Losing weight is a big struggle on a good day.  It is a monumental challenge during the holidays. 

The USA Today did a story on a lady by the name of Barbara Heibel.  She is a 65-year-old retired marketing professional from Chapel Hill North Carolina. Her story is very similar to those of my patients.  She said that for over 50 years she struggled with her weight.  She carried about 200 pounds of excess weight.  She tried just about every diet available without sustained weight loss.  She eventually gave in and had weight loss surgery in 2009. To her credit, she lost over 200 pounds and felt great. Over the next eight years, the weight started to come back.  Along with it was a sense of failure and shame.  Fortunately, she reached out to a medical professional. She was started on medications and has lost the weight she regained.  She noted that she has come to accept that she needs treatment for the rest of her life. Kudos to her.

The same thing applies to anyone struggling to lose weight and keep it off.  Weight loss struggle is not a failure of willpower.  Humans are programmed to defend against losing weight.  The science is very clear.  Throughout evolution, our hunter gatherer ancestors needed body fat to survive winters and famines.  We have centers in the brain stem and hypothalamus that are programmed to defend against losing weight.  It is not your fault if you have not been able to lose weight and keep it.  However, you do have a responsibility to find out what works.  There is no use trying the same old diet with partial commitment. You need a plan and treatment to succeed. 

As you celebrate with your friends and family this holiday season, you would be wise to have a plan to remain healthful rather than relying on willpower. Do not make any excuse just because it is the holidays.  If you give in to that, you will do it for weekends, anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine Day, and many others.  You will not have any control over your lifestyle and weight. So, take time to create a plan to enjoy this holiday season without gaining weight.  The following are some suggestions.

  • Decide to focus on celebrating the people in your life by developing active interest in what is going on in their life.  Ask questions about what is happening to them and listen.  Your attention may be the best holiday present you can give someone.
  • Practice mindful eating.  Each time you put anything in your mouth, be mindful.  Eat slowly and be present.  Savor the flavors and stop when you are satisfied not stuffed.
  • Sensible substitution.  Get creative.  You can still enjoy holiday treats. There are a variety of ways to do this. You can makeover recipes with less sugar and fat. 
  • Strategic distractions. When cravings and temptations hit, distract yourself.  Studies have shown that cravings are most powerful in the first 3 to 5 minutes.  If you get yourself occupied, you will find that the temptation does not have as much power over you.
  • Do not go to holiday parties hungry.  Fill up on a healthy salad or snack before going to an office celebration or a holiday party.
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Enjoy physical activities and games.
  • If all else fails, seek professional help.

Happy Holidays.

Ife Ojugbeli, M.D, MBA.