THE BLOG

Will the Ghost of Diets to Come Affect Our Eating Over the Holidays?

12/16/2013 02:53 pm 14:53:00 | Updated Feb 15, 2014

I don't get it. Article after article in magazines, on the Internet, in newspapers and medical newsletters warn us about holiday weight gain. They all warn of too much party food, too few salads, too many obligations, and too little time to exercise and sleep. If we are not careful, the articles claim, we will be 10 to 20 pounds heavier at the start of the new year. This is sensible advice. But then why do the same Internet or print publications tout menus for parties or holiday meals that are anything but calorically sensible? Where, among the pictures of multilayered cakes, Christmas cookies, roasted goose and candied walnuts, do we find bowls of fresh fruit salad, steamed spinach or poached chicken? Indeed, it almost seems Scrooge-like to refrain from serving or eating foods that are not bursting with fat and sugar. Maybe there are pockets of sensible eating here and there across the country, but by and large, we go through December is a state of near gluttony.

So who pays attention to the "keep slim through the holidays" recommendations? Does anyone really run laps around the shopping mall while carrying two large bags filled with gift packages? Do most people eat a large plate of kale or bowl of oatmeal before going to a party so they won't be hungry for the buffalo wings and fried mozzarella, the creamy dips, the ham, roast beef, cheese-sauced potatoes and pecan pie? How often does the host pour tap water, rather than the bubbly or eggnog, for a guest?

Unlike Thanksgiving, when overeating occurs on one day, holiday overeating seems to be more or less continual. Desktops are covered with candy, Christmas cookies and nuts from coworkers; mail carriers deliver wicker baskets stuffed with fat-laden salami and cheese-and-crackers. Holiday shoppers are enticed into stores with offers of hot cider and cookies. Mall food, grabbed when one is too tired to shop any longer, is saturated in oil, and most travelers will not have better options in airports or roadside restaurants. And the ubiquitous office party must offer sufficient food and alcohol to dull, perhaps, memories of a difficult work year just ending, or continue that ever elusive quest for normal restorative sleep.

Some of the already fit and thin will avoid culinary excesses and attempt to continue on with their healthy life style. For these individuals, doing so is almost a reflex. They are not going to eat or drink excessively, or stop going to the gym or getting enough sleep, just because it is holiday time.

But everyone else?

Unlikely. It is hard enough to change food choices, to make time and effort to exercise, to get enough sleep and defuse stress at any time. But when the joyous burden of holiday shopping, entertaining, traveling and partying is added to an overloaded schedule, most people do not have the mental or emotional energy to worry about what they are eating or whether they are exercising enough.

Perhaps if our society suddenly declared that we must eat frugally over the holidays and spend time in the gym rather than at parties, the excessive eating and drinking might end. Perhaps it will take the ghost of diets to come to convince us that what we eat in December will haunt us in January. But until that happens, if ever, the best way to get through the holidays is to enjoy them. And if you can eat a salad once in a while, moderate your alcohol intake and go for walks, your scale will be a little happier in January.