months of spring and summer, the weight just adds up. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey focused on adults 25 to 44 years old who were most at risk discovered that the body weight measured at 10-year intervals increased by an average of 3.4 percent in men and 5.2 percent in women. 

Being overweight just doesn’t make us feel merry and bright. It is associated with social problems, health risks and emotional difficulties. If we continue to eat without intention, we will add this fat to our bodies and also to our spirits. Here are five ways you can prevent unhealthy and unhappy weight gain during the holiday season:

» ake the hard to imagine stick: Teach your children about how people gain weight. As an example, take four sticks of butter and have each child hold them in one hand. This is equal to one pound of fat. Have them hold it to their bellies, their thighs, their legs. Do this every week, preferably on Sunday night before the week ramps up. By starting the week with a clear awareness of what we don’t want, many people can make better choices. Tell them that when they feel tempted to imagine the sticks of butter. This imagery could help them make better food choices.

» atch breads and sweet treats: This time of year, carbs are often over consumed. A carb heavy diet often leads to water retention, which leads to bloating and feeling heavier than you are. Insist on one sweet indulgence per day. If you have a holiday lunch, have salad for dinner. Choose one splurge at a Christmas market, and bring packed healthy options for the rest of the outing that day. Limit fast food (heavy in carbs, fat and salt) to two times a week. 

» ring your own water: Keep water available and visible in the car, in the kitchen, on the desk at work and in children’s backpacks. Children who don’t need to gain weight should always drink water before every meal. Research shows adults who gulped two cups of water before meals shed 40 percent more weight over a 12-week period, and another found that drinking water before meals naturally led to eating less. At home, try to encourage children to drink a cup of water after every time they use the bathroom. You’ll notice a big difference!

» atch special drinks: Refuse to have juice or soda in the home from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Since you’re eating more sugary foods during this time of year, your children will miss these drinks at home less. Adults should monitor and watch their alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol is a huge culprit in heart attacks, physical problems and weight gain. Give yourself a quota for how many drinks you should have the entire week, and budget them out. If you need to lose weight, shoot for under three drinks.

» oving rituals: Most families create food traditions. Families should create holiday physical activity rituals. Rituals could include turkey “trots” in the morning, an hour walk between dinner and dessert, a physical playtime break (think Wii!) or a “who can get the most steps” contest on Black Friday.

For more assistance, talk with your family health provider about ways to help your family battle the annual bulge.

(Dr. Krystal White is a pediatric psychologist specializing in healthy family habits and evaluation of developmental disorders)