Most Americans gain weight during Thanksgiving and again around Christmas time, according to multiple studies centered around health issues that occur around the winter months.
“Most of us put on a few pounds at this time of year and then have to restrict in January and beyond in order to take the extra weight off,” said Cynthia Catts, a medical nutrition therapist. “Or we do nothing at all and are still looking at last year’s unwanted pounds.”
Catts, who is also a registered and licensed dietitian, offers nutrition therapy in Aiken. She said it is “more important than ever” to eat well during the holidays.
Food-heavy holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas make it easy to put on weight, especially if fried or high-calorie foods are served during meals. Sweets are also commonly eaten around the holidays at family dinners, office parties and potlucks. Colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours may also contribute to decline in exercise, which can lead to weight gain.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the average American gains 1 pound during Thanksgiving and 1 pound around Christmas time.
Although 2 pounds may not seem like much, Catts warned that the weight accumulates over the years if it’s never worked off.
“Too many of my clients tell me that they mysteriously gained 20 pounds over the last 10 years,” Catts said. “If we gain 2 pounds every year at holiday time and don’t bother to take it off, it turns into the 20 pounds in 10 years.”
Catts said the most important step in avoiding unhealthy weight gain is planning, and that begins with weighing yourself before Thanksgiving and then again after New Year’s to see how much weight gain needs to be worked off from the holidays.
“Without a plan, weight maintenance (or even loss) cannot be attained or maintained,” Catts said. “It may be helpful to write out your plan ahead of time and review it every day.”
Part of that planning, she said, means eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, even on the day of a big holiday meal. Overindulgence is less likely, she said, if your blood glucose levels are stabilized.
“During the work week, take your lunch every day,” Catts said. “Eliminating the high calorie, high sodium and saturated fat junk food will help compensate for the potential extra calories at holidays meals and parties.”
Here are five tips from the American Heart Association about how to stay healthy during the holidays:
• Swap sodium: switching out salt with herbs or other spices can help lower sodium intake without compromising flavor.
• Eat slowly: slowing down during meals prevents overeating.
• Snack smart: Try snacking on healthy foods, like fruit salsa or cinnamon sweet tortilla chips, before parties to feel full and limit the chance of making unhealthy food choices later.
• Use technology: Many grocers make it easy to shop deals and save time with online ordering and pick-up and delivery options. It’s easier to avoid spending excess money on junk food and candy if it can be avoided in stores.
• Practice gratitude: According to the American Heart Association, gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve the immune system.
Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.