Weight Management During Holiday Time

Joe had a yo-yo problem that grew every year: how to enjoy the holidays and manage his weight at the same time. He was only three days into the Christmas season, and already the problem had announced itself on his bathroom scale. He could see it too in the added inches around his waist.

Joe's mental outlook suffered. Eager anticipation for the holidays turned into gloom and despair. As his weight increased, his self-image plunged all the deeper. He avoided mirrors, parties, friends, and family. He found consolation in isolation, with only food for companionship.

There had been a time when Joe led out in his family's holiday planning and preparation, but his participation had gradually given way to rotundness and depression. His children had come to prefer other holiday company, and his able and vivacious wife was wondering whether she could handle the situation anymore.

As holiday time ended, Joe sought weight management help. And his weight-management yo-yo would start its return flight yet again.

Weight Management - a Big Problem

Overweight is defined as an excess of body fat, that is, more than 15 percent of body weight as fat in men and 22 percent in women.

Research shows that being overweight leads to a significant impairment of most aspects of health. It increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high serum cholesterol, and leads to such psychosocial problems as a marred self-image, frustration, and depression.

For many people, weight management therefore becomes a multidimensional problem.

Why We Put on Weight

Weight management is basically an issue of balancing accounts. Imbalance between energy in and energy out leads to weight gain or weight loss, depending on which way the imbalance goes. However, the human body is more than an account sheet; it is a dynamic living organism, controlled by a number of inherited and learned factors.


Food is more than a mouthwatering meal; it is a complicated mixture of chemical components. There is fat, which provides nine calories per gram. And there are carbohydrates (fruits, grains, vegetables), which give only four calories per gram. Research animals typically put on weight when more than 30 percent of their calories come from fat. Much of our overweight problem is a result of our tasty and festive, but also rich and fatty, diet. But there is more to carbohydrates than meets the eye. In their natural, unrefined state, they come wrapped in fiber. Fiber is also a carbohydrate, but one that we can not digest and make use of as it races down our alimentary canal. However, on the way it helps to lower our risk for cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, constipation as well as overweight. Quite an accomplishment!

The beauty of fiber-rich unrefined carbohydrates is that they fill and satisfy without leading to overweight. Two important mechanisms are triggered: the blood sugar is raised above the hunger line, and the walls of the stomach are stretched. Both of these mechanisms lead to a feeling of satiety. Fiber-rich food is a major factor in dietary weight management. Joe's holiday problem included a diet with too much fat and too little fiber.

Energy use

Energy use is another important aspect in weight management. We use energy in two ways: first, through various internal activities such as digestion, thinking, heat regulation, etc. (often referred to as the basic metabolic rate [BMR]); and second, through external activities, such as walking, jogging, swimming, etc.

We used to think that overweight people had a lower BMR than lean people. This may not be so, since it takes extra energy to keep a fat person functioning. Surprisingly, such things as starvation, dieting, and fasting may lower the BMR. Weight loss may therefore reach a plateau, even though you may be eating as few as 1,200 calories a day.

Some people also seem to have been born with a relatively low BMR, and therefore a subsequent higher risk of overweight.

Oddly enough, food intake increases the BMR - more so with unrefined carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Stress, trauma, and living in a cold climate may also increase the BMR.

External activity or exercise, however, is the real key to increased energy use. It affects the resting metabolic rate more than any other factor. A noted weight specialist once concluded: “Overweight persons are better characterized as under exercised than overfed.” During exercise, energy use goes up because of skeletal muscular work, but an extra bonus is that it also results in an increased BMR for some time after exercise. Short bouts of exercise repeated throughout the day, therefore, may result in a total increase in the BMR, leading to weight reduction. (Use the stairs, run to appointments, and walk tall!)

Furthermore, a good exercise program will give you a firm body surface and improve your overall health. Lately researchers have suggested that rather than just being a health hazard in itself, overweight may be primarily a marker for such unhealthy habits as a fatty diet and a sedentary lifestyle. This has helped start the “fit fat” movement, in which focus is ideal weight. A good exercise program may be described as 30 minutes of continuous activity, four times a week. Exercise till you sweat, but not until you're so out of breath that you can't chat with your mate.

Fat cells and thermostats

Unfortunately, weight management is still more than just food intake and energy use. Body “thermostats” seem to regulate the relative filling of the fat cells. A single large meal will not show as much on the scales as a month of moderate overeating.

Repeated yo-yo experiences, successive weight gains and weight losses, lead to enzymatic changes in the fat cell that will prioritize fat cell refilling after weight loss. Also, the set point for relative filling of the fat cells may increase. It is suggested that this may explain why habitual slimmers seem to put on weight by “merely looking at the food.”

Researchers Hirsch and Knittle developed a theory on fat cells that also seems to make a difference. It argues that overweight people tend to have more fat cells than lean people. Furthermore, a relatively high number of fat cells seems to be related to overweight during major growth spurts in life (infanthood and adolescence). Chubby babies and youngsters tend to have weight problems later on in life.

Holiday Dynamics In Weight Management

Holiday time - a time to fulfill your dreams! At long last, you may break away from boring routines, the daily rat race, professional pressures.

Holiday lifestyle often means rich, tasty, festive, and fatty food. Breakfast is big and late, followed (too soon) by lunch at the pizza bar. Delightful evenings are spent at choice dinner restaurants. And there are the pies, cakes, cookies, and treats made especially for the holiday season.

How is it with your exercise program at holiday time - as you travel by car, join in sports, or relax with your family? Evenings may be spent in happy social interaction or quiet meditative relaxation - leading to another late morning with a late and big breakfast after skipping the regular morning walk or jog. “Underexercised” may well be the correct description of Joe.

The holiday gives you a right to enjoy yourself, to relax, and to gratify yourself in the annual hedonistic hunt. Idealistic organizations and voluntary services often grind to a halt during vacation time. Holiday means time for one's self - as to food, enjoyment, activity, etc.

Or does it?

A Better Holiday for Joe

One might well lift a warning forefinger to Joe, a warning supported by ample medical research and experience. And believe me, many have wagged their fingers at him - his wife, his children, his doctor, his mother, and his friends. But so far they seem to have been to no avail.

Rather, Joe needs to see the health advantage in holidays. He needs encouragement and inspiration. He needs to make a candid lifestyle evaluation and to clarify his true life values. He needs to rediscover two vital resources: creativity and good friends.

Eating may constitute a battleground between fatty and refined food traditions on the one hand and experiments with nutritious, fiber-rich, low-fat recipes on the other. Joe needs to realize the holiday advantage of time for such research extravaganzas in a healthy and slimming cuisine. Rushed junk-food drive-throughs can be exchanged for more fascinating and healthy experiments.

Regular exercise often does not readily fit into one's daily routine - or it is cut down to a cost/benefit-oriented boring workout. Holiday time may be the very chance you need for walking, hiking, running, swimming, paddling, sailing, biking, and game playing. But you must make a definite value choice that yours will be a more active holiday. By the way, an active holiday need not be expensive in terms of money, while returning a rich investment in terms of wellbeing.

Holiday time arrives. Why not see it as your opportunity for modification of attitudes and behavior? The more demanding and stressful your work year has been, the more tempting it is to use holiday time for self-pleasing. But now you have time and energy for evaluation of life, values, support systems, and even religion instead of evenings spent alone with thoughts of depression. You may develop a more altruistic attitude: living for others and enjoying it. Life becomes freer, happier, and more meaningful.

Joe's family and friends doubtlessly will be fascinated by his new active lifestyle and his new interest in health. The advantages of a growing social support pair wonderfully with health oriented creativity, and not just at holiday time.

Again, weight management is a balance between calories in and calories out. But that whole issue becomes a natural by-product of an appropriate attitude and lifestyle.

Health | Diet

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