It’s too bad the holiday season and winter coincide. Just imagine holidays with feasting in July when swimming pools, walkways in the park, hiking and biking trails are easy to access. Overeating might not have such an impact on our weight, and subsequently, our health. Studies show that the average American gains 5-7 pounds over the winter. If that is not lost of over the remainder of the year, it can add up to too much weight gain – resulting in risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and a wide variety of chronic diseases. So how do we educate our patients to fight this seasonal phenomena?
The tricks for avoiding high calorie intake over the holidays are in almost every magazine on the rack, with more information highlighted on the internet: from great resources to bogus concoctions to help limit or eliminate weight gain over the holiday season. The healthy options include: eating a little something prior to heading to a party so that hunger will not drive overconsumption; taking a light calorie item for the potluck (vegetables, fruit slices, or a meringue filled with fresh berries); having a hot beverage or broth soup prior to diving into the entrée. To ask a patient to shun all desserts and breads is to ask for revolt – so enjoying every mouthful of the small and delicious treat may be a more realistic (and acceptable) option.
The other part of the equation, exercise, is probably as much if not more the winter weight gain culprit. In the north, where I reside, the temperature can fall way below the freezing mark, or hover around 32?F, creating slick roads, walkways and bike routes. So the easy option of putting on a pair of sneakers and heading out is less than ideal for many. As we problem solve with our patients, we can help them work around the elements of winter. What are the options? A walk in the mall; join a fitness center; purchase an exercise bike as a gift for the family; build a step that can be folded up and stored for much of the year; dance in place. Ice skating, snowshoeing, skiing and hockey are options for some of the more adventuresome souls. Not only will activity burn up some of those holiday calories, but may help decrease the winter blues some experience, and replace some time that is spent looking into the refrigerator to ward off the boredom of long, dark winter nights.
The holidays and winter can be a wonderful time of the year; snowflakes falling, music playing, family surrounding the table laden with every favorite dish, a fire in the fireplace. By helping our patients plan for the health challenges winter can throw at them, they can continue to make good choices that will enhance their health all year! Happy holidays to all of you – and have an enjoyable winter!