Surviving Feasting Season
From Halloween through Valentine's Day, temptations abound.
It happens every year about this time. The air gets nippier, the days get
shorter -- and your jeans start getting tighter.
Ready or not, feasting season is here -- that seemingly endless time of
temptation that starts with Halloween candy and continues with Thanksgiving
stuffing and pies, merry-making treats, then New Year's toasts. Even beyond
Jan. 1, there are Super Bowl chips and dips and Valentine's Day chocolates to
"We have four months of constant feasting," says Roger A. Clemens,
DrPH, food science expert for the Institute of Food Technologists. "If we
do feast, as many people do, without control, then we set ourselves up for bad
patterns, ill health, and weight gain."
Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during the
end-of-the-year festivities vary from 1 pound to 10, but it's undoubtedly a
tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully.
And then there's exercise. According to the National Center for Health
Statistics, most Americans -- 59% in 2003 -- do not engage in vigorous,
leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the
urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more
With all this working against us, just how can we keep from overeating and
underexercising during the Halloween-through-Valentine's Day season? WebMD
asked some health and fitness experts for advice.
First, it's important to understand why it's so hard to keep up healthful
habits this time of year. During the fall and winter seasons, the experts say,
many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat. They include:
- Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and
family using food and drink, says Clemens. And on special occasions, such as
holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases -- raising the
temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don't
want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have
toiled to present good eats. The alcohol served at many social events can also
destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
- Stress. As if there weren't enough stress in everyday life, holiday
obligations and expectations add to the strain. "In an effort to ensure
that you have the perfect holiday, you're doing all these extra things, like
making sure you have the right decorations out and making sure your cards are
done," says Bethany Thayer, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic
Association. "All that extra work can be overwhelming. It can add to the
stress, and the stress can lead to the overeating."
- Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people
feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they're more
likely to overeat, says Amy Schmid, MA, RD, program director of nutrition
communication for the Dairy Council of Nebraska.
- Emotional eating. Schmid says some people use food to soothe
sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration
as an excuse to overindulge, says Janet R. Laubgross, PhD, a clinical
psychologist specializing in weight management in Fairfax, Va. They think,
"'Oh, I get to indulge because it's Halloween' or 'I get to indulge because
it's Thanksgiving,'" she says, noting that holiday marketing of food and
consumerism contributes to the excess as well. Also, Thayer notes, when people
who are trying hard to eat healthfully fall off the wagon, many get frustrated
and give up on healthy eating.
- Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink
when the mercury dips. "It's comforting to eat stuffing, pumpkin pie, or
your grandmother's high-calorie salad," says Schmid. "It makes you feel
good. It makes you remember the good days."
The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical
"The No. 1 reason people report for not exercising is lack of time,"
says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council
And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as
stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout