Bad News for the Belly: It's the Holiday Season Again

A practical Why & How guide to weight control during the holidays & beyond.

Posted Nov 17, 2015

It’s approaching “most wonderful time of the year,” except when it comes to our waistlines.  If you weigh more than you’d like to weigh, these six weeks of turkey and mashed potatoes and pie and ham and cookies everywhere are extremely challenging.

So let’s talk in realistic, practical terms about why and how to control your weight not only during this holiday season, but in the rest of your life that follows.

First of all, you’re far from alone.  A recent report found that a whopping 38% of U.S. adults are not just overweight, we’re obese.  But for you as an individual, statistics like this don’t really matter, right?  Fair enough.  Let’s talk about you.  Let’s talk about why your weight matters to your health and your life and about realistic things you can actually do to “own your health” and help you live longer and healthier.

“Overweight.”  “Obese.”  These words are tossed around as if they mean the same thing.  But to physicians, and to you, such words have important definitions and distinctions.  The most commonly used indirect measurement of body fat is a calculation called the Body Mass Index (BMI), a number specific to you.  BMI considers both your weight and height.  This makes sense, since even thin people who are tall weigh more than thin people who are shorter.  BMI basically evens things out for everyone.  A specific range of BMI numbers fall into “Normal Weight.”  The next higher BMI number range is “overweight” and is associated with significantly higher risks to your health (diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions).  BMI numbers in the even higher “obese” range are associated with even greater danger for you.  By the way, the increased health risks associated with higher BMI numbers include the risk of dying.  For example, non-smoking women who are overweight are 13% more likely to die, and those who are obese are 44% more likely to die, than non-smoking women who are normal weight.

So your personal BMI number is critical in understanding the risks to your life and your health.  Thus:

  • the first thing to do is find out your personal BMI number using one of the many free on-line “BMI Calculators,” which are fast and simple to use (just enter your height and weight).  So right after you finish reading this article, find out your BMI.

Now you understand that weighing too much not only feels bad, it’s truly very dangerous.  But realistically, what can you do?  The first major challenge is that you eat poorly (too many carbs and processed foods).  So you must ask yourself, are you really willing to continue risking your health and your life by

  • drinking “coffee” from that trendy coffee chain store?  They’re basically adding chocolate cake and French fries to make it “tasty.”
  • eating white bread?  Try your sandwich without the bread or the burger without the bun.
  • eating white pasta?  How about putting your spaghetti sauce on whole grain or spinach pasta.
  • munching down that processed, sugary breakfast cereal?  Give oatmeal a chance.
  • drinking soda?

I’m not suggesting that you never eat another carbohydrate again.  But this is your health and your life we’re talking about.  You can find at least enough will power to simply eat fewer of these high calorie processed carbohydrates.  If you can make yourself cut down even just a bit on these foods during this holiday season, then you can continue to cut down when all the cookies disappear in January.

A second important thing to do in order to protect your life and your health:

  • don’t always go back for seconds (or thirds)!  And reduce the size of your helpings, even if by only 10%.

Then there’s the other major truth, that most of us exercise too little and too rarely, if at all.  So here’s a practical action plan to begin or increase your physical activity:

  • Slowly increase your exercise.  If you never exercise, commit to walking on a flat street for fifteen minutes three evenings or mornings a week.  You’ll be amazed how quickly your endurance builds and how much you’ll soon enjoy this new activity.  Quicker than you imagine, you’ll be up to twenty or more minutes, and more times a week.  If you already exercise intermittently, make it routine.  You don’t have to be a gym-rat to lose weight!  Simply walk (or if you’re up to it, swim or ride a bike) for thirty minutes three times a week or more, and you’ll soon be tightening you belt.

And here’s some practical, long-term, overall guidance in getting down to a healthier weight:

  • First, set a realistic weight loss goal; otherwise, you’ll quickly become disillusioned and give up.  Use your specific BMI number.  If you’re on the high end of “obese,” aim to drop enough weight to fall to the lower end of the “obese” range.  If in the middle or lower “obese” range, set your goal on an upper “overweight” BMI number.  Same thing if you’re “overweight:” aim to move first from higher to lower “overweight” or from lower “overweight” to high “normal weight.”  Remember, moving down even one category provides significant, terrific consequences for your health and quality of life (not to mention your self-esteem).
  • It is critical to set a realistic weight loss timeline.  Binge dieting is not sustainable.  Change your lifestyle to lose weight and keep it off.  While you may initially lose more, losing weight safely through long-lasting lifestyle changes means a weekly weight loss of one-half to a maximum of two pounds.  And it’s okay if some weeks you lose a little less or a little more.  But the tortoise was right: slow and steady wins the race.
  • It is essential that you involve family, friends, co-workers, clergy, and others who are important players in your life.  First of all, their support will keep you going when things get rough.  Second, if they don’t know that you’re changing your lifestyle to lose weight, they may accidentally sabotage your plan (with donuts, beer, or other obstacles to your success).

I know it’s waaaaay easier to tell you why and how to lose weight than it is to truly change your lifestyle and actually lose weight.  The key is to make these changes incrementally, even slowly.  Just start by heading in the right direction.  Pass on that second helping of mashed potatoes.  Eat the ham and cheese without the two slices of white bread.  Take even a short walk after dinner.  The reasons why you should find the will power to drop a few pounds are clear: you want to enjoy many more holiday seasons with your loved ones. 

If you weigh more than you should, reducing your weight is well worth the tremendous effort.  So don’t give up.  And even if you have failed or fail again, there’s no reason not to try once more using a practical approach and realistic goals.  Good luck!  You can do this!