Thanksgiving marks the beginning of gluttony season, a time when even the most health-conscious Americans struggle to keep their hands off the cookie tray and their mouths from saying, no thanks, to a toast at yet another holiday party.
After all, with most Americans consuming in excess of 4,000 calories and more than 200 grams of fat throughout a typical Thanksgiving dinner, according to the Calorie Control Council, why stop indulging now.
There is always next year to worry about losing those extra pounds, right?
Well, according to most statistics, New Year’s resolutions not only rarely change from year to year, but most are not kept. So here you are, another year older with another four or five pounds on your frame. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Strike Early Against Holiday-related Weight Gain
Strike early with a preemptive plan to not succumb to Holiday weight gain and you’re already one step ahead to starting the New Year healthier, happier and truly ready to make a change.
Drs. Natalie Digate-Muth, a recent graduate of the UNC Medical School, ACE-certified trainer and registered dietician, and Michael Mantell, a psychologist in private practice in San Diego, discuss their winning strategies to fight Holiday-related weight gain, depression and stress, as well as reasons why most New Year’s resolutions fail.
The Real Costs for Pigging Out
Overeating throughout the Holidays isn’t just bad for your waist line. It may take a serious toll on your health. Besides causing indigestion, flatulence and the unbuttoning of your pants, eating beyond your satiety signals can raise your risk of a heart attack, gallbladder pain and drowsiness while driving.
“While the food may be delicious, eating too much or far more than the body actually needs, the extra calories are stored as fat and contribute to steady weight gain that most of us experience over the years,” Digate-Muth said. “When tempted to overeat it’s much easier to not eat that extra dessert than it is to lose the weight that is gained from overeating.”
Mantell added that food also has a deep psychological component.
As a wellness specialist, Mantell believes that behavioral change can only be achieved by combining cognitive therapy with physical activity.
“The way we think about weight loss and weight maintenance it’s not so much about the actual food, but the way we think about food,” Mantell noted.
Cognitive distortions about food are common, such as all veggies and fruits are good while all fat and starched foods are bad. Mantell works with patients to first recognize exaggerated or irrational thoughts and then on ways to restructure their thinking. Often times, when people learn to refute those negative and distorted thought patterns, it can lift their moods and spirits like nothing else.
Here are some examples of distorted thinking when it comes to food:
All-or-Nothing Thinking: I already ate three cookies and drank two glasses of wine today, so I may as well keep eating and drinking.
Magnification: You just ate two cookies and now feel like your eating has spiraled out of control. The importance of having goofed up by eating two cookies is magnified, and for some people can be a license to keep eating bad foods.
The good news, according to the wellness expert, is that there are tricks to help you avoid misuse of foods, especially during the Holidays.
- The five-foot rule: Get a diet coach, which can be a friend or family member, to help you stay away from forbidden foods at a party. Tell yourself to keep five feet away from sweet temptations and ask a friend to signal you (by holding up five fingers) when you move in too closely.
- Mentally prepare: Before you get to a party, visualize all the foods and create a mental plan to divide your 12-inch plate into three-inched size circles with each one representing one food group: proteins, vegetables and starches. The key is to stay within the circle for each food group. If you like turkey and ham, fit a little of both in one circle.
- Drink plenty of water: That is before you get to the party and at the party.
- Don’t skip meals: Skipping breakfast and lunch will likely lead to overeating in the evenings.
- Take fewer bites of treats you enjoy: Don’t eliminate your favorite treats completely, but only take a few bites of your favorites.
- Practice portion control: Think kid-sized portions
- Keep your mouth busy: The more you talk, the less you’ll eat.
- Take breath mints or chewing gum: The fresher your mouth, the better your chances of staying away from chips, chocolates and garlic dips.
“People should stop and think before they binge on holiday sweets or talk themselves out of going to the gym,” Digate-Muth suggested. “It takes a lot of self-discipline and self-motivation over the holidays to refrain from binging and avoiding negative self-talk, which encourages binge-eating and multiple skipped workouts.”
Exercise to Burn Holiday Treats and Relieve Stress
Scientists and other health professionals have long hailed the many benefits of exercising: Boosting energy and mood, relieving stress and thoughts of depression, and of course, burning calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.
The Holidays are supposed to be joyful, but for many people they also bring back memories of lost loved ones and family get-togethers that evoke feelings of sadness, hopelessness and depression.
For others, the Holidays season can be a hectic, stressful time of trying to find the perfect gift, cooking scrumptious meals and creating family Kodak moments that leave little time to follow a regular exercise routine.
No one knows this better than Digate-Muth herself. Wearing multiple hats as a wife, mother, author of articles and book chapters, and practicing medicine, her time is precious. Yet, she manages to fit exercise into her life, even when that means parking further away from the grocery store, walking faster or taking the stairs, not the elevator.
“Make every moment count,” Digate-Muth said. For the sake of your waist line and your sanity during the Holidays, even a quick workout (as brief as 10 minutes) will burn calories and bolster your spirits.
A Holiday Exercise Squeeze-In Routine
With little time to spare, a few repetitions of the following exercises-- Push-up, crunches, squats and lunges in your living room, a short run or bike ride, a game of pick-up basketball or flag football with your family can relieve stress and provide fun for you and your loved ones.
Hiring a personal trainer can also help keep you on track during the Holidays.
“Sometimes we all could use a little extra motivation and inspiration and a person to be accountable to in order to keep our fitness program on track, especially during times of stress or when it is very easy to drop an exercise program,” Digate-Muth said. “Having a personal trainer not only allows you to maintain your fitness and might just be what the doctor ordered to help ward off post-holiday scale shock and another overly ambitious and unrealistic New Year’s resolution.”
For Mantell, a patient’s willingness to perform physical activity on some level is required to initiate positive behavioral change.
“I require all of my patients to work out,” Mantell said.
He tells patients whether they are dealing with depression, anxiety, a life-changing event or weight issues that to achieve wellness means treating the whole person, not just one aspect of their lives.
He often takes his patients to local Whole Foods Market stores to educate them about making healthier food choices and asks them to buy snugger-fitting clothes to encourage weight loss. Providing strategies to avoid overeating and how to fit daily exercise into their lives is another major part of healing.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail
This time of the year, the topic of making New Year’s resolutions ranks high on the list during his patient meetings.
The biggest error people make, according to Mantell, is setting goals that are doomed to fail; usually for a lack of motivation, not being specific enough, too ambitious or entirely unrealistic.
Mantell’s advice: Start by setting two or three big goals rather than a dozen small ones, put them in writing, and make them S.M.A.R.T.
What are smart goals?
These are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goals.
An example of a smart goal would be losing 7 pounds in three months by exercising five days a week for six hours total, combining cardio with strength training and eating a healthy diet. The USDA MyPyramid website can be used to find helpful nutrition tools and practical tips.
Let’s evaluate this scenario:
Specific: What are you trying to achieve? Lose 7 pounds. Why? To feel better and look better. How are you going to do it? By exercising regularly and hiring a personal trainer.
Measurable: Choose a goal with measurable progress so you can see change, overcome setbacks, keep on track and stick to your goal. For instance, you get sick and lose three days of training, instead of giving up, you resume training as soon as you feel better. You plan ahead for a weeklong business trip by scouting out restaurants that serve healthy meals, work out every morning at the hotel gym, and walk to the convention center rather than taking a taxi.
Attainable: You ensure that your goal is attainable by considering financial resources, your current living situation and time available. Set your goal as a challenge, but not too far out or too short to not become discouraged.
Realistic: Ideally, you would want to return to your high school weight, but you know losing 30 pounds would be unrealistic. You know that 7 pounds lighter you’ll feel much better and more easily fit into your favorite pair of jeans or dress.
Time-bound: Using dates and times as measurements toward successful completion of your goal is critical. For Mantell that also means building in a reward system for milestones: A massage, a getaway weekend, whatever makes you happy and keeps you motivated to stay on track.
“Put your S.M.A.R.T goals in writing,” he said.
Why Diets Don’t Work
And, moreover, forget about buying into the latest diet fad as the chances of regaining weight or even more weight than you lost, are almost guaranteed.
“A diet fad, such as the Grapefruit Diet may lead to a lot of weight loss initially, the large majority of people cannot maintain a grapefruit-only diet for an extended period of time,” Digate-Muth said. “Resolutions that require excessive amounts of exercise also don’t last long as either injury or decreased motivation will stop them dead in their tracks by mid-March.”
Mantell can attest to this.
“I always say, so you want to gain weight when patients tell me they are going on a diet,” he said. “Diet means weight gain. Life change means losing weight.”
Make 2010 Your Year
Why start another year with failed resolutions?
Take the initiative now and you won’t need to worry about weight loss this coming January.
Better yet, start 2010 by adopting a regular workout routine, recruit your friends, neighbors and family members to exercise with you, and learn about making healthier food choices.
Feeling better, looking healthier and happier is a gift that will keep on giving for years to come and won’t disappoint with another failed resolution.
Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.