Before you take an extra sliver of pumpkin pie this holiday season, think about your joints. The average adult gains slightly less than one pound during the 6-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to a
2000 study published by the National Institutes of Health
. Not a tremendous amount. But for 14% of the adults in the study who were already overweight, the gain was five pounds or more during the holiday season. And for the total population of the study, weight gained during the holidays accounted for 51% of annual weight gain. So in and of itself, holiday weight gain may not be as critical an issue as some would have you believe, but as a contributing factor to the rise in obesity overall, it is very important.
Imagine putting on an extra five pounds every year, and not taking it off. In two years, that would be 10 pounds and for every extra 10 pounds you carry on your frame, you are putting an extra 50 pounds of stress on your joints. Likewise, losing those 10 pounds will ease the stress on your overburdened hips and knees.
If you know feasting is in your future this holiday season, keep these weight-control tips in mind:
Have a Plan
Holiday meals are often scheduled later than normal dining hours. Despite your best intentions, disruptions to your regular eating patterns may lower your resistance to the tempting array of party foods in front of you. Don't arrive ravenous, eat a small, protein-rich snack before leaving home.
Choose your hors d'ouerves wisely: veggie sticks with a smidgen of dip vs. fat-laden crackers and cheese; seafood vs. beef; even stuffed mushrooms probably have fewer calories than mini-quiches.
Know Your Limits - and Stick to Them
When toasting the holidays, keep in mind that alcohol contains calories and calories are what add on weight. More to the point - these are empty calories, with no nutritional value whatsoever.
While you should limit your alcohol intake, you should also probably up your water intake. Most people do not stay properly hydrated. The area of the brain that controls hunger and thirst is called the hypothalamus. When your stomach is empty, specific hormones are released to signal hunger. The hypothalamus receives these signals and communicates with the nervous system that it's time to eat. But it sends the same signal whether you are hungry or thirsty. To understand which signal your brain is sending, you must learn to understand your body better. Pay close attention to the last time you had a meal compared with the last time you had something to drink. It might be that empty feeling in your stomach only needs some water for satiety.
Get Your Zzzz...
Recent research on the hormones leptin and ghrelin are shedding new light on how the amount of shut-eye you get may affect your weight. Both hormones can influence your appetite. And studies show that production of both may be influenced by how much or how little you sleep. Leptin and ghrelin work in a kind of "checks and balances" system to control feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.
So what's the connection to sleep? When you don't get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don't feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food. The two combined can set the stage for overeating, which in turn may lead to weight gain.
Your joint health depends on good health, so everything you can do to maintain a healthy weight will benefit you. SO put down that pie fork and lace up your sneakers for a post-holiday stroll. Your joints will be merrier!