Warning: This is one of those total bummer posts where a fitness professional will bemoan all the sugar-laden seasonal foods we all eat. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s that time of year again.
The time when we all gather around to shove sugary food down our collective gullet (sorry for using the word gullet – I know it’s not exactly a pretty word), all while developing our well-intentioned plans to make up for it when January 1st rolls around. Of course, nobody will actually do anything to repair the harm their bodies have suffered at the hands of the holidays, unless you count three weeks at the local health club doing something.
It’s a funny thing we do this time of year. “It’s only once a year,” we tell ourselves. But is it? And what, really, are we referring to when we say that? December 25th or the entire month of December? While I suppose it’s true that December does, technically, only come once a year, it’s not exactly an insignificant amount of time. Buildings can be erected in that amount of time (well, maybe only small or poorly made buildings, but you get my point).
The story that the media picks up around this time of year is that the average American gains 5-10 pounds over the holidays. I’ve told this to people, not knowing that it’s a pure, unadulterated lie. The real number is closer to a pound or two (in case you’re wondering, the Freshman 15 is bogus, too… most cutesy fitness statistics are). So then what’s the problem?
What kinds of foods do you most associate with this time of year? Is it gingerbread cookies? Candy canes? Fruit cake?
Whatever it is, the smart money says it has enough flour and sugar to fell a wildebeest (okay, this may be a slight exaggeration). The problem is that those sugary, floury, processed foods we all adore so much around the holidays give us a taste for something that is actually very addictive. And very fattening.
Remember, contrary to what most people think, fat isn’t really what makes you fat. You store excess fat because your hormones tell you to (not just because you eat too much), and your hormones are greatly influenced by the kinds of food you eat. Insulin, the most powerful of these hormones (at least regarding fat storage), is especially receptive to carbohydrates – the kind you find in potent quantities in holiday sweets. Our country’s battle with obesity began in earnest when we chucked out all the fat in our diet and replaced it with processed carbs.
The thing most people don’t know about those processed carbs is just how addictive they are. Flour and sugar create a dopamine (one of the “reward” chemicals in our brain) response similar to nicotine, heroin and cocaine. What we’ve created is a nation of people who are addicted in a very real sense to foods that are hormonally likely to cause them to store fat, then we blame our will power when we stop working out the last week in January. It’s not that we’re lazy – we’re hooked!
When we excuse excess consumption of sugary baked goods over the holidays, it has longer lasting effects than just the 12 Days of Christmas. It creates impulses that are biologically stronger than the strength of our will.
Should you avoid every cookie or piece of holiday candy you come across? No… I certainly don’t plan on it. But remember that there are real consequences to even the most harmless of pleasurable distractions.