Ah, the winter holidays! A time for giving, caring, and togetherness. A time of celebration, where homes are open and warm. A time for a whole lot of people to think that a good weight loss challenge is just what everyone else needs.
Many of us have that one relative, who always comments on how many plates you come back with or your dessert intake at family events. Websites post “holiday survival” articles about dieting during the season, which are essentially repackaged portioning tips with reindeer puns. Companies set up “Greatest Loser”-esque competitions and challenge employees to lose weight. They can win money, prizes, or even vacation days and insurance discounts. This sounds like a decent idea, at least. Isn’t is just common knowledge that people gain a lot of weight during the holidays? And does it really matter when companies, magazines, and Grammies do it or why if it’s helping people?
First, and perhaps foremost, most Americans don’t gain 5 pounds during the holidays—it’s closer to one. This on its own is enough reason for folks to seriously shove it about what I’m shoveling in my mouth at Christmas dinner.
Second, they’re essentially trying to enforce deprivation during a time when the places around us become candy and pastry castles from October to January. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and winter holidays aren’t just celebrated once. People and offices—yes, those same ones who want you to lose weight—have parties with fun food and booze. Friends and neighbors have potlucks, dinners, gift exchanges, cookie swaps… the list goes on. Having to balance multiple Thanksgiving dinners, Hanukkah feasts, or Christmas lunches is getting pretty common as families blend and travel is simpler. Also, sugar is everywhere. EVERYWHERE—candy, cookies, pies, puddings, special family desserts, and a whole lot of things you only see once per year.*
Even if you can resist this temptation, it won’t make the difference you think. Weight loss is not the only barometer by which to measure health and dieting isn’t healthy. You can stay skinny on cigarettes, Cheetos, and Diet Coke but that doesn’t make you a model of fitness.** Because of this, and other factors, workplace fitness initiatives are generally a wash and usually cause more unhealthy behavior than health improvement.
Instead of paying lip service to diets during the wintertime, employers might consider providing employees with healthier spreads in the cafeteria (like Google did) or having “health initiatives” which are based around healthy food choices, exercise minutes, or even steps taken during a day. Physical activity is more important to maintaining health. The nutritional density of what you eat is more important than whether or not it helps you lose weight. Bodies need vitamins, minerals, calories—food. This lesson isn’t just for the corporate world. Unless you know they’re allergic to whatever they’re about to put in their mouth, just let it go. It’s not for you to say. Your cousin Leo or Aunt Maria can go back for seconds—even thirds.
Now here’s why you should eat to your best ability during the holiday season—because you’re a human being. Winter feasting is a tradition going back thousands of years in our history. This usually culminated in solstice celebrations or the “here comes the sun” moment for ancient civilizations. Winter is finally on its way out. We’ve survived. Thank the gods and party down. We deserve to celebrate with each other—we too have survived, made it through another year, some with more tragedies and others with more triumphs. One pound isn’t going to make or break your whole life. Keeping yourself active—inside, outside, for hours or in five minute bursts—throughout the year is a much more worthwhile investment of your time than trying to figure out how many calories are in a scoop of Grandma’s famous creamed corn. As Leah Chase, wonderful figure of Creole cooking, said, “Leave things be special.” Grandma’s Nanaimo bars only come out once a year, people. Let’s be cool about this.
*Damn you, Butterfinger Bells!!!
**Let’s just say I’ve looked into this thoroughly.