Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Holidays can be difficult time to maintain weight
Madison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.
I always gain about 10 pounds each year during the holidays. With our first snow this past week I got out my winter clothes — which are 1-2 sizes larger than my summer clothes. I read all the magazines for "losing the holiday weight," but how can I prevent the inevitable?
Oh the holidays! Friends and family. Sledding and snowflakes. Cozy sweaters and roaring fires… the cookies, the candies, the pies galore! The turkeys, the ciders, we keep asking for more! It seems that the love for family and friends goes hand in hand with the love for food and football.
This affinity for lounging and gorging comes with the changing of seasons. There are three main winter weight gain culprits: richer foods in larger quantities, decreased daylight and colder weather causing inactivity, and increased stress from family.
Unfortunately, our culture encourages the above weight gain. A co-worker brings in gingerbread cake that is unbearably good. A friend plans a holiday party during your usual Zumba class. You must go to two Thanksgiving, two Christmas and two New Year's Eve parties to satisfy both your parents and in-laws. We feel compelled to eat, drink, and be merry, because that is "what everyone does this time of year." No wonder we struggle.
So how do we persevere? The main idea is to try to put your health needs before your holiday schedule. Perhaps go to the Zumba class, and come late to the party. Consider saying to the co-worker, "that bread looks great! Can I have the recipe?" Then go home and make a smaller version for yourself — with less sugar or oil. At the family gathering, try taking a smaller sized plate. No one will fault you because it will look like your plate is full, but you will eat less. You can also bring your own healthy dish to a gathering. Fill up your plate with your healthy dish. Your friends' waistlines will also thank you.
For exercise, try packing clothes and gear for a few different activities in your car. That way if you have a particularly stressful day, you can drop by a yoga studio, or you can hop on the elliptical machine at a local gym. For outdoor enthusiasts, try snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or sledding. All of these are great cardiovascular activities that get the calories burning. The kids will love it too!
Also, don't give in to peer pressure. "Oh come on Jane, it's the holidays, where's your drink?" Or "John, you must have another piece, I really don't want to have leftovers." Stick to your guns John and Jane. You don't need to be the holiday garbage disposal.
Finally, the holidays can also be very stressful. Emotional eating, and wanting to crawl into bed are very common. Getting natural sunlight, stocking healthy snacks, and keeping variety in your activities will help shake the winter blues. If you continue to feel down or depressed, consider seeing your healthcare provider. You may have something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which could improve with counseling, sunlight, or medications.
Have a happy and healthy holiday season!
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.
Date Published: 11/15/2011