The Scariest Thing About Halloween is Weight Gain

Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means: it's officially THE HOLIDAY SEASON -- or rather, the Holiday WEIGHT GAIN Season. 

Between now and January 1st, everywhere you turn you'll be bombarded with candy, baked treats, rich meals, and boozey parties. It's a fun time of year for foodies and social butterflies. But it can be a troubling time of year for your health.  Most people gain a bit of weight over the holidays. If you're at a normal weight, that's not too bad. But if you're already trying to lose weight, any additional pounds can discourage you enough to make you want to quit. So how concerned about holiday weight gain should you be? This article puts it in perspective:

"Depending on how you measure, the estimates of how much the average person gains over the holiday season varies. The number you usually see thrown around is anywhere from 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years, but this is based on self-reporting, which (unsurprisingly) tends to be skewed with a hefty helping of post-holiday guilt.

"The actual research is a little more optimistic. This study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people’s perceived weight gain varied between 0 and 6.7 pounds with an average of 3.5, but their actual weight gain was just under 1 pound. So in reality, the 'holiday weight' is nothing to panic over: it’s nice to avoid it, but if you can’t, it’s not a catastrophe.

"The overweight are the most at risk. Study after study (e.g. this one and this one) has tracked holiday weight gain and found that people who start at a higher BMI tend to gain more weight. In the same 2000 study that busted the 5-10 pound myth, 20% of obese subjects and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than 5 pounds, compared with only 5% of non-overweight people.

"The formerly overweight also struggle. This study tracked 178 successful weight losers (people who had lost at least 77 pounds and kept it off for at least a few years), and 101 normal-weight people who had never been overweight. Despite making more careful plans and working harder to maintain their weight, 39% of the weight-losers gained at least 2.2 pounds over the holiday, compared to 17% of the normal-weight group."

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Yikes. You've probably worked hard to get your body healthier, and these studies show that the holiday season could undo some of that hard work. So how can you enjoy the holiday parties while staying on track to achieve your fitness goals and avoid holiday weight gain?

  1. Commit to going to the gym -- whether or not you "feel like it." I like to say that this is about discipline, not motivation. You don't brush your teeth in the morning because it is fun; you do it because it is good for you and you like having fresh breath and white teeth over halitosis and gum disease. You don't go to work because you feel motivated; you go because you need to earn a paycheck and you like being able to afford a roof over your head and pumpkin spice lattes. Similarly, you may not always feel like going to the gym, but you'll feel better after you spend time taking care of your health, and you'll enjoy looking and feeling stronger and healthier. 
  2. Stay away from trigger foods. Try to figure out which foods make you binge and avoid them like the plague. For example, a few years ago I gorged on so many chips at a Super Bowl party that my tummy was distended with a truly visible "food baby," and I felt so full that I was nauseous. Since then, I've avoided eating chips at parties because I know that their delicious fatty-salty combo will trigger me to eat way, WAY too many and regret it. Instead, I bring hummus and veggies to parties and stick to eating whole foods that come from the outer edges of the grocery store. This includes produce, cheese, and meat, all foods that are more nutrient dense than processed party snacks like chips. They are also more filling and satiating, which means you won't want as many of them. 
  3. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This won't just keep you from consuming as many calories -- this will also help you avoid a hangover so that you'll feel fresh and ready to go to the gym next day. And by the way, my favorite hangover cure is... drum roll... working out. It always makes me feel like I've just burned off all the poison I consumed the night before. 

For the next few weeks, I'll try to help you navigate the holidays to have fun and stay healthy. Stay tuned!

photo credit: Ravi_Shah 285/366 - Snack Size via photopin (license), SuperfitNutrition Holiday Food Safety Tips via photopin (license)