After the Feast…
by Richard L. Mabry, MD
Thanksgiving and Christmas are wonderful times for many of us. We enjoy spending time with family and friends. We exchange presents (Granted, some of them may go directly into a drawer or up to the attic, but it’s the thought that counts). And we eat…and eat…and eat. We help ourselves to turkey and dressing. The mashed potatoes have to have some gravy on them. That is, unless we prefer the sweet potatoes. Then there are the vegetables, the cranberry sauce, the rolls (with lots of butter, of course). And just about the time we find ourselves ready to say we couldn’t eat another bite, our hostess brings out the desserts—everything from pumpkin pie to pecan bars to cobbler with ice cream. Oh, yes. It’s wonderful, although some of us may find ourselves reaching for the antacids in the middle of the night.
But when the holidays are over, we step on the scales with a significant amount of trepidation. At first, we may think about adjusting the mechanism, because there’s no way our weight is reflected accurately. We slip off our shoes. That helps a bit. Then we begin shedding clothing. But no matter what we do, the verdict is in—we’ve gained some weight.
Think a few pounds don’t make much difference? A study presented to the American Heart Association in 2014 showed that a gain of just five pounds could definitely increase an individual’s blood pressure. Coronary artery disease—the cause of heart attacks—is generally due to the build-up of fatty plaques on the arteries that nourish the heart. Although this build-up usually occurs over a long period of time, ignoring our weight gain can give that plaque a toe hold.
True, just a bit of over-the-holidays weight gain doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop hypertension or heart disease. It doesn’t predispose you to the other things to which obese people are subject: stroke, joint problems, diabetes, gall bladder disease, or some types of cancer (uterine, breast, gall bladder, colon, kidney, liver). Not yet. But if you don’t pay attention to it, your weight may creep up until one day you step on the scales and realize that you’re overweight. It’s best to face the problem now.
Fine, but what do we do? Glad you asked.
Diet: Say “diet” and most people begin shaking their heads. They imagine a dinner of a few lettuce leaves with lemon juice, a breakfast of skim milk on a miniscule portion of bran flakes. True, some diets go to extremes, but you need not go that far if you don’t want to. Simply try portion control and common sense. This is the secret behind many commercial weight loss plans. Sure, you want to avoid foods that are highly caloric, but you don’t have to rob yourself of the things you love.
Here are a couple of examples. After a round of golf, my friend likes to have a particular corn chip with his luncheon hotdog. Instead of that, I choose a “lighter” version of potato chip, and save almost two hundred calories. You can exchange your full-fat ice cream for a less-caloric variety (in our area, it’s called “slow-churned”). Leave off the whipped cream and keep the amount of syrup small, and you’ve saved a hundred calories or more. Reward yourself with one maraschino cherry on top of your creation, but no nuts.
Remember, it’s the calories that count. You’ll need to become a label-reader, now that federal regulations mandate that the caloric delivery of a serving be stated plainly on the package. But, in the end, portion control is key.
Exercise: There’s a simple formula that affects our weight. Calories come in via the food we eat. They are burned by our body’s metabolism. When we burn more than we take in, we lose weight. When we take in more calories than we burn, the excess is deposited in the form of fat. Unfortunately, most of us neglect this. But burning those calories is important if we want to lose weight and keep it off.
You may have a desk job, which means that your ability to exercise is minimal. A trip to the gym is nice, but it won’t fit some schedules. Some people get up early and jog or walk around the neighborhood before going to work. If that won’t work for you, think about things you can do while at work to exercise. Just do an online search for “exercises at desk,” and you’ll be amazed at what’s out there. Stretch your arms, stretch your legs, move your neck and—probably the best thing you can do for daily exercise—take the stairs.
Medications: For those of you looking for a “magic bullet” to help you take off those holiday pounds, my advice is not to depend on pills alone. Here’s advice from the Mayo Clinic: “As you consider weight-loss drugs, make sure that you make every effort to exercise, change your eating habits and adjust any other lifestyle factors that have contributed to your excess weight.” You may want to read that again. Before a doctor considers prescribing weight-loss drugs, he’ll ask you about these other factors. Keep them in mind, because losing the weight is just the first part of the battle. The other part is keeping the weight off.
If you have a legitimate cause for wanting to lose weight, especially when it’s more than what you put on during the holidays, by all means consult your physician. But remember that diet and exercise are still the key.
If you can keep your intake reasonable during the holidays, that would be great. But if not, I hope you find these suggestions helpful in shedding those extra pounds. Happy New Year!
Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now an award-winning author of “medical suspense with heart.” He is the author of nine traditionally published novels, the latest of which is Miracle Drug.
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