As I write this we are only one week into the holiday season of feasts, office parties, and sugar plum treats and just 31 days away from the New Year and the popular resolution to lose some weight. Maybe this year could be different. Maybe this year, we could avoid adding the pounds during the next 31 days that we will resolve to remove 32 days from now.
First, let’s face some facts. When we use the term weight as in “I’ve gained 15 pounds just from Thanksgiving” or “I need to lose some weight from all those holiday parties,” what we’re really talking about is fat. We make the mistake of substituting our fat gain with the notion of weight gain. Granted, if you add fat to your body, you will gain some weight. But if we are only focused on weight, we are missing the mark.
Fat is by design the most efficient mechanism for our body to store energy. It is so efficient that fat can hold 2.25 times the number of calories (energy) per pound than either carbohydrate or protein. That’s why the human body evolved the ability to efficiently store energy in this very portable structure. Look at it this way, 1 pound of fat contains 3500 calories. That’s easily a two day’s supply of energy in just one pound!
In a balanced diet, we take in calories from three sources: protein (lean meat, beans, eggs, dairy, soy), fat (animal, plant, nut), carbohydrate (vegetables, fruits, grains, sugar and everything else that isn’t protein or fat). The body burns up the calories from each of these food sources in two ways:
- Basic Body Function (Basil Metabolism): breathing, heart and circulatory function, glandular activity, cellular activity, digesting food, regulating body temperature and such.
- Physical Activity: walking, climbing stairs, dusting, mopping, bicycling, swimming, rugby playing, climbing Mt. Everest, and so on.
You’ll notice that you don’t have much control over your basil metabolism. These functions are pretty automatic. What you do have control over however are your voluntary physical activities. These are activities that use skeletal muscle to initiate the physical movement. The only difference is the type and intensity of the physical activity you choose. You are free to make your physical activity housecleaning or climbing Mt. Everest, yet the Himalayan trek will burn up a whole lot more calories than applying the floor wax even though they both are using many of the same muscles.
So if you are only mopping the kitchen, but eating like your on the summit team for Everest, you’ll be eating more calories than your muscles need. Since the body never lets a good calorie go to waste, it automatically puts it around your waist for future use. After all, your body never knows when your mind might actually force it to attempt a summit of Everest. That’s how we become over-fat and during the holidays we are at the greatest risk for this pattern.
During the month of December, the average person will add about 1-2 pounds of fat. That’s equivalent to eating an extra 225 calories per day that isn’t burned off by physical activity.
The reason is all of those holiday parties, feasts and snacks provide enough calories to climb mountains, while at the same time we are slowly decreasing our physical activity (if we were active at all). Our physical activity decreases for a variety of reasons, like less daylight, colder temperatures, and less time in general because we are attending all of those holiday parties. So it’s not just about too many calories, it’s also about less activity which allows our muscles to weaken and atrophy which reduces their ability to burn calories. Do you see the vicious cycle?
So now, more than at any other time of the year, it’s critical to keep up your exercise routine to maintain the muscle mass that will burn the calories you eat. If you’ve already begun to lighten your workout, don’t fret, just get back onto the routine before you get any further into the holiday season.
Secondly, don’t obsess about all of the temptations. Go ahead and indulge a bit and don’t deny yourself. Do keep it in moderation however. Ask yourself before you eat: “am I hungry?” If you are, what do you want to spend your calories on? Choose well and you’ll feel good about what you are eating and you’ll be honoring your body without overloading it with excess energy that will have to be stored for tomorrow.
By maintaining or even increasing your physical activity now, you’ll be less likely to add the additional fat that prompts the New Year’s weight loss resolution. More on that one next month.