Robert Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC
Recently I decided I had had enough. I realized I was too heavy, and it was time to just stop. I got back on my Take Shape for Life regimen and dropped 16 pounds over about three weeks. I feel better, but have plans for more corporal renovation yet to come.
And here come the holidays.
Just when I was getting some progress, here comes a string of social events centered around food. And it is not just food, but food that I LOVE, but should limit or avoid altogether. It seems grossly unfair. What is a person to do? Well, I think this time I will “follow my gut.”
First, when facing an onslaught of holidays like this, maintaining your desired weight or size without gaining might be considered a victory. We have to be patient with ourselves, assuming we can force ourselves to use good sense. If we can’t, then we should be very angry and depressed (kidding, sort of).
Don’t skip meals or go more than three hours without eating a very small “something” that is sensible. In the Take Shape for Life program, we coach people to have a “lean and green meal” sometime during the day with five meal replacements that have measured amounts of low-glycemic carbohydrates and high-quality proteins. This keeps something in the system at all times so you don’t get hungry. When you get hungry, you tend to crave high calorie foods. That is not a sin or something about which to be ashamed – it is biology. We can use it to our advantage to get/stay healthy.
Facing a party buffet alone can be a terrifying experience. It is loaded with things you should not have. Consider this strategy: survey the buffet and find low calorie items that you might actually enjoy. Choose those and then join a conversation about politics, religion, or sports (because all can ruin an appetite) across the room facing away from that table. Pause periodically and consider how hungry you are not. Make sense?
Watch out for alcohol. First, it is loaded with calories and may be mixed with something that is also loaded in calories. That is like a Trojan horse where the horse is also poisonous. It also can affect your judgment and make you decide to go back to that table you just left for more things you should not have. It may also tempt you to try inappropriate party tricks.
It takes about 500 cal more than you usually eat to gain a pound every day. So, if you overeat or overindulge at a given opportunity, under-eat or under-indulge at the next opportunity. You are playing the law of averages here. Don’t use this as a license to generously feast at that table across the room with the promise of compensatory starvation later. Just remember that you can make up for a calorie or two in the interest of being sociable.
Don’t stop exercising for the holiday. It might be easy here in November to say, “I’m going to exercise to make up for this meal – starting in January.” You are only cheating yourself there. Remember, the object is for you to feel better by being healthier. Walk 15 minutes twice a day. No marathons---just a brief forced march.
To the extent you can, take the focus off food. That is tough during the holidays because for some reason, calorie – dense foods seem to be central to our social discourse. Like reframing a picture, think about reframing the experience of being with friends and family to focus on them instead of the cuisine. Make a point of finding out new things about people you have known for a long time. If this keeps you away from those chess squares, that is good, and you have improved a relationship.
Don’t obsess with the scales. Weigh yourself a couple of times a week and just look for the trend. Don’t worry about your daily weight, but focus instead on movement toward your goal. Reward yourself for success with something you enjoy doing.
Of course, I am preaching to myself at this point, making this rather easy to write. It is flowing out of my own sense of anticipatory guilt for the crimes I may commit against myself during this holiday season. I just hope to emerge from the other side of it without doing damage to myself. This is a little bit like if you have to play football against Alabama: you just hope you can get a field goal for pride and get through it without any major injuries to your team. That would be a victory of sorts for you (Alabama still wins the football game).
On a serious note, there is a price to pay for overindulgence during the holidays. Coronary death rates tend to spike in cooler weather, but a study done in Los Angeles, California, where temperatures are rather stable, found a 33% increase in coronary deaths in December and January compared to the rates for June and July. Presumably, this is related to massive shifts in blood flow to the G.I. tract that may overwhelm a weakened heart. Just to be safe, be sure to adequately (profusely) complement whoever cooks the food you will consume this holiday, or your own demise might be hidden in the next spike in statistics.
In short, “follow your gut.” Don’t overeat, keep exercising, use good judgment, and get through the holidays in a way that makes sense for your long-term health. Call me if I can help you. We coach our folks in the Take Shape for Life program, and it works. Have a wonderful holiday, and maybe just one small chess square.