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Do These Holidays Make Me Look Fat?

There are more myths and legends out there about holiday weight gain than there are about the odds of winning the lottery, getting into Ivy League schools or enduring the humiliation of an IRS audit.  Honestly, we don’t know what the true numbers are.  Some experts insist the average American picks up 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day; others say it more like a pound, but we never lose that pound, so over a lifetime it becomes a terrifying number.  Who knows?  Certainly the excesses of the holiday seasons contribute mightily to the (brief but sincere) annual January fitness mania, which quickly recedes as Valentine’s Day approaches.

Holiday weight gain is pretty much the same as any other stress-induced weight gain, except that the goodies are far tastier and the temptations are absolutely everywhere.   You have heard all the traditional survival tips: limit alcohol consumption; go for the celery and carrots, not the bacon cheese puffs; eat from tiny little plates to control the portions; be the one who brings the healthy snacks to the get-togethers so you are sure to have something safe to eat and so on.  And these are all good, so long as they don’t wind up making you feel like a martyr, or worse, drive you to midnight raids on the fridge.

Here are some other ideas – use the ones that make sense.  And remember, the holidays are a time of joy and sharing and reflecting, too.  Savor what you eat, mindfully sip what you drink, slow down and cherish the beauty and magic of the season.  Have one lovely buttery pastry that only appears in December, not ten.  Eat slowly, focusing on the camaraderie and friendship around you, not just the food.  When we’re nervous or anxious, we often head straight for the highest calorie foods around.  Remember that.  Breathe.  Some other thoughts:

  • Many of us are stress eaters, so recognize the signs: muscle tension, anxiety, crankiness.
  • Ask yourself why you are eating.  Are you actually hungry?  If not, sip a long, cool glass of water or tonic, or have a cup of tea instead.
  • If you are eating simply to pass the time or from habit alone, change gears.  Take a quick walk.  Vacuum the hallway.  Tidy under the sink in the bathroom or check your email.  Wrap a present.  Distract yourself.
  • Eat breakfast.  You know this one.    
  • If certain snacks or foods are your downfall, for goodness sake, don’t keep them in the house.  Or in the car.  Or at the office.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: yoga, massage, meditation, a quick prayer or mantra.  Really.
  • Be sure to keep up your regular exercise routine.  If you don’t yet have one, this is a great time to get started.  Walk. Weed the garden. Stretch. Run.  Do it!
  • Be sure to get enough sleep.
  • Seek the support of positive, like-minded friends and family.  Not ‘frenemies’. 
While we’re on the subject, there are some fitness habits that we all seem to fall into that don’t much help the cause, either.  Tosca Reno, co-author of Your Best Body Now, notes that the following could be sabotaging our efforts to keep fit and trim during the holidays:
  • Poor form.  We know correct form is both the safety net we rely on as we work out as well as the best way to good results.  See that your form is right.  Have a trainer evaluate you from time to time to be sure.
  • Over-training.  More does not necessarily mean better, quicker results.  The body needs rest to recover and build muscle.  Work gradually and steadily.
  • Under-training.  Commit to your program and give it your all.  Just going through the motions won’t do much.
  • Daydreaming.  It is very important to focus and stay mindful and engaged as you exercise.  This helps you consistently maintain your form and refreshes you both physically and mentally.  Trying to exercise while thinking about a problem at work or something going on at home isn’t good for either one.
  • Falling back on familiar exercises.  You have got to surprise and challenge your muscles.  Remember, once they get used to something, they don’t have to work as hard.  So change what you do, even if it’s just the order in which you do them, and your muscles will have to keep up.  This also keeps you engaged and focused.
  • Holding your breath.  This seems silly, but many of us do just that.  Regular, rhythmic breathing helps us power through moves, keeps lactic acid from building up and supports a steady heart rate.  A full breath gets oxygen to the blood, which gives energy to the muscles.
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