Seasonal Weight Gain: A Balanced Approach to the Holidays

This holiday season commit to being more, rather than having more.

The leaves are falling, the air is crisp, baseball season is over, and football is in high gear. It’s official, the holidays are here. Really, they have been for a while. The official kick-off, pumpkin spice season, has been here since early September.

The leaves are falling, the air is crisp, baseball season is over, and football is in high gear. It’s official, the holidays are here. Really, they have been for a while. The official kick-off, pumpkin spice season, has been here since early September.

Then came the fall festivals and their funnel cakes, corn dogs, and an increasingly creative selection of fried foods. This, of course, took us to Halloween, a day dedicated to gorging on packaged candy. Still, all that pales in comparison to the extravaganza of consumption that typifies November and December.

Overcome with anticipation for the Christmas season, holiday movies, decorations, shopping, and, of course, sweets consume our conscious moments. Every day, henceforth, will feature a revolving door of baked cookies, pies, cinnamon rolls, and a bouquet of less easily categorized holiday treats all begging to be eaten under the obvious justification: “Tis the season.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely my favorite time of the year. And while, I love enjoying pumpkin pie, corn casserole, and a bourbon with good company, I don’t confuse consumption of food or material items as the source of my holiday cheer.

The holidays are special because of the weather, music, movies, people, and quality time they bring. Food traditions can be a part of that cheer, but we have to have limits.

The Dark Side of Cheer

There is a dark side to the holidays that warrants reflection. The lies of consumerism are on full display—most notably that the secret to happiness is more. More indulgence of appetite. More gifts. More extremes.

Thus, more and more people sacrifice one holiday to begin shopping for the next and fill every day after justifying impulse under the guise of holiday merriment. Every individual treat can be rationalized: “You can’t get fat in a day.” True, but you can in a season. ‘Tis the season.

The consequences are consistent—stress, angry shopping rants, financial debt, and extreme calorie surpluses. By early December everyone is self-consciously commenting about their expanding waist line as they reach for another cookie: “The holidays are just too crazy to care. Starting in January I’m going all in on counting my macros and taking spin classes.”

Of course, this is the biggest lie of all: “I can be the person I want to be, but it’s hard so I’ll just start later.” The truth is that the extremes of the holidays are just slight magnifications of the culture already in place.

They really aren’t that different than how most live for the majority of the year. Shopping and eating indulgently are the most distinguishable modern qualities, outside of phone scrolling. Those apt to indulge and compete over purchases are the same people who struggle with the massive temptation of everyday life in 21st century American abundance.

This is why 80% of New Year’s resolutioners fail by February and why over 90% of people who lose weight gain it back. Everyone is starting a diet in January and almost everyone will fail because they couldn’t start right now.

“Once December was a month; now it is a year.”

– Saying referenced by Seneca in “On Festivals and Fasting”

The extremes characteristic of modern holidays are not a new phenomenon. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote about similar December extravagances in his 18th Letter to Lucilius. Stirred from witnessing the extremes of Roman debauchery, Seneca advocated keeping the “holiday without extravagance.”

Happiness has never been born from orgies of consumption, but rather a connection and the self-mastery to live up to our own standards. With the right approach, we can enjoy treats and community without being swept away by our lesser selves.

But before we get to that approach, there is one more component we have to account for. You must be prepared for the biggest killer of holiday self-control: guilt.

It is a very real thing. Millions of people with great intentions will earnestly desire not to eat that store-bought cake, but when grandma or some other good-natured person is upset that you aren’t eating any, it becomes very hard to abstain.

  • “You have to, it’s the holidays.”
  • “It’s the holidays. Will you just relax?”
  • “It’s just one cookie.”

But, honestly, it isn’t just one. Especially if you walk anywhere near a school. It is a billion cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, and more.

People, selfishly, expect even the most diligently healthy to make an exception for the treat they brought.

They’ll rationalize that you should be able to not eat any of the other treats and only have theirs. Some become legitimately mad.

Your Holiday Health Mantra

Repeat after me: I am not responsible for your emotions.

I wouldn’t recommend saying that aloud, but repeat it to yourself as much as you need. If someone is upset, because you’ve decided you don’t want to consume a food, that is on them. They are manipulating your behavior to fit their desires, even against your own.

I understand that food can be emotional, particularly when there is a traditional component. This is one reason I always indulge on the actual holiday day. Yet the fact remains, that you are not responsible for their emotions. You are not responsible for anyone’s emotions except your own. Don’t feel like you have to explain yourself, because you don’t. Simply stick with, “I really appreciate the offer, but no thank you.”

“Discipline equals freedom.”

– Jocko Willink

Now, without further ado, I suggest these rules to enjoy the holidays while keeping extremes in check and living up to your own standards:

  • Keep working out. Look at your calendar and account for holiday travel, shopping, etc. then make an exercise plan. If you plan it, do it — 99% is a wimp.
  • Plan your treats. For example, I’m going to eat pie and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. I’ll probably go to my favorite pizza place when we see the Christmas lights in Dallas. Plan a couple treats a week, keep them sane, and try to stick with that.
  • Failure is not permission to throw the whole plan out. Too often we use slip-ups as a reason to quit. So, you ate one of Karen’s sugar cookies at lunch. Oh well. Move forward.
  • Militantly resist guilt.

Start a Holiday Resolution

This holiday season commit to being more, rather than having more. Rather than waiting for the New Year to start a resolution, why not start now? Start a holiday resolution. If you say you can’t, then it is unlikely that any shift in January will be much more successful.

There is no reason to put off becoming your best self. It is a great place to start on any personal development endeavor.

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