As a Facebook friend of mine recently put it “I doubt it is too far off to believe that in the last few weeks I have consumed the same amount of sugar (if not more) that people a few centuries ago would get in their entire lifetime.”
But seriously. Holidays these days often equals eating lots of sugary treats. And eating lots of sugary treats sometimes spells weight gain for holiday revelers.
“I think it’s a lot harder [to be healthy] during the holidays,” said Jonathan Roop. Roop and his family were sitting at Chick-Fil-A in Charleston during a recent Breakfast with Santa event. He said it’s not that the foods are that much different, it’s just that there’s always so much more sitting around. He looked at his wife across the table. “So she makes a lot more cookies and pastries and things like that and they’re always sitting on the counter, so you always have to have one when you walk by.”
Amanda Roop chimed in.
“Unfortunately my new year’s resolution - everybody’s is like lose weight, lose weight - mine’s not to gain weight. So, serious as a heart attack, that’s what I really tell people,” she said.
Amanda Roop might be onto something. Recent studies show that while holiday weight gain isn’t huge (about 1.3 pounds in the United States) it can take up to five months to lose that weight again. If you gain 1.3 pounds every year and don’t lose it, that means you’re racking up an extra 13 pounds a decade.
“It’s good to enjoy these foods and to enjoy the celebration and the holiday surrounding the food, but eating a large amount doesn’t make it any more special,” said nutritionist Kristin McCartney, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program educator for West Virginia University’s extension program. She said enjoying the foods you like in smaller amounts can be just as satisfying as gorging yourself on holiday favorites. In other words? Portion Control.
McCartney said she encourages people not to make foods off limits because as soon as you do that then there’s a tendency to overdo those things. “I really think any food can fit into a healthy diet as long as you’re managing your portion appropriately,” she said.
McCartney paused and then said if there is one thing we could live without it’s soda and other sugary beverages.
“And it’s something that tends to add a lot of calories throughout the year so switching to water is really a way to eliminate those extra calories you get from those,” she said.
Jonathan Roop said that tactic worked for him.
“Basically I lost probably 24, 25 pounds and I just cut out all sugary drinks and limited portions significantly,” he said.
Exercise is also really important, said a colleague of McCartney’s. It may be cold outside, but you still need to get up and move.
“And then just trying to keep on schedule,” she said. “If you’re having a big lunch or a big dinner don’t skip your previous meals because then you’re even going to eat more.”
Finally, don’t get caught hungry. Meaning when you are out trying to get those last few presents make sure to bring a healthy snack with you. That way if you get stuck out longer than you were expecting you aren’t reaching for the Starbucks holiday drink or Big Mac, but can tide yourself over until you get home.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.