Maintain, Don’t Gain, Over the Holidays


Fresh back from Thanksgiving, it’s official: ’tis the season for holiday eating.  And also countless articles (here, here, and here) about holiday weight gain. While some of these stories pose a scare that Americans may gain, on average, 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the average gain is actually closer to just one pound.

That’s the good news.  The not so good news?  According the National Institutes of Health researchers, that one pound may never come off.  Americans gain an average of .4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives.

There are lots of reasons why weight gain happens over the holidays.  The increased availability of rich foods.  Stress.  With so many additional activities to attend to, it can be tempting to carve out less time for exercise and sleep, and deprivation of both can contribute to additional pounds.

There also may be a sort of ‘all or nothing’ thinking; once you have blown your diet at one event, it may seem like forgoing exercise and enjoying each delicacy with fervor and enthusiasm is the best way to get into the holiday spirit.  After all, the New Year’s the time for dieting and renewed commitment to exercise, right?

Unfortunately, no.  The easiest way to lose the extra holiday weight is to never put it on.  However, during this season of temptation, keeping the weight off can be much easier said than done, so here are some tips to help keep the scales from creeping up on you:

  • Make a plan. Take a look at your (already very full, I imagine) holiday calendar and schedule in time for exercise, healthy meal preparation, or an early bedtime a night or two per week.  Be prepared for holiday gatherings with these tips on surviving a potluck.
  • Limit treats to one per day.  One way to prevent overeating of sugary and savory holiday goodness is to allow yourself one serving per day, remembering that you may have to compensate later with exercise or holding back from a second treat.
  • Focus on other joys of the season.  Focus your energies on making calorie-free conversation with family and friends at gatherings.  Redirect attention from food to enjoying holiday music, a warm fire, or taking a walk in the crisp outdoors.
  • Don’t make a new year’s resolution for weight loss.  Planning for a ‘brand new you’ in January sets you up to overeat and overindulge now as you anticipate lean times with just carrot sticks to slim you down come January.
  • Sign up for the ‘Maintain Don’t Gain Holiday Challenge’ through the NC Department of Public Health.  You will receive email tips, healthy holiday recipes, and physical activity suggestions to stay healthy during the holidays.  Last year, 89% of the more than 3,000 participants reported maintaining their weight.

We wish you well on your efforts to health and well-being this Christmas season.

Catherine Wilson

Photo by flickr user JoeGray, via CreativeCommons.

You snooze, you lose!


Getting enough sleep can be challenging for pastors.  You never know when you will receive a call from a parishioner in need in the middle of the night, and the demands on your time often leave space for yourself only very early in the morning or late at night.

sleep on deskBut if you’re trying to lose weight, not getting enough sleep can set you up for failure.

Perhaps this story sounds familiar: Lack of sleep results in mid-day fatigue.  To combat this, you reach for a cup of coffee and snack to get through a mid-day meeting, but feel too fatigued to fit in an afternoon workout at the Y.  In the evening, the caffeine from earlier in the day is still cycling through your bloodstream, so you decide you may as well work on a sermon or channel surf to de-stress from the day.  Late night hours then become a dangerous time for snacking on comfort foods before you finally get to bed, only to start a similar routine in a few short hours.

The result is sleep debt — a deficit that continues to build and carries high interest rates, just like a credit card.  Not getting enough shut-eye has implications on your overall health, particularly when you are trying to lose weight.

Persistent lack of sleep influences the hormone levels that play key roles in metabolism.  When you are sleep-deprived, your body maintains more ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and reduces energy expenditure, but it also holds onto less leptin, a hormone that signals satiety.  The result is a perfect hormonal storm of more eating, a lessened satisfaction with food, and a slowed metabolism, all ending in weight gain.

Emerging research suggests that sleep is critical to fat loss as well.  A recent study out of the University of Chicago compared the weight lost of dieters over a two week period.  Some had sufficient sleep; others were sleep deprived.  Though the two groups lost similar amounts of weight, those who were well-rested lost twice as much fat as those who burned the midnight oil.

So, if you’re making commitments to improve your diet and exercise more, these ten tips for improved sleep may help you on your way to weight loss success.

by Catherine Wilson