Holiday overeating and the health risks it poses

Put down that fifth cookie!

Here’s some thought for food: Forbes magazine calls overeating as the “queen mother of bad holiday habits.”

Haven’t thought about it? Don’t worry you are not alone. Christmas is around the corner and many of us are bound to pack on some pounds. There are many different holidays celebrated by different people around the world, but we all have one thing in common; we celebrate by gaining weight. A publication by the Los Angeles Times graphically shows the weight gain spikes during the national holidays in the US (0.4%), Japan (0.5%) and Germany (0.6%).

During the holidays, it’s tempting to snack away as you relax on your sofa all warm and cozy with your family. One slice of pie wouldn’t harm anyone right? Eating without paying attention to your portion sizes, and eating to comfort your emotions instead of eating for hunger, can lead to being overweight or obesity. Previous studies found that people gain 3-4 pounds more during the holidays and take longer to burn it off, or in some cases they never lose it. The American Heart Association defines mindless eating as ‘consuming food because it is there.’ This mainly occurs due to other distractions such as watching TV, browsing on your smartphone or working on your laptop.

Overeating is defined as eating more food than your body needs until you feel uncomfortably full. Family get-togethers and dinners are common during the holidays, and most of the time you are either compelled, or thoroughly insisted by your host, to have a second serving. A 2014 publication on The Washington Post displays this as an illustration showing a ‘normal’ dinner plate having a total of 700 calories, compared to a holiday dinner plate with a total of 2000 calories.

It’s hard to control our cravings when our favorite dishes are displayed complementary to the holiday table arrangements and holiday decorations. This is that one time during the year that you get to eat all your favorite food, so why pass the opportunity?

You may not know for sure if you’ve eaten too little, but you will definitely know it if you’ve eaten too much. The symptoms of overeating include feeling heavy, bloated, gassy, and drowsy. You may also feel ‘green’ if you eat hurriedly and don’t chew your food enough causing the development of nausea or diarrhea.

You may or may not have known this, but overeating has been a weekly habit for most of us. We consume fewer calories earlier in the week and increase our intake as the week progresses, and during the weekend. A 2000 study published on the New England Journal of Medicine graphically shows daily food intake increases at the end of each year with the highest average on Christmas with 1,098 calories.

Let us put the risk overeating would bring into perspective. In 2008, the World Heart Federation reported over 17 million global deaths due to heart disease. Out of those 17 million, we were among the 3,616, 000 deaths that occurred in South-East Asia alone. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a country profile for Sri Lanka on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). It showed that 40% of proportional mortality (% total of deaths, all ages, and both sexes) was caused by cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and 7% was caused by diabetes.

How bad could those extra dessert servings be? Unfortunately for us Sri Lankans there’s bad news. WHO reports diabetes prevalence is highest in low- and middle-income countries. Diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. In 2012, WHO reported that 1.5 million deaths was caused by diabetes. They also reported that globally 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure and 1 in 10 adults are diabetic. In 2016, WHO reported that in Sri Lanka 4600 adults between ages 30-69 died due to diabetes.

Don’t forget about your pride and joy; your children! Recent reports from WHO show that in the recent years there has been an increase in the number of children with type 2 diabetes. This could eventually lead to other serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, and blindness, which could lead to early death.

The demographics are scary but true. What measures can we take to reduce our overeating habits? The American Heart Association suggests the following:

Try eating smaller portions and eating less often (especially sweets and desserts).

Eat only when you are hungry, the body does not need to be spoon-fed because it’s the holidays.

Eat slowly. Enjoying your food and taking the time to taste the fusion of flavors and textures gives the brain enough time to trigger satisfaction, not necessarily feeling full.

Plan and prepare some healthy snacks for munching if you feel hungry between meals. High fiber snacks are ideal as fiber keeps you full for longer as it digests slowly.

Keep a food diary. Modern technology has developed many apps to track your health and control food consumption. They are used by many to log daily food intake and ensure you don’t exceed the number of calories you are entitled to.

Food is a very big part of our everyday life but too much of something is always bad for you. Children pick up habits from the family around them. So make sure you set a good example in order for them to live a healthy life when they’re all grown up, but also for your betterment. Enjoy the holidays not just by counting the blessings given as food, but also the blessings of having family and friends celebrating together.

Happy Holidays!

Written By: Sadiya Badurdeen