Instead of Losing Holiday Weight, Just Don’t Gain It in the First Place

Mindful eating habits are more effective than dieting cycles, health studies find.

November 23, 2017 5:00 am
Thanksgiving feast
Table is laid with a feast for the autumn and winter holiday season in the kitchen of the George Wythe house in living history museum Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia on January 3, 1985. (Nathan Benn/Corbis via Getty Images)

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the holiday weight gain cycle starts around Halloween, bumps up at Thanksgiving, spikes around Christmas, and peaks at New Year’s. After that, a slow weight loss trajectory begins, with the study’s participants reaching their lowest weight in October, just in time for the next round of holiday gains.

If this all sounds demoralizing and pointless to you, that’s because it is. An article in Popular Science points out that dieting without lasting lifestyle changes doesn’t work, and can result in weight gain beyond the original loss. If you want to avoid the instinctual mammalian urge to get fat and lazy during the holiday season, your best bet is to just not gain weight in the first place.

Doing that is as simple as what neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt calls “mindful eating,” such as paying attention to when your body is hungry and full, eating as many complex carbs and unprocessed foods as possible, and eating sugar in moderation. The key, Aamodt says, is setting general dietary guidelines for yourself that let you enjoy food and don’t stress you out.

Her latter point–don’t stress yourself out–is a common hazard of dieting, which activates stress hormones that, in turn, encourage fat cells to increase abdominal fat.

Exercise is another major boon to weight control. Popular Science recommends finding exercise regimens you like, even if they aren’t the trendy ones because you’ll stick with them longer than “recommended” workouts you can’t stand. Again, the emphasis should be on building healthy habits.

So go ahead and have some pumpkin pie. Just don’t cut a huge piece and don’t beat yourself up over it.

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