It’s no secret that people worry about weight gain over the holidays. Weight loss as a New Year’s Resolution is extremely common. Before you start planning your new weight loss regime, there are some hard truths you need to know about weight and dieting. 
When the holiday season approaches does your anxiety rise at the thought of chocolate, cookies, stuffing, eggnog, alcoholic drinks, and family feasts? Do you anticipate gaining weight over the season, and find yourself already planning the diet you’ll try this January?
This focus we have on weight is not helping us actually get thinner or healthier bodies. Instead it may unintentionally be contributing to preoccupation with food, body checking, yo-yo dieting and eating disorders.
Now before I continue, let me make one thing very clear:
Diets don’t work. Dieting is actually associated with and increased likelihood of binging and cravings later on, because we don’t respond well to deprivation.
Why do we love the idea of weight loss so much?
Weight loss receives lots of attention.
Messages from our environment: Medical systems and public health initiatives invest time and resources in weight loss programs. That sends a pretty strong message.
Big money: Canadians spend billions of dollars a year on weight loss, it’s a booming industry. Weight loss programs are in your face, you likely cannot go a whole day without a weight related reference in your day-to-day life. There is no other industry which makes it’s money from failing people again and again.
The media: It’s mostly skinny people who are used in advertising, movies, and TV. This makes it seem as though the average person is thin, and that being overweight is abnormal or unnatural. In reality only a very small percentage of people are built to be thin naturally. Many people achieve thinness through disordered means. We may be unintentionally placing individuals suffering from disordered eating on a pedestal!
Excitement and hope: Diets are exciting, they offer new hope. You get to buy all new foods, new gym clothes, prepare and imagine a new life without those extra pounds!
Socialization: When you’re dieting you can join in with the friends and family members who are also dieting. Together you moan about weight, or how ___ food has done ___ to their bodies. We’ve normalized this phenomenon and in fact applaud each other for it.
If you reflect on all of the above, of course we feel like we all need to lose weight! That’s a lot of strong messaging!
Will weight loss give us the happiness and health we have been promised?
In short, it likely won’t.
Another question which is important to explore is wether weight is actually associated with an increased risk of morbidity and poor health outcomes.
The body mass index (BMI) – or amount of body fat is a weak predictor of longevity (with the exception of extremes) [source].
If you read Linda Bacon’s work, it points out the increasing concern about the wide spread misrepresentation of evidence in these weight management policies [source]. She challenges the idea of promoting weight management as a public health measure by discussing the assumptions behind the current weight-focused attitudes. She does this by identifying the research which presents evidence that conflicts with their scientific merit.
The “obesity paradox” is the pattern in literature where obesity is associated with longer survival in many diseases including type 2 diabetes [source], high blood pressure [source], and cardiovascular disease [source] to name a few.
Yo-yo dieting brings feelings of decreased self-confidence, failure and shame. Not at all the happiness that was promised.
Do people actually gain weight over the holiday season?
Yes, but not nearly as much as you may think. One study observed the weight change of adults from Aug of one year to July of the next year to observe the weight changes pre and post holiday season [source]. The results showed that the greatest weight gain was just 0.7% (0.6 kg) in the United States… not even a full percent increase in body weight! Most of this weight gain was then lost after the holidays.
In short, a lot of hype, fear and anxiety all for nothing.
So What?
To summarize my points:

  • Diets don’t work.
  • Dieting is a lucrative and seductive industry, with messaging that we must all be thin coming everywhere from the media to our medical system.
  • Being skinny many not be as “healthy” as it’s made out to be, and dieting doesn’t lead to happiness.
  • People don’t gain much weight over the holidays, and most of it is lost in the following months.

Bottom line, the holidays should be a time to enjoy with friends and family, and to eat the special food you don’t get all year round. You are allowed to derive pleasure from food.  That doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself and overdo it, but certainly don’t deprive yourself in the name of weight. Practise listening to your internal cues like hunger and satiety with my starving and stuffed scale  and you’ll do fine.
Leave me a comment and share if you’ve experienced the stress from holiday food and weight gain fear. 
Have you heard about Linda Bacon’s research before?
Are you sick of the dieting hamster wheel?
Leave me your thoughts!