This Holiday Season, Stop the Wrist Slaps and Write-Offs

Yoni Freedhoff

Today's post is a short one as I know everyone's busy bustling about, getting ready for time off, holiday parties, and notching up another year on life's headboard.

I've seen hundreds, if not thousands, of people go through the holiday season hoping to manage their weight. I've seen large gains, small gains, the status quo, and even some losses. But one thing's for sure: As far as long-term likelihood of success goes, extremes are bad omens.

In categorizing holiday strategies, there are really only two possible extreme holiday behaviors--the wrist-slappers and the write-offers.

The wrist-slappers are the folks who feel that their own weight management supersedes humanity's cultural and time-immemorial use of food in celebration. Consequently, they spend the bulk of their holidays slapping their wrists rather than enjoying indulgent fare.The write-offers are the folks who decide that celebratory eating trumps thoughtfulness and that holidays represent the carte blanche of caloric indulgence.

The wrist-slappers will often lose weight over the holiday season, while the write-offers often gain substantially. But in the end, both tend to fail at long-term weight management.

Wrist-slappers fail in the long run, because the human condition prevents people from perpetually denying themselves the ability to derive pleasure from food, and without a middle ground, these all-or-nothing people regularly go from strict periods of "nothing" right back to "all." These are the folks who rapidly lose huge amounts of weight and then, often just as rapidly, gain it back again.

Write-offers fail in the long run because the human condition is such that regularly giving oneself inches generally leads to regularly giving oneself miles. What might begin as holiday write-offs more often than not will devolve into vacation write-offs, illness write-offs, times-of-higher-stress write-offs, weekend write-offs, and eventually just all-the-time write-offs.

Given the calories in our indulgent holiday fare, given the role of food in celebration and social gathering, and given the human condition, my experience has taught me that gaining 1 or 2 pounds over last two weeks of the year is par for a thoughtfully navigated course and nothing to be too worried about.

This holiday season, instead of wrist slaps or write offs, why not live a life of thoughtful reduction? No blind restrictions, but also no blind consumptions. Ask yourself whether or not something's worth its calories and how much you need of it to be happily satisfied. Remember, too, that what's worth it on Christmas Eve, might not be worth it on just plain Tuesday, and that the healthiest life you can enjoy over the holidays, when seen through the lens of our shared human condition, ought to include some thoughtful indulgence.

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Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute--dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and is also easily reachable on Twitter. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press in April 2013.