3 insidious reasons we gain weight during the holidays (and how to fight them)

First, here’s the good news. Although on average everyone thinks they gain about 5 pounds a year due to holiday eating, most of us actually only gain about 1 pound of holiday weight. Not bad, right? Well…

The bad news is, most of us never lose that pound. In fact, about 51% of our average annual weight gain occurs during the six-week holiday period. Worse still, “this extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life,” according to  the National Institutes of Health.

Another factor of note to Weighthackers is that if you’re already overweight, you’ll gain more during the holidays than someone who isn’t overweight. While a normal weight person may only add half a pound during the holidays, someone who’s overweight or obese will average five extra pounds.

So let’s talk about why we all overeat during the holidays, then I’ll show you how to avoid it:

1) Abundance: During the holidays we’re surrounded by food. Co-workers bring in cookies and cake, families gather for huge meals and refrigerators are stuffed with leftovers. The problem is, when we’re surrounded by food, humans tend to eat it even when we’re not hungry. So that’s the first strike.

2) Palatability: Another problem with holiday food is that it tends to be what’s called “highly palatable,” which means it tastse good to us. And the better a food tastes, the more of it we’ll eat. So not only are you surrounded by food, it tends to be really tasty food. Strike two.

3) Peer-Induced Overeating: We’ll eat more when our friends and family around us overeat, even when we’re not hungry. And most people around us overeat during the holidays, so the pressure to join in is enormous (and can make us enormous too!). Strike three.

You may notice something here. None of the reasons I outlined above seem “bad” per se. You’re around friends and family, the food is good and there’s lots of it. These are all typically considered desirable things. And that’s exactly what makes holiday weight gain so insidious. You’re put into an environment where it’s nearly impossible not to overeat, and nothing seems particularly wrong about it.

Okay, back to some good news. With a few simple changes you can avoid holiday weight gain altogether but still enjoy the holidays themselves. Here are 6 easy weight hacks to get you through the upcoming “eating season”:

1) Start with Breakfast: Eating a nutritious breakfast, especially one that contains a protein like eggs, will help keep you full throughout the day, so you’ll naturally eat less.

2) Have a Plan: Think about what you’re going to eat before you get into an eating situation. Love that fruit log that Aunt Sally makes? Plan ahead of time to have one piece. Love turkey and mashed potatoes? Plan to have one plate and no more. Studies show that if we have an “eating plan” we tend to stick to it.

3) Avoid a Food “Free for All”: In a buffet style atmosphere where we can get more food whenever we want, we have a hard time keeping track of how much we’re eating so we end up eating too much. Your strategy in those situations is to put everything your’e going to eat on one plate first and when you’ve finished that plate, stop eating.

4) Write it Down: Another strategy for keeping track of what you eat is to write things down as you eat them. This doesn’t have to be complex or obvious. For instance, I just keep my iPhone handy and use the Notes feature to jot down what I’ve had.

5) Don’t Clean Your Plate: When you’re done eating, don’t clean off your used plate. Instead, keep it around as a visual reminder to your brain and body that, yes, you’ve already eaten and, no, you don’t need to eat more. These kinds of visual cues are an important component of tracking what we eat, and they also signal us to feel more full.

6) Fill Up On Good Stuff First: Before you get to Aunt Sally’s fruit log, get a helping (or two!) of fruits or veggies. Because they’re low-calorie but take up more volume than heavily processed foods like cake, they’ll make you feel full but not add weight. Then when you get to the fruit log, you’ll have a smaller helping.

A few other things that will help: If you have a regular exercise routine, make an extra effort to stick to your scheduled workout during the holidays. The last thing you want to do is overeat then forego the gym. And, if you’re bringing food over to friends and family, don’t bring a treat that you know you’ll love and want a lot of. That’s setting yourself up for disaster!

Last year I used these weight hacks so successfully that I was able to lose weight during the holidays. Not only didn’t I miss all the overeating I used to indulge in, it also made the holidays sweeter than ever.

Posted November 20, 2012 @ 1:38 pm | Tags: ,,,

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