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Don’t Wait Till New Year’s to Adopt a Healthier Lifestyle Print

It’s what you do between New Year’s and Christmas that counts (not between Christmas and New Year’s)

The holidays can be challenging for your health and nutrition but the good news is that it’s not impossible to still find a balance.
 
 
As the season of office parties, candy canes and turkey overload edges closer, many Canadians are already bracing themselves for the guilt, regret and promises to join a gym that will inevitably hit by Jan. 1. But hang on a second. Before the gravy hangover sets in, it’s worth asking why so many of us have turned obsessions over holiday weight gain into a yearly tradition.

Although many people think they gain significant weight during the holidays, research shows the actual increase is quite small. The problem is many of us fail to lose that excess weight. Over time, those extra pounds can add up and, eventually, you find you can no longer fit into your favourite reindeer sweater. In essence, the issue isn’t that we put on too much weight over the holidays, but that too many of us fail to shed extra pounds and adopt a healthier lifestyle during the rest of the year.

Perhaps it’s time to change all that. Instead of waiting to feel remorseful about polishing off two dozen sugar cookies in an afternoon or gnawing on a turkey leg while standing barefoot in the kitchen in the middle of the night, maybe the answer is to do something about it – now.

That’s right: Don’t procrastinate until the new year to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Start watching what you eat now. Go for a brisk walk on your lunch break. And over the next few weeks, steel yourself against the temptations of overindulging on puff-pastry appetizers, the extra glass(es) of wine and chocolate truffles. And don’t just lie glassy-eyed on the couch while It’s a Wonderful Life plays on a loop. Go for a walk to check out the Christmas lights, hit the skating rink or even break out the snowshoes. You’ll thank yourself for it when the new year begins.

“It’s all about guilt and it’s also about willpower. You have to endure,” said David Lau, an obesity researcher and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary. “Most people gain weight not because they don’t know that they’re overeating … but because food is comfort.”

So how much weight do we gain over the holidays?

A well-known American study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 found that while most people think they gain a minimum of five pounds (2.3 kilograms) from U.S. Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, more than 90 per cent of study participants actually gained less than a pound during that period. Very few study participants gained five pounds or more; those who were overweight or obese were more likely to pack on weight during the holidays, the researchers found.

Although we tend to be surrounded by fatty foods and calorie-rich alcoholic beverages during the Christmas season, it’s not as easy as many people think to gain a noticeable amount of weight during the holidays. Sarah Remmer, a registered dietitian and nutritionist based in Calgary, points out that only those who eat in excess for an extended period are likely to notice a difference on the scale.

In order to gain a pound, an individual needs to consume an additional 3,500 calories on top of their regular diet. This means that, over a week, for instance, a person who normally eats 2,000 calories a day would have to eat an extra 500 calories a day to gain a single pound. Remmer says this isn’t too hard to accomplish during the holiday period, but that actual weight gain is typically small. (This doesn’t take physical activity into account. If a person consumed more food but increased their physical activity, they would burn the extra calories.)

But here comes the bad news: That same study found that the extra pound most people put on during the holidays rarely comes off in the spring or summer, leading the authors to conclude that it “probably contributes to the increase in body weight that frequently occurs during adulthood.” Evidence shows that at least 60 per cent of Canadian adults and about 30 per cent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. It’s a significant public-health issue, as excess weight is tied to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and a litany of other problems. No one is saying that Canadians shouldn’t indulge over the holidays. Andrea Holwegner, a registered dietitian and owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting in Calgary, says she tells her clients it’s okay to eat more than they normally would during the holidays. She tells them to mark their calendars with an “X” on days when they know eating healthily will be a challenge – and then advises them not to worry about it.

“Those are just social family times where you’re going to have all sorts of good stuff,” Holwegner said. “Don’t worry about trying to make those days perfect. Eat around them. It’s always [about] the balance.”

Canadians need to think about what their habits are during the rest of the year.

“The principle is always the same during the whole year. The battle is between your caloric intake and energy expenditure,” said Denis Prud’homme, professor at the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa who receives research funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. “Everybody thinks about losing weight. I think people should not focus on weight or pounds, but [on] what they need to do to lose.… That’s the problem. People focus more on the number than on the behaviour to achieve the numbers.”

So go ahead and drink the eggnog. But don’t wait until January to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

“It’s what you’re doing between New Year’s and Christmas that’s most relevant,” Holwegner said. “Not Christmas and New Year’s.”

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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