Friday, November 14, 2008

Here Come The Holidays!

It’s about to start again. The holidays, that is. In less than two weeks our nation embarks on the holiday season filled with family gatherings, favorite foods, serious shopping, and perhaps a few added and unwanted pounds.

The truth is that, on average, Americans gain about a pound during the holiday season (some gain more), but this extra weight can accumulate through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life.  In fact, 65 percent of Americans are overweight, and rates of weight-related illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, are skyrocketing.  Carrying around that extra weight can also put a person more at risk for high blood pressure, abnormal blood fats, coronary artery disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and cancer.

Researchers from one study on holiday weight gain found that two primary factors influence weight gain: level of hunger and level of activity. They found that those who were much more active or much less hungry were the least likely to gain weight over the holidays, but those who were less active or more hungry had the greatest holiday weight gain. Not surprising, right?

Family ties and friendship ties, however, may have something to do with weight gain as well. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that obesity is “socially contagious,” spreading from person to person in a social network—including friends and family. The researchers, who have studied networks of obesity, found that if someone's friend becomes obese, that person's chances of becoming obese increase by more than half—57 percent to be exact.

And among mutual friends, the effect is even stronger, with chances increasing by a whopping 171 percent. On average, having an obese friend made a person gain 17 pounds, which put many people over the body mass index (BMI) measure for obesity—and the analysis revealed that the “infectious” effect is much greater among friends of the same sex. You have a 71 percent increased risk of obesity if your same-sex friend gains a lot of weight.

The researchers also found that siblings and spouses have an effect on a person’s weight, too. In short, people whose siblings became obese were themselves 40 percent more likely to grow obese. And if you are a woman and your sister becomes obese, your risk rises by 67 percent. If a man's brother becomes obese, his risk rises by 44 percent. They also found that people whose spouses became obese were 37 percent more likely to become obese too.

So what can be done? You have heard that you don’t choose your family, and that’s true. But you can choose a healthier diet and lifestyle for yourself. And while people can have trouble getting through the holidays without weight gain, the most successful at managing their weight monitor their eating. Therefore, it is wise to have a holiday eating plan. Here are some ideas:

  • Plan your eating strategies and eat a healthy whole foods-based diet, allowing for only occasional small portions of traditional holiday treats.
  • Decide to maintain your current weight through January. 
  • Eat plenty of small meals often; do not save up so you can “pig out” later.   
  • Drink plenty of water—choosing it as your beverage whenever possible.
  • Avoid filling up on sugars and empty calories.
  • If you overindulge, get back on track the next meal or the next day.

Those extra holiday pounds can quickly become a weighty health concern, so do your best to avoid them this season. Not gaining them could translate into pounds of prevention.

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