Why You Should Avoid Holiday Meals

(which almost no one loses throughout the rest of the year)? And what, exactly, makes these meals so poor and tempting? Hopefully I’ll answer those questions and many more in this article, showing you why you should avoid holiday meals.

Reason #1: Nutrient Density (Or Lack Thereof)

As I’ve written on before, there are many overlooked foods, all of which are PACKED with nutrients. Conversely, traditional holiday meals are packed with empty calories. Lots of foods, lots of colors, lots of textures and temptation – and very little nutrition. If one were to devise the best way to easily GAIN weight – they would construct a setup nearly identical to a ‘regular’ holiday meal.

Calorically dense, quick sources of energy, foods that raise your insulin, and foods that cause cravings. These are what you feed people that you want to make fat. When you take out nutrients, people will crave more calories – even if these calories are empty too. This is the typical profile of the chocolate addict, or the food addict in general. How about the soda addict, who won’t eat broccoli even if you were to pay them? That is what we are doing to ourselves at these meals.

Reason #2: Peer Pressure

When you look at it objectively, it’s practically a set up. Relatives and distant family members surround you, so you are more likely to feel uncomfortable, anxious, and nervous. There is lots of family pressure, social pressure, and awkwardness. This might be the only one or two times per year that you see some of these people. Any reasons to overeat are likely present in this set up. Stress, an unfamiliar situation, alcohol, depressing feelings…does this sound familiar?

Office parties can be just as bad – if not worse. The oppressive drive of the office environment can lead many to turn to food as a release. Office parties only bring out the worst of this form of thinking. Co-workers tend to go hog-wild on these days, and cake is oftentimes a regular occurrence in celebratory office settings. Check this out, for proof.

Reason #3: Loneliness

Does this ring a bell? You’re finally home from work, tired and all you really want to do is crash on the couch. But…you need to make dinner. It’s the holidays, but all your relatives are too far away, and you recently ended your relationship with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Everyone around you is happy and jolly, and all you see on television is people who are happy and giving. If this doesn’t sound like a set-up to start eating ice cream right out of the carton, I don’t know what does!

Besides late night, ill-advised infomercial purchases (did anyone think the Shake Weight would REALLY work?) late night food eating is all-too-common. And the holidays, usually accompanied by cold temperatures and lack of sunlight, make this kind of eating much more likely.

Reason #4: Sugar

Lets be frank – sugar consumption around the holidays is just flat-out out of control. Desserts with mind-boggling amounts of sugar, alcoholic beverages with sugar, candy canes, chocolates…this ridiculous variety of treats, combined with peer pressure and stress, makes holiday eating a veritable firestorm to send you off your ‘lean and mean’ path.

Sugar is by far the most toxic thing in the normal American diet. The holidays bring out the sugar, in its full glory. Here is a perfect example, from Coca-Cola, who are, of course, very interested in our health.

In case you are not well-read on all the dangers of sugar, read what Gary Taubes has to say about it. And feel free to send that link to the makers of all those holiday cookies (your mother-in-law, sister, whoever it may be).

Reason #5: Kids (And The Elderly)

This isn’t a knock on kids. I love kids, I think they are the future, and are oftentimes sincere, funny and charmingly optimistic. However, take one cute kid, and add 2-5 screaming kids…and we have a problem. Couple this with elderly relatives who do not have their full capacities any longer, and you start to see the potential problem we are talking about.

Suddenly new problems that you never knew existed (kids crying about not having their apple juice, older folks forgetting to take medication which you can’t even pronounce) become YOUR problem. As we add stress to our plate, we tend to become less happy and more likely to overeat. Being in a situation that has others who are stressed and unhappy makes you more likely to be stressed and unhappy. Sound like a recipe to overeat yet?

Reason #6: Portion Distortion

At no other time of year are you so willingly ENCOURAGED to binge eat. Americans fully embrace the philosophy ‘eat as much as you can, drink as much as you can, then lie around and do nothing’ so fully that it has become a cliché in the advertising world. It is not appropriate to eat two platefuls of stuffing, no matter how much a fat man in a red suit tells you to. Just like it’s not okay to eat a plateful of cookies. Where did we begin to believe that this eating somehow ‘doesn’t count’ to the rest of our lives?

If you think obsessively counting calories and fretting over portion sizes will solve this problem, think again. The best solution lies in eating foods that are nutrient dense, exercising, and minimizing stress (as much as humanly possible). A simple day, will look like any other day on a paleo diet. Lots of healthy fats, good servings of quality protein, and some nutrient-dense carbohydrates. Not bread and pie. Bread and pie is food that makes you feel bad in the long run, leaves you craving more, and helps you to easily gain weight. None of which is desirable.

Reason #7: Not Moving

If I ever consumed the amount of carbohydrates that I see some of my relatives eating at these meals, I would be out, running a marathon, as a result. Instead, I see them sitting around, FALLING ASLEEP! Does anyone else see the problem here? The entire point of taking on a lot of energy is to USE IT!

I will be gentle, and start slow, and say that even taking a small walk, after a holiday meal, is a huge step in the right direction. If you are really gorging, and ignoring any kind of good judgment, try to follow it with a long run, or something beneficial. I don’t recommend this as your best course of action, but it’s better than laying on the couch and falling asleep. Doesn’t it strike you as somewhat ironic that we eat all this food, then watch OTHERS exercise on television?

How Do We Fix This?

As mentioned, the solution to this widespread problem is not that complex. Firstly, you’ll need to un-brainwash yourself from all the traditional clichés and problems associated with the holidays. Once you take the emotional and stressful elements out, you can think with a much clearer head. Then, surround yourself with like-minded, healthy, people. This is where gyms and exercise-minded friends come in handy. You will find yourself making meals, which contain actual nutrients, have healthier, smaller proportions, and then maybe exercising afterwards. Want six pack abs? Learn how to avoid holiday weight gain. That is one of the best steps to take.

As researchers note, “among the entire population, weight gain during the 6-week holiday season explained 51% of annual weight gain”. That is an ALARMING statistic. Other studies have noted: “a significant increase in body fat and fat mass was observed. With recent evidence showing marked morbidity and mortality to be associated with increased body fat (particularly abdominal adiposity), results from this study suggest body weight alone may underestimate the potentially deleterious effects of the holiday season.” Pretty scary, isn’t it?

Conclusion

If studied intensely, the data from holiday weight gain is very depressing. However, there are many, simple, easy, steps to avoid holiday weight gain. Living a paleo lifestyle, and eating paleo foods, is the best outlook possible, in order to avoid all the problems that come with the standard American diet (SAD). Don’t get caught up in all of the fake cheer and supposed holiday spirit. Think of a diabetic or a fat person, if it helps you. Those sugar cookies don’t magically disappear, once you eat 4-5 of them. They go right into your bloodstream, and right to your waistline.

This article originally appeared on PaleoHacks.