November 15, 2018
Clinical Contributors to this Story
By Brianna McCabe
Holiday celebrations may vary by culture and geography, but one tradition seems to transcend borders and beliefs: the celebratory meal.
When mass quantities of festive foods and delectable desserts nearly mask tabletops completely, it can be overwhelming. You’re not alone in feeling like you want to indulge – and actually doing it. It has been reported that the average American with a normal body mass index (BMI) gains 1-2 pounds during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, whereas overweight or obese individuals can gain 5 pounds or more.
While seasonal gatherings should be thoroughly enjoyed, Dimitri Cefalu, M.D., an internal medicine provider at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, warns that a ‘holiday binge’ can lead to short- and long-term effects on an individual’s health:
- Overload of the digestive system
- Exacerbation of chronic problems, such as acid reflux
- An overstimulation of the gallbladder
- Temporary weight gain
- Negative impact on overall body weight status
- Possible adverse effects on the lipid profile, such as cholesterol and triglycerides
- Heart disease
- Joint and muscle pain
- Increased blood pressure
- Harmful blood sugar levels (which is alarming for diabetic patients)
- Digestive problems
“Although many people tend to feel as if they have the license to overeat because it’s the holidays, this can take a toll on the body,” says Dr. Cefalu. In order to prevent overeating and keep your health at the forefront of your celebrations, Dr. Cefalu offers the following tips:
- Don’t go to an event on an empty stomach. It can be challenging to resist that glorious cheese platter and finger-licking hors d’oeuvres trays while your stomach grumbles and roars. By eating a light, nutritious meal prior to a gathering, you can help curb your hunger and control just how much you indulge.
- Drink water. “The more you drink, the less likely you will be to eat,” comments Dr. Cefalu. “Plus, it can help you feel fuller, faster and help with digestion.”
- Eat slowly. Once you start to eat, there is typically a gap between when you first swallow your helpings to when you first feel full. “There is usually a 20 minute window, although this can vary by person. That being said, eat slowly so your brain can fully register that you are full and to stop eating,” explains Dr. Cefalu.
- Focus on protein. “Eating protein not only helps power your body, but it curbs your hunger,” says Dr. Cefalu. Load up on turkey, chicken, eggs, and fish-based dishes to feel satisfied and not so gluttonous.
- Cut back on the alcohol. “Extra-large, rich meals around the holidays are frequently accompanied with alcohol,” shares Dr. Cefalu. “You’d be surprised just how many calories are hidden in that adult-only eggnog.”
- Limit desserts. Cookies, cakes, and pies – oh my! As tempting as the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies prancing next to that German chocolate cake look, they are saturated with calories. “Treat yourself, but don’t over-do it,” says Dr. Cefalu.
- Use smaller plates. “This will help to eat in moderation,” explains Dr. Cefalu. You don’t have to deprive yourself, but you shouldn’t devour the entire bowl of mashed potatoes and help yourself to three servings of grandma’s famous 8-layered lasagna, either.
- Move after your meal. “There tends to be an overall decrease in physical activity in the winter,” says Dr. Cefalu. “Days are shorter, the weather is colder, and many other activities that burn calories are not as much part of our routines. Go on a brief walk or stroll, weather permitting of course. Get up and be active.”
- Try to keep a buffer between your last meal and your bedtime. “I don’t think anyone is ready to relinquish their traditional foods, many of which have ethnic and religious roots,” says Dr. Cefalu. “However, there certainly is a lot that can be done in terms of quantity and timing. Eat well before going to bed as this will have less of an impact on calories and overall fat production.”
- Set long-term weight and health goals. According to Dr. Cefalu, if a person develops an understanding of his or her ideal, healthy body weight and has a goal, enjoying holiday meals will only be a slight ‘blip’ that you can quickly bounce back from. “With a goal in mind and a methodology to get back on track, holiday eating will not be a deterrence,” he says.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. “By no means should people obsess about overeating during the holidays,” shares Dr. Cefalu, “but you shouldn’t completely neglect health, weight goals, and the implications that poor eating can have on the body. Be mindful while enjoying the holidays for everything that they mean for you.”
The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.