The average American gains between 1 and 3 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- more if you're already overweight. It's a scary statistic. Parties, family gatherings, stress, alcohol and fatigue are all to blame. Being inundated with goodies -- gingerbread cookies fresh from the oven, caramel covered anything and (my all time favorite) pecan pie with vanilla ice cream -- is also a factor, generating nostalgia for the good old days when we were young and well care for.
When stress rises during the holidays we are especially vulnerable to overeating foods we associate with fond memories.
With all the cheer and good will in the air, the holidays often raise expectations and lead to wishful thinking. Maybe your usually grumpy mother-in-law will recognize how wonderful you are, your boss will give you that well-deserved raise or everyone in your family will get along. The reality may be disappointing and all the more painful during the holidays.
Overeating can be thought of as a form of self-medicating, but it is short-lived and inevitably followed by self-loathing and guilt. The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.
Here are a few tips for keeping things in perspective this holiday season:
Make a list of your stress triggers:
Have an alternative: Instead of turning to food for comfort, consider calling a friend, listening to your favorite song, looking at a photograph of someone you love, leafing through an art book or a magazine or going for a walk.
Beware the collective holiday mindset:
"Life is on hold until Jan. 1." Don't skip the gym or eat the second piece of pie. Make a pact to exercise with a few friends. Encouragement and support will keep you going.
Keep a log of every morsel you put in your mouth:
Record your calories, exercise and weight every day. Self-monitoring is an effective tool. There are easy-to-use apps that do this.
Survey the entire buffet before serving yourself:
You will eat less.
There is a link between lack of sleep and weight gain.
Rushing through a meal makes you more prone to heartburn, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Relish each bite. Not only will you eat less, you'll spend more time with friends and loved ones.
And now a success story:
I have a friend who gained 8 to 10 pounds every holiday season for 10 years. She referred to it as her "month-long feeding frenzy." Holiday cookies and hot chocolate were her weakness and conjured up memories of Christmas spent in Vermont as a child.
Last year she decided to break this destructive pattern. She set a realistic goal to gain less than three pounds. She woke up an hour earlier each morning to walk to work; she skipped a few holiday parties; she kept a food diary, and she and a friend joined a local program that delivers food to homebound elderly New Yorkers (running up and down the stairs of walk-ups was an added exercise benefit).
She actually lost one pound. Jan. 1 was a New Year for her in more ways than one.
Follow Samantha Boardman MD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@sambmd