December 3, 2015
Beating the Holiday Bulge: Tips for Those Who Eat Too Much
By Warren Holleman
Food is a big part of what makes the holidays special. It’s what brings us together with family and friends. Good food–like the dish on the right–nourishes us with vitamins and nutrients, energy and resilience, and health and happiness.
Unfortunately, many of the high-carb foods we serve around the holidays are the opposite of nourishing. Especially when consumed in such high quantities.
Instead of health and happiness, high-carb holiday foods give us diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and certain types of cancer.
And instead of supplying us with energy for work and play, our typical holiday meals give us the urge to do the opposite: take a nap. That’s what happened to my buddy Ray-Ray (left), who on Thanksgiving gorged himself on mashed potatoes and dressing.
Fortunately, Ray-Ray doesn’t have an energy balance problem. As a skinny puppy he exercises more than the Energizer Bunny. As he grows older, however, he’ll discover that the carbs are his enemies, not his friends. They’ll have a huge impact on his “bottom line.” Sound familiar?
If eating too much has been a problem for you, then here’s a different “bottom line”: Just do the math. I discovered the “Dietary Guidelines” chart (below) a few months ago, and it has helped simplify things for me. The categories are clear, and the numbers don’t lie.
(But before we go to the calorie chart, I want to emphasize that this blog is not about guilt or shaming or casting a caloric pall on a festive, joyous season. I also want to emphasize that there are other serious psychological, social, and spiritual factors at play. These include negative factors like seasonal stress and seasonal affective (mood) symptoms, as well as positive factors like the season’s spirit of celebration and traditions of family feasting and fellowship. We need to pay attention to all of those factors–even more than we pay attention to what and how much we eat. But, if you’re one of those people who, like me, would like to honor the spirit of the season without gaining weight, then . . . you’ve got to do the math.)
I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a man, and I’m over 51. So my daily calorie range is 2000-2800, depending on how strenuously I exercise. The other variable is my size. I’m shorter than average–so I use the lower numbers in each of the three ranges.
Let’s say my goal is to maintain my current weight over the holidays–and all the time. There are 3 ways I can accomplish this goal.
Option #1: If I do light exercise or no exercise, then I need to limit myself to 2000 calories per day.
Option #2: If I do moderate exercise (getting my pulse up over 100 for at least 30 minutes per day), and do less sitting and more walking, then I can consume up to 2200 calories per day.
Option #3: If I do strenuous exercise (getting my pulse up over 125 for at least 30 minutes a day), along with minimal sitting and lots of walking, and then I can consume up to 2400 calories per day.
Option #4? There is no Option #4. If you eat more than the guidelines indicate, you’ll gain weight. It’s just simple mathematics. There are 3500 calories in a pound. If you eat an extra 1000 calories per day for 3-4 days, you’ll gain a pound. Do that for a week, and you’ll gain two pounds. If you don’t believe me, try it.
What’s that? You already have tried it? Me, too. That’s why I’m trying a different experiment this year.
Here’s the experiment I came up with for Thanksgiving day. My strategy was to exercise really hard in the morning so that I could enjoy my turkey in the afternoon. My other strategy was to eat small portions of rolls, potatoes, dressing, and gravy, saving 300-400 calories. Which allowed me to enjoy a great, big piece of my favorite dessert–pecan pie–without exceeding my 2400 calorie limit. I missed those rolls, and also the dressing, but the guilt-free pie was worth the price!
And, honestly, I didn’t miss feeling sluggish and sleepy all afternoon. I didn’t miss having to go on a diet after the holidays. And I loved getting outside and exercising on a crisp November morning.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my “holiday stress” series. Let me know which topics you’d like me to address, or send me your own stories and tips, and I’ll post them.
Originally posted December 3, 2015. Revised December, 2016.