By Jennifer Ventrelle
Worried about that extra luggage you might acquire around the holidays, adding to an already expanded waistline? A review of studies evaluating holiday weight gain determined the average gain during the six-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to be only 0.8 pounds. However, for those individuals who were already overweight or obese, the gain was as much as five pounds. A more recent evaluation indicated that obese participants show greater increases in body fat over the holiday season compared to their normal weight counterparts.
Even if the number of pounds gained varies greatly, there’s the phenomenon commonly called “holiday creep.” We gain the most weight during the holidays and rarely shed it afterwards, so it accumulates over the years, until by middle age, we are a bit too hefty around the middle and elsewhere.
Although the magnitude of weight gained over the holiday season continues to be inconclusive, one thing remains clear: The potential for weight gain is greater with increased abundance of holiday treats and decreased opportunities to be physically active in colder weather. And based on recent literature, this risk may be worse if you are already overweight or obese.
The best way to avoid holiday weight gain is to focus on time management. A common phrase we use to help people prioritize health is “important trumps urgent.” The idea, based on a principle adapted from Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is learning not to let urgent, pressing things that demand immediate attention take priority over the most important matters and activities that contribute to your mission and goals.
Big rocks vs. pebbles
To illustrate the idea, imagine a bucket evenly packed with both big rocks and little pebbles. If you empty that bucket then try to refill it putting in all the little pebbles first, you run out of room for the big rocks and they won’t all fit in. But if you begin by filling the bucket with the big rocks first, then you can sprinkle the pebbles in between the spaces of the big rocks to make everything fit once again.
When it comes to time management, the big rocks are activities related to your main goals and roles. Ask yourself, “What are the most important things I need to do this week?” (i.e., your big rocks). The free time left over can be filled in with other activities that may not be as important, i.e., the pebbles.
For example, if you expect to be healthy, then physical activity will be a big rock. At the beginning of each week, you can write in all of your physical activity sessions. This approach makes it a priority and prevents you from using up your time with “pebbles” that may less important.
Consider the following examples:
- Family time, especially during holidays
- Work commitments
- Physical activity
- Checking email constantly
- Tending to others’ needs before completing my Big Rocks
- Facebook and social media
- Watching TV
This approach helps guard against a common pitfall: People often say they are going to plan ahead or set goals to do things such as prepare healthy meals or work out three times per week, but they fail to actually consider the daily tasks and responsibilities that may act as barriers to these plans or goals set. It is inevitable that we become busier over the holiday season, so it will be necessary to fill in set obligations and then schedule goals around those things.
Although you can’t actually create more hours in the day, managing your time efficiently by scheduling the most important things first will help reduce urgency in your life. With less urgency comes less stress, and that is the best gift of all.
Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, CPT, is a dietitian at Rush. She directs Rush’s ELM (Eat, Love, Move) program for people who are trying to lose weight and prevent chronic disease.