For several years I have spoken to many members of the PFC community about staying holiday "weight neutral". The concept is that if we look at the year as a whole, December is one of the hardest months with regard to losing weight. And yet even for those not concerned with losing weight (note I did not say not needed), the holidays are an extremely difficult time of year for our health. How can we avoid this?
It is established science that in the USA, the highest rates of heart attacks occur during the winter. In addition to that, there are distinct spikes in the rate of heart attacks on both Christmas and New Years, or as one researcher titled them "Merry Christmas Coronary" and "Happy New Year Heart Attack". (1)
There are many factors that go into this, including dietary changes (lots of extra sweets and rich, fatty foods), exercise changes (or lack of exercise), increased work and family distress, and changes in normal self-care habits. Considering most of these changes aren't able to be eliminated, we must consider the realistic scenario that most people are going to let some vices creep into their lifestyle this time of year. As a pragmatist, I say this is ok, as long as we remain overall neutral in our approach.
What does "neutral" mean? Originally, I added the concept of neutral to mean balancing weight gain with some activities to promote weight loss. But as food changes are only one provoking factor. We should consider how we balance all of the additions to our lifestyle this time of year.
Emotional stress: deep breathing is the easiest way to lower your blood pressure in a matter of seconds. How many times did you take a deep breath today? This is especially important during the holiday rush.
Schedule hassles: every year we find that the patients who sail through December the smoothest are the ones who schedule their appointments ahead of time (and follow the schedule). This applies to lots of activities, including salon, restaurant and meet-up appointments. Setting and following a schedule are of peak importance this time of year. The last-minute stuff will always be there!
Extra activity: lots of people deal with extra sedentary activity this time of year. Finding new ways to get out and walk, or take a bundled-up stroll in the snow, or any new activity will keep the balance in your physical health.
Say NO: for many people, NO is the hardest word in the English language. Knowing your limits and abilities, and when not to heap more on the pile, is as important as saying YES to the things you do want. Be careful of letting your commitments ("oh sure, I will drive you to JFK airport at 5pm…") rule your life, and make sure you balance your YES and NO agreements.
Whatever you consider your extra hassle, is exactly the balance you should be striking in your life. Your health is one example, and if overlooked, can be a huge disaster when pressed this time of year. We are thankful for your participation in our community! Happy holidays!
1. R.A. Kloner, 2004, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/110/25/3744.full