The holidays are here, and with them can come some serious roadblocks to your health. Colder weather, lack of sleep, increased stress, and of course Grandma’s famous eggnog, can all contribute to that holiday weight gain we Americans are famous for.
You’ve worked hard all year to maintain your healthy eating and lifestyle, and just because it’s the season of pumpkin pie and peppermint bark, does not mean you cannot keep control with just a few easy tricks.
The first thing that must be done is to develop a strategy that will allow you to manage these hectic times. If you know that you will be indulging a little more than normal, than it’s even more important to take control of other aspects of your health.
First thing is to MOVE MORE – sounds silly, but the old saying of park further away and take the stairs instead of the elevator really does make a difference. Purchasing a pedometer is a good way to monitor your progress. Make it a goal to walk 4-6 miles each day. Wearing a tracking device is a good way to keep you accountable. Life is so hectic that some days we feel like we must have run a marathon, but when that little digital device tells you you’ve only walked 1000 steps for the day, it’s a nice wake-up call and a good motivator. If you live where it gets very cold and walking outside is no longer an option, maybe look into playing a winter sport, getting a temporary gym membership or buying some workout videos. You can always take a couple of laps around the mall (on the inside) prior to starting your shopping J
The second thing you need to focus on is sleep. Sleep is more important than you might realize. Here is an excerpt from a study that was done by Beccuti and Pannain on Sleep and Obesity in 2011 that sums up nicely how desperately our body requires it.
“Sleep is an important modulator of neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism and sleep loss has been shown to result in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin, and increased hunger and appetite. Recent epidemiological and laboratory evidence confirm previous findings of an association between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity.”
In English, this basically says that without the right amount of sleep (aka rushing around, shopping, wrapping, partying, etc.), your body will have more internal stress. The hormones that tell you you’re hungry and full get switched up and when you do eat, your body cannot process sugars correctly, causing you to make and store more body fat … does the equation Holidays = Weight Gain make more sense now?
We also tend to drink more alcohol this time of year, which can disrupt sleep patterns, making you feel groggy, tired and more hungry the next day.
The goal should be 8-10 hours of sleep every night, and we do better when we are in a completely dark room that is cool and quiet.
A third problem most of us face this time of year is increased stress, and learning how to manage it is critical. Stress is linked to almost every disease state, and can also cause both short and long-term insulin resistance, making it easy to gain weight. Spend a little time focusing on your needs. Don’t let time restraints cause you to skip your workouts and try to spend at least 10-15 minutes each day in quiet meditation. Taking the time to relax by focusing on your breathing can quiet your mind and help you focus on the present moment, also known as mindfulness.
You probably all expected me to focus on just the food … eat this instead of that, and all that fun stuff … let’s face it, eating patterns tend to change this time of year. You know you are going to eat some things during the month of December that you wouldn’t dream of having in any other month. Therefore, if we know we are going to indulge in unhealthy behaviors in one aspect of our life, then we need to make sure and improve in others. I felt it would be more prudent to help guide you in these areas, and thus minimize the damage. As you can see, more stress and less sleep promotes weight gain.
My goal for my clients in December is to focus on staying healthy. It’s okay to enjoy a little treat here and there, but avoid the obvious pitfalls (i.e. daily 450 calorie Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks and the never ending supply of Christmas cookies). Try to appreciate what the Christmas holiday is all about – getting to spend time with family and friends, and focus on doing something healthy for yourself every day. This will allow for a guilt-free holiday and make easing into those resolutions much smoother.
Have a safe and happy holiday season.