The Obesity Epidemic and Holiday Feasts

A Santa Clause who no longer wants to be obese opts for carrots instead of cookies.

An overabundance of food and a sedentary lifestyle makes obesity an epidemic we’ve brought upon ourselves. An average of 39.6% of North American adults are obese; a number that’s been steadily climbing steadily for the past 20 years.

The toughest part of battling this statistic is an inability to focus on a single origin because there isn’t one. There are the obvious culprits of the obesity the condition – fast food and a lack of exercise – but, fundamentally, obesity the epidemic (rather than the condition) is a result of North America’s lax policing of a profit-driven economy, which manipulates members of a stratified, socioeconomic class system into an unhealthy lifestyle.

Convincing marketing obscures the fact that vegetable oil is linked to internal inflammation and heart disease by emphasizing the word “vegetable.” Whole Foods has been stigmatized as a bourgeois institution that charges 9 dollars for one tomato, even though, pound for pound, the grocery chain has cheaper produce than many “budget” competitors. The, “I’m too busy to cook” mentality has turned family dinner into a preheated-plastic-container affair. But I digress.

The Problem

When we say that obesity is on the rise, what we mean is that the average person weighs more this year than last; a more accessible and understandable statement. If the question is of body weight over time, then we ought to look at the times of year when body weight tends to spike. When we think back on our year and pinpoint when we eat the most and move the least, the holiday season immediately stands out.

The holidays are when we set aside our usual routines, calendars, and schedules to enjoy the company of our friends and family, typically over a feast or two.

At first, Stomachs growl as bottles of eggnog and plates of sweet potato pie make their rounds. By the third meal, however, belts groan at the prospect of another scoop of stuffing and a refilled gravy boat. Yet the relaxed environment lends itself to lowered inhibitions and restraint, leading, in turn, to second helpings of salt, sugar, and fat because, “hey, it’s the holidays.” And what do we do after the annual banquet? Sit down by the fire with sugar-filled mulled wine before entering into a deep and dreamless sleep.

The Obesity Facts

A visualization of the results regarding weight change before, during, and after the holiday season.

The trope of gaining 5 pounds of insulation to buffer the chilly weather has a less innocent side. Researchers found that people don’t actually gain 5 pounds, but 0.8 – 3.4 pounds (0.37 – 1.52 kilograms) from November to January. This doesn’t seem like much, but the obesity problem goes beyond just gaining weight – it involves not losing it. Participants in the study were weighed four times: once before the holiday season, once during their festivities, once at the start of the new year, and once in March. At the final weigh-in, participants gained, on average, 1 – 6 pounds (0.48 – 2.7 kg). The continued weight gain into the new year implies no shedding of the winter bulk.

But there’s a caveat: on average, participants lost between 0.1 – 2.67 pounds (0.07 – 1.21 kg) from January to March. But the weight loss can be explained with post-feast guilt, New Year’s resolutions, and anomalous individuals that skew the data.

The Holiday Solution

There are two approaches to battling seasonal weight gain. The first is a long-term lifestyle change. If the desire to live a better life is earnest, your state of mind must be the first thing to shift before the light of lasting well-being becomes visible at the end of the tunnel of self-destructive behaviour and excuses. If the next meal is tomorrow and there’s no chance a long-term lifestyle change can manifest in 24 hours, do your best to resist temptation. At the end of the night, reward yourself with the euphoria of knowing you had the strength to commit to a difficult path and follow through.

The second approach is more hands-on and oriented towards the coming days. If you’ve been nominated to host a dinner or volunteered to bring the sweet potato pie, make some subtle substitutions. Swap that sausage stuffing for a vegetarian option, replacing bread with quinoa, meat with sautéed or roasted mushrooms, and, to keep the stuffing moist, broth instead of fat. Skip the cheese ball and crackers – opt instead for hummus, raw veggies, and toasted pita. Since this isn’t a listicle, I’ll leave you with this list of waist-line expanding foods and their healthy alternatives.

If you or someone you know is struggling with weight loss, weight management, or healthier eating, please reach out to us. Your body is a blessing – not a curse – and life is too short to think otherwise.

With love and festive cheer,
Dr. Elena Krasnov, N.D.

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