Dear Abdomen-Handling weight gain over the holidays.

Dear Abdomen,

I know I put on weight over Thanksgiving but haven’t stepped on the scale yet to put a number to it.  I just know that I did.  My clothing didn’t fit the same today as it did a week or two ago.  And, I don’t feel the same.  I feel bad about all the eating I did over Thanksgiving.  Maybe words like, “depressed” or “empty” are feelings associated with the knowledge that I gained weight.  Yet, I had a good time with family, and I know I  shouldn’t feel bad about spending time with my loved ones.  What can I do?  – Charlene

Dear Charlene,

There is a need to reconcile these extreme feelings.  Gaining weight between late November and early January is common in Western culture.  Although science has no defining study that says, “you gain weight when it is cooler,” there is a school of thought that makes us think that when it gets cold, we don’t sweat as much and we gain weight.  Too bad science doesn’t support this.

The evidence points towards two distinct events that are to blame for weight gain.  To begin, we introduce unstructured change into our diets.  The holiday foods aren’t aligned with what we eat the rest of the year.  After all, we don’t eat stuffing in May, nor do we have pumpkin pie in August.  We don’t know how to judge portions or frequency in which to eat these unknown foods. Secondly, we respond differently to the impact of an emotional disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that causes both depression and increased food consumption from darker, shorter days.   This disorder to so widespread and common that people specialize in the health care aspects of it.  SAD has a greater impact in polar regions, but it can alter eating and sleeping patterns in the continental US as well.  My family experiences a mild depression when we turn back the clocks in the fall, for we knows the days of going outside to work in the garden after dinner are over.

Those two explanations that blame a changing diet and SAD aren’t justifications, though.  Truth be told, a lack of self-control plays a role, as does denial and a lack of preparation for upcoming nutritional assault that you know you will face in the holiday season.


We recognize the pattern that arises this time of year.  We even coined the phrase 4 flat tire syndrome.  When your cars gets a flat tire (like blowing your nutritional plan when you overeat at Thanksgiving), the normal person would stop the car and change the flat tire to resume normal operation.  The tendency this time of the year for someone who lacks nutritional maturity is to get out of the car and pop the other three good tires, to really ruin the ability to travel.  Then you sit next to the car wondering what happened!

Don’t let the flat tire of Thanksgiving lead to a string of events that includes three more flat tires of crummy eating that lasts until January 1.  If you think your self-image is damaged now, wait until January 1, when you over-respond with a new gym membership and a diet that you know you won’t sustain.  A Canadian blogger named Michael Freedhoff recommends these strategies to avoid the Holiday/winter weight gain issues:

  • Cook meals from scratch. The processed junk food that somehow just “shows up” on our counter is a part of the problem.  This is like putting more trees and snakes next to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden.  Instead, make food prepared from real ingredients and try to eat as many healthy meals as you can.  If it is in a bag or from an unknown source, replace it with something that is good for you, instead.
  • Cook as a family. After all, the people whom you want to see this holiday season are most likely to be near or in the kitchen with you this time of year.  Use that time to make good food together and not just eat it together.
  • If you think you suffer from SAD, fess up and get medical attention. There are treatment strategies that will create a path of hope.  You aren’t weak if you seek medical help. You are acting wisely to seek medical help.

Lastly, some weight gain this time of year is healthy for those of us who are extreme athletes. That all said, I too was impacted by Thanksgiving and put on some weight.  For world class athletes in the endurance sports like marathon and Ironman, winter is a time of weight gain.  Runners from El Doret, Kenya, gain up to 15 pounds each winter/off season, as many of them get to a very low percentage of body fat.  For you, keep up some exercise, despite what you think of the weather and lack of daylight, and adapt to the changing outdoor season.


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