Surviving the Season

Surviving the Season

It happens every year about this time. The air gets cooler, the days get shorter — and your jeans start getting tighter.

Ready or not, feasting season is here — that seemingly endless time of temptation that starts with Halloween candy and continues with Thanksgiving stuffing and pies, Christmas cookies and New Year’s toasts. Then comes Super Bowl snacks and Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Statistics show Americans tend to gain anywhere from 1 to 10 pounds during the end-of-the-year festivities.

And then there’s exercise. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, only 35% of Americans age 18 or older engaged in regular, leisure-time physical activity in 2009.  Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

With all this working against us, just how can we keep from overeating and under exercising during the Halloween-through-Valentine’s Day season?

First, it’s important to understand why it’s so hard to keep up healthful habits this time of year. During the fall and winter seasons, the experts say, many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family using food and drink, says Clemens. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases — raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, and the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. Making sure you have the right decorations out, finding just the right gift; all that extra work can be overwhelming. It can add to the stress, and the stress can lead to the overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. When people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Also, when people who are trying hard to eat healthfully fall off the wagon, many get frustrated and give up on healthy eating.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips.

 

The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity.

“The No. 1 reason people report for not exercising is lack of time,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say it’s important to do three things: Practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan ahead.

1. Practice Awareness

  • Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of dishing up a full serving.
  • Be realistic. This is not the best time for weight loss. Work on maintaining your weight instead of trying to lose.
  • Be sure to keep it all in perspective. Even though it’s the holiday season, it doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.  Allow some treats for the special days, but then get back into your healthy routine the next day.
  • Always look for opportunities to move. For example, take a brisk walk whenever you get a few minutes; stand up and move around while you’re on the phone call; and walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing him or her.

2. Manage Stress and Emotions

  • One way to keep stress at a minimum is to lower your expectations about holidays. Ask for help to lighten your holiday schedule. Host a potluck holiday meal instead of cooking dinner. Or serve it buffet style instead of having a sit-down meal.
  • Learn to say “no,” in a courteous manner, to activities and food that aren’t in your best interest. People may grow to respect it, and may even emulate it.
  • If you’re sad about a loss, turn to people for comfort instead of food. Invite a new member to your holiday table.  Maybe it’s not the same without a loved one, but think of starting new traditions.
  • At social events, don’t fill silence with food. Make an effort to really get to know people, beyond superficial small talk: when we do that, we actually have the tendency to eat less.
  • Another way to deal with emotions is to make sure exercise remains a priority in your life. Exercise can be a great stress reliever.

3. Plan Ahead

  • Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering; hunger can undo the best intentions.
  • If you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
  • Think about what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, because there always are some obligations.  Then let go of the rest.
  • Also, schedule a brisk walk or hike after a holiday party or meal. Five minutes of exercise is better than 20 minutes of nothing.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line, the experts say, is to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle both in and outside of the fall/winter feasting season. Constant weight gains and losses can be harmful to your health and your psyche.

The best way to survive the feasting season? Keep in mind that celebrations are really about family and friends — not food.

Adapted from WebMD Weight Loss Clinic

Original Article By Dulce Zamora

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