Depending on the statistics that you look at “holiday” weight gain ranges from 2-10+ pounds. Some of the variance is how people define the holidays. We would say they start with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, on into Christmas and the New Year. The fact is that the holidays themselves have about the same to do with gaining weight as any other celebration such as a birthday, anniversary, or wedding. This article is going to take a big picture perspective to help you navigate through this holiday season armed with awareness, education and enlightenment!
Let’s first address some of the variances in the reported weight gain “facts.” Thirstiness that bloating,or water retention,is not the same as long term weight gain or fat gain. Bloating is common around large meals or influxes of calories, especially calories that come from inflammatory foods like sugars, processed foods, or really condensed foods like peanut butter. There is nothing inherently wrong with these foods,but they tend to shock the system a bit when consumed in higher than normal amounts.We will dive deeper into this later in this article.
FACT: Long term holiday weight gain is responsible for one to one in a half pounds of actual fat gained.
Secondly, breads, pies, potatoes, and other carbohydrate rich foods are very “hydrophilic” meaning they attract water. Each gram of carbohydrate that we eat can store around three times its weight in water. This is good for energy and vibrant, hydrated and tones muscles (muscle is where most of the water from stored carbohydrates goes) however it can temporarily show a bit of an increase on the scale.
So if the vast majority of holiday weight gain is water then what is the big deal? When you look at this from a MACRO or big-picture perspective even a 1-1.5 lb increase in actual body fat in a two-month time frame really adds up! Even a five-pound increase in actual fat increases inflammation, slows us down, and is being linked to depression if the inflammation is ongoing
Let’s now dive into a MACRO approach or HOLISTIC approach that addresses this issue, let’s get deeper than the usual eat this don’t eat that and put a big picture game plan together for your upcoming holiday season. Let’s use the traditional Mind, Body, Spirit approach
In the Macro Missionary certification that I took I learned so much about habits, cues, and how these relate to hunger and behavior.Sometimes we eat when we are not even hungry because we are being “cued”to eat. Let’s dive in!
Our subconscious habits operate under the CUE-ROUTINE-REWARD system. For a holiday dinner, the cue might be the time of day, location and environment (close to mealtime, restaurant or house, the smell of food cooking) the routine is to grab some appetizers and refreshment and mingle with people. The reward is often the “escape” that the bonding with others provides. Catching up with Aunt Jane, hearing about Uncle Bob’s kids, sharing our story of the big fish that got away and so on. For an hour or so we are not thinking about our mortgage being late, the medical report being bad, or our other elements of life that stress us out.
The beauty is even if we are thinking of those things we are experiencing empathy from those around us, so it’s like a weight off our shoulders discussing them. The trick is to understand the cues are going to stay the same and the reward (bonding, empathizing, communicating, escaping) is the reward so if we replace the routine(appetizers and refreshments) with a different routine then it’s a win/win. Different routines could be, taking a walk while everyone is grabbing appetizers and refreshments, replacing your normal refreshment with a calorie-free option. (I suggest hot coffee or tea as it sips very slowly like many alcoholic refreshments do)Booklet at Halloween as an example, the CUE is the time of night, knock on the door, or audible “trick or treat”the routine is giving/receiving candy and the reward is either being your favorite super hero for the night (kids) or the priceless smiles you see and positive feeling you get by GIVING the treats.Giving out change or school supplies instead of changeableness routine but parthenogenesis the same reward.(the kid is still a superhero and you get to enjoy the experience without “dipping”into the Halloween candy).
Now let’s dive into some practical application. The food is going to be there, you love grandmas famous pie with a stick of butter in it per slice and this is going down
Speaking from EXTENSIVE experience, it’s rarely one meal that throws us off, it’s generally one leading to a late-night snack leading to a big breakfast leading to ordering in because it’s Sunday and who wants to cook on a Sunday night!? Here is another strategy to prepare the body for the foods that you'll exposed to.
Prepare the microbiome
The microbiome (gut), or the second brain, has been getting more and more attention in recent years. Scientists are linking anxiety, depression, and lack of activity to poor gut health. Key neurotransmitters and hormones are blunted when inflammatory foods destroy good gut bacteria and the gut then ends up being predominantly run by bad bacteria. When this inflammatory response occurs, we do not produce (or make use of) dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone that accounts for positive feelings of well being and movement. When dopamine is high we are excited and ready to go! When our “dopamine” loop is low we feel lethargic, sad and the thought of preparing a “healthy” meal seams like far too much work, so we chase our dopamine fix from the only non-movement way to produce it, sugar!
When sugar is combined with fat it forms a hyper palatable food that is nearly impossible for the body to say no to or stop to! Bottom line is we do not want to wreck our microbiome and get caught up in that trap. I’d suggest eating an anti-inflammatory meal prior containing gut friendly food such as fiber, cultured yogurt, or greens. I generally opt for a salad with prebiotic spices such as turmeric and garlic powder, a bit of olive oil and ahi tuna which is very anti- inflammatory. In a rush, some Greek yogurt blackberries, Fiber One Cereal for some fiber and a crunch along with some almonds would be great! The fiber will fill you up so not only is your gut ready for a fight, you will not feel as hungry either. Another great tip is to prime your dopamine with an early morning run before the festivities, when we are happy and excited, we tend to converse more which distracts us from food. Lastly, opt for lean protein such as white turkey first, chew your food very slowly while enjoying the company around you. Focus on people and conversation and allow time for your hunger hormones to tell you that you are full.
For some, spirit means heart, others give spirit more of a religious meaning, where others it may be harmony or positive energy. Regardless of how we see our spirit we all feel it all around us.
So what of it, what does spirit have to do with holiday pounds? For some of us the holidays cut deep into our spirit, maybe it’s a resentful relationship, a broken marriage and it’s the other parent turn to have the kids, a dying relative, or an empty chair where a love relative once sat. These are emotional stressors that make taking refuge in food or alcohol for escape very appealing. We previous discussed about relishing the joy of the holidays, what if the holidays bring us pain? Here are a few concepts that we can ponder to deal with the stressors that the holidays bring for us.
Gratitude: It is impossible for the brain to be in a sad and grateful state at the same time. This is why quotes about the “attitude of gratitude” are so popular. It is ritual form many people to express a prayer gratitude before meals at which point a higher power is thanked for providing the meal. Other aspects that we can be grateful before a meal are, for the life of the animal (if eating meat), the people who prepared the meal, the people who made the meal possible for us (farmers, grocery workers, etc) or even the sunshine itself that allowed the vegetables to flourish.
Reconciliation If there is that one person that we dread seeing around the holidays, the one who hurt us or wronged us. Letting go and practicing forgiveness has an enormous impact on our stress, anxiety, and even digestion. (Anxiety, frustration, or anger engage the sympathetic nervous system which creates a poor environment for digestion.) Forgiveness does not mean forgetting nor is a sign of admittance of you being “wrong”, it is simply a way to move on and experience calm.
I hope that this increased your awareness and gave you some ideas as you enter the season! Have an amazing holiday season and make it about people and experiences not about stressing over food. If you’d like a free example meal plan that will prime your microbiome before your next holiday meal email firstname.lastname@example.org