For many of us, Thanksgiving is a day to come together with family or friends around a table of the kind of comfort food and proportions we wait for all year. Feasting is often early, followed by pie, watching sports or movies, and then starting in again late in the evening for the round of leftover sandwiches. Second, third, and fourth servings of already-heaping portions are not unheard of.
The truth is that, other than some indigestion and extreme circumstances of intestinal trauma, there is nothing wrong with occasional overindulgence of holiday overeating. While gorging on gargantuan platefuls spread over several hours is not the best thing you can do for your body, overeating on one day will not harm you. Most of the food (and calories) will be gone from your system in a few days, and aside from some salt retention and swelling, you’ll be good to go with no lingering physical effects.
The health problems arise, however, when people see Thanksgiving as the unofficial kickoff to holiday overindulgence. There are multiple religions and cultures that collectively celebrate nearly 30 holidays between November and mid-January. Regardless of belief or affiliation, there are work-related events and gift-exchanges and myriad sweets, food trays, candy trays, as well as cookie exchanges that start magically appearing the day after Thanksgiving. There are marathon home baking sessions. And as the weather cools, coziness is encouraged; December is nothing without images of people nestled by the fire—with food and drink abounding. But don’t get trapped into this cycle of holiday overindulgence.
So often, the cliché is that you can justify your holiday overeating by telling yourself you’ll start fresh with a diet and exercise plan in the new year. And indeed, many gyms make a killing off these good intentions. Here are the astounding statistics: 12% of new gym memberships start in January, when attendance is up overall somewhere between 33% and 50%, the highest point being the second week of January. However, by February, a staggering 80% of the New Year’s Resolution makers has dropped off. In fact, when gyms sell memberships, the business model is that only 18% of the members are expected to use their memberships—for longer than a month.
Therefore, there is only a 1-in-5 chance that you will follow through with your New Year’s Resolution to take off the holiday overindulgence weight put on. And even if you manage to take off a few pounds, the data keep revealing that most holiday weight gain does not come off, and instead accumulates each year. The truth is that one month of overindulging can sabotage your health. It is hard to lose weight after gaining it suddenly, and it’s even harder to keep it off, especially as you age.
This added weight puts strain on your vascular system. Belly fat puts pressure on your abdominal aorta, and it is harder for your veins to pump the blood back up from your feet. Other than genetics, this is the most common cause of varicose veins.
The other problem is that the weight gain decreases mobility, and at this point, getting the necessary exercise has been a problem so far. Decreased mobility on top of weight gain is a recipe for vein disease, which is not served only for the holidays.
So I urge you to practice moderation throughout the coming month. Keep track of the food that you’re eating, and be wary of the holiday food trays and candy exchanges. Don’t be afraid to regift the sweets you get if you’re afraid it will sabotage your health.
But as for Thanksgiving? Go ahead. It’s one day. Pass the gravy.
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