There’s a reason losing weight or exercising more are the top New Year’s resolutions.
The average person packs on close to a solid pound over the holidays. That may seem inconsequential, but most people keep that extra poundage like a puffy parka they can’t bear to part with. It’s easy to see how gaining a simple pound annually can be a serious issue in a decade or two. Sure, most of us overindulge a bit from Halloween to December 31. That doesn’t mean you need to derail your health. Here are some of the best tips on how to keep your New Year’s resolution early–starting on New Year’s Eve!
The obesity epidemic
The United States is no longer unique. Across the world as countries adopt Western lifestyles they also take on Western weight gain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that well over 40% of adults in the U.S. are obese –– a number that has increased by 12% over the last 20 years. If that’s not bad enough, remember obesity is based on having a body mass index (BMI) over 30. Being overweight (with a BMI over 25) is considered unhealthy. It brings with it an elevated risk for everything from heart disease and strokes to deaths from cancer and COVID-19. Nearly three out of four adults in the U.S. are overweight.
Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975 with over two billion adults considered overweight. Today more people across the planet are dying from diseases related to obesity than they are from malnutrition.
The weird thing? The prevalence of obesity in America may have more to do with holiday habits than you might think. That average one-pound weight gain? It’s actually close to the average amount Americans gain all year. So it turns out the holidays aren’t just a boon for retail. They’re also a banner time of year of packing on poundage. It’s not inevitable. Here are some things that are proven to help.
It’s easy to overeat watching TV or doing other distracting activities. So when you’re enjoying a cookie or a bit of eggnog, take slow bites and sips. Savor the flavors. Take your time. Studies show slower eaters also gain weight more slowly. Even better, taking the time to appreciate what you’re eating will let you enjoy the treats even more.
Dust off the scale
Okay, this is admittedly a bit controversial. Lots of people are triggered when they start tracking their weight. So, if you’ve ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder or have disordered eating, stepping on a scale isn’t the best healthy holiday strategy. Still, in one study people who weighed themselves regularly (and recorded their weight) even as they received information about how much exercise would be needed to work off the calories in the average seasonal treat lost weight over the holidays. The control group, which neither weighed themselves nor received information, gained close to the standard pound. So in other words, weighing yourself daily isn’t the secret. Instead, reviewing calorie counts for popular treats along with knowing how much exercise will be needed to burn off the cookies, eggnog, and other treats can help you not only avoid gaining weight but may even help you shed a pound or three–which gets us to the next holiday hint.
It’s not just the eating season. For some of us it’s the sedentary season as well. We aren’t bears, but many of us want to hibernate when the nights get darker earlier and the days are colder–not just at the New Year, but throughout January and February. If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, those carb cravings can be almost uncontrollable. So get moving.
Exercise has proven mental health benefits, and you don’t need to be a triathlete to enjoy them. Start small. Take the stairs instead of the lift at your office –– you don’t really want to be in a crowded elevator anyway, do you? Walk around the block. Stand at parties instead of sitting (which if you’re even a tad uncoordinated makes it harder to overeat). Get a jump on your resolutions and join a fitness center now. Not only will it be less crowded (and likely cheaper), developing a healthy holiday habit will pay real dividends in the New Year.
If you pre-gamed in college, then you know this routine. No one ever had their first drink in a bar. You started at home. Give this habit a twist, and pre-game your food. Fiber is absent from many holiday treats (and many American diets) and it has naturally bulking qualities. If you don’t usually eat whole grain bread or cereals and whole veggies and fruits (with the skin and not juiced in a blender), please don’t start before your first party since ‘19. Work up to it. Although most of us get more than enough protein, it’s not as big a component in many treats this time of year. So enjoying some lean chicken or fish before you bail can help you avoid overeating. If you feel a bit full when you arrive at the party, you’ll opt for smaller portions.
Besides what we eat, what we drink has outsized challenges this time of year. Alcohol isn’t just empty calories–it often motivates people to overeat. However, studies suggest this only happens if you start eating after drinking. Booze also impairs judgment –– which can be a problem when you’re suddenly confronted with chocolate after your third Pinot Noir. One trick is to just add water. The more water you drink the less room for anything else –– including eggnog. That one cup of creamy cheer is fine –– so long as you’re sipping it, tasting it, and calculating exactly how long you’ll need to be on the treadmill tomorrow.
Of course you don’t have to “earn” every calorie. But if you want to start the New Year right, take some steps today to stop holiday weight gain in its tracks.
- The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight
- Weight Gain over the Holidays in Three Countries
- Adult Obesity Facts
- Calculate Your BMI
- Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19
- Obesity and Overweight
- Key Facts; Obesity and Overweight
- Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review
- Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat
- Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms
- Closing America’s Fiber Intake
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.