Holiday Fat Facts

Those bumps and dimples on your thighs are the ghosts of Christmases past.

Posted Dec 27, 2015

You are thinking about it.  Yes, you saw the ad about the limited-time offer from that well-known gym; and it has the motivation centers in your brain running overtime, easily outmaneuvering that 15%-off Macy’s coupon you have been meaning to print out since Christmas day.

You have eaten too much thus far this holiday season, and you are thinking about how you might melt away what you see in the mirror after all the presents have been opened, all the cookies eaten.   

But much of what you see in the mirror as you ring out the old and ring in the new was already there:  Those bumps and dimples on your thighs are the ghosts of Christmases past.  To paraphrase that famous Christmas carol, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in your buttocks and your waistline tonight.

In other words, the focus should be on what eating during the holiday season does to us during the entirety of the year, and vice-versa.  What you do with calories during the holidays, for example, that increase in the consumption of highly palatable foods, whether it occurred out of an abundance of lack of willpower, or whether it was the collateral damage of some quixotic attempt to stave off the holiday blues, only adds to what was already there.

Identifying critical patterns or periods of greater weight gain is essential for effective weight maintenance and weight loss strategies. Recent studies have shown that the majority of annual weight gain occurs during short periods of time (such as weekends or holidays) rather than consistently over 12 months.  In the United States, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is thought to be a period where significant weight gain occurs.  One study showed that the period between mid-November and early January was the main time period during which significant weight gain occurred for the year; of particular note, this weight gained during the holiday season often was not reversed during the remainder of the year.

The purpose of  a study published a couple of years ago in the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition” (volume 67, 2013) was to determine whether body weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure and heart rate changed during the holiday season, and whether these changes differed based on baseline body mass status. Furthermore, the researchers hoped to identify differences between exercisers and non-exercisers in body weight and percentage change in body weight.

Not surprisingly, researchers documented significant increases in body weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure and resting heart rate in healthy adults during the holiday season. Participants showed an average weight gain of 0.78 kg (about 1.7 pounds), although the change in body weight ranged from a weight loss of 2.6 kg (5.7 pounds) to a gain of 6.3 kg (almost 14 pounds). Further, their findings seemed to suggest that the likelihood of gaining more body fat increases as the degree of overweight increases, and that initial body weight significantly predicted body fat percentage and overall weight gain.  More sobering was the observation that physical activity was not a significant predictor for change in body weight or body fat percentage, and was not protective against holiday weight gain.

The holiday season is many things to many people.  For some, it is the most beautiful time of the year.  For some, it is fraught with unfulfilled expectations, or memories that choose this time every year to tease us with the possibility of their being relived.

What can be said with fair certainty when summing up the holiday season is that it may have adverse effects on the physical health of an individual, and future intervention studies on weight loss or weight maintenance should place a special emphasis on the holiday season.

So, one more thing to feel blue about this holiday season?  I refuse to let that bring me down: I have resolved to be one of the first in line this morning at J. C. Penney to get a $10.00-off coupon; I have been eyeing that box of Russell Stover holiday chocolates since Halloween.                                                                                                                                                                                               Then I’ll join the gym—I think the first month is free in 2016.  Futility at a discount.