• Holiday weight gain is a common problem all over the world.
• Studies have shown that the key to effectively fighting it is smart eating, coupled with exercise.
It’s a common joke that gym membership rates in the Philippines tend to spike in January, what with all the holiday feasting we do. Then again, how could we not, when we live in a society that starts playing Christmas songs in malls as soon as September rolls in?
Food is perhaps the thing we Filipinos love the most about the holidays. And after the dust settles, the presents have been opened, and all of the leftover Christmas ham has been turned into sandwiches, our bathroom scales start screaming.
An interesting study in the New England Journal of Medicine examined weight gain in Germany, the United States, and Japan across 12 months. The researchers found that — surprise, surprise — the participants gained weight within 10 days after Christmas, peaking at New Year.
From there, it’ll take a whopping six months, on average, to lose those pesky pounds. (Assuming, of course, that there’s an effort to lose it in the first place.) By the time the holiday season comes anew, you’ll be jingling all the way back to weight gain.
Interestingly, another study in the same publication measured the body weight of 195 men and women across one year. According to the researchers, less than 10% of the participants gained more than 5 pounds. It’s worth noting, however, that the holiday weight gain was significantly higher than at any other time of the year.
Additionally, the study revealed that the weight they gained over the holidays stayed with them throughout the course of the following year. Even more irritating is the fact that in the study, it was obese individuals who gained more weight.
In other words, holiday weight gain tends to be a slope that’s slipperier than the North Pole. Fortunately, it’s one you can deftly avoid with the skill of a figure-skater.
How to keep off unwanted holiday pounds
Drop the word “diet” from your vocabulary
If you’ve been on a diet for the last five years and successfully kept the weight off, congratulations. You’re not part of the 40% of dieters who, after five years, not only gained weight again, but gained more than what they lost in the first place.
Diets are taxing by nature. In fact, the very idea of going on one can be quite stressful. Studies have shown a relationship between calorie restriction and increased production of stress hormones. This leads to an increase in our abdominal fat which, aside from increasing our risk of developing serious illnesses, is frankly quite annoying and difficult to get rid of.
Additionally, dieting conditions us to depend on patterns and rules for food restriction. This is dangerous, because this makes us more susceptible to suggestive food marketing. All of a sudden, that buffet’s going to look more appealing than it normally does, or you’ll feel like you want to try the newest burger at your favorite fast food joint.
Instead of trying to be strict about eating, strive to be smart about it. Pay attention to when you feel full, and stop when you’re no longer hungry. Your body will tell you what you need to know in order to keep that extra weight off — you just have to listen to it.
Make better food choices
At the next Christmas party you attend, load up on foods rich in protein (which helps with satiety and muscle-building) and fiber (which will keep you feeling fuller, longer). Lean meat, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts are some great examples. You’ll also want to eat “healthy” fats — the kind you can get from fatty fish, olive oil, eggs, and avocados.
On the other hand, it might be good to avoid processed, sugary, and starchy foods as much as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have that slice of cheesecake or chocolate brownie. It just means you shouldn’t fill your plate with that stuff.
Follow an exercise plan you can stick to
Establishing sound eating guidelines is only part of the solution, though. You’ll need to incorporate physical activity into your routine as well, especially if you’re already overweight. If you’re not sure where or how to start, don’t worry. There’s no such thing as a be-all, end-all exercise routine. Running isn’t enough to lose weight, though. Make sure that you do strength training as well to improve your baseline metabolism.
Lastly, remember that the best kind of exercise plan is the kind that you can commit to following for as long as you can.
Control your portions
You may not realize it, but even just an additional 150 calories a day — about half a serving of your favorite puto bumbong — will make you gain a pound in three weeks’ time.
If you can’t beat your urge to eat, you can try tricking your eyes instead.
Research has shown that over the last millennium, our plate sizes have gotten bigger. Thus, if we fill our plates, we end up eating more than we should. Meanwhile, if we leave empty space on it by getting just enough, we end up bamboozling our brains to think that we’re eating less than we actually are. Thankfully, we can solve this problem by using smaller plates. Research has shown than when we compare two differently sized plates containing the same amount of food, we’re fooled into thinking that the larger plate has less food.
The key to fighting holiday weight gain is simple, really: Try not to gain it in the first place.
Cover photo: Pixabay
Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco
Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.