You know they’re coming. There’s no place to run, there’s no place to hide, and they’ll come whether you’re ready or not.
It’s the confluence of the seasons — Thanksgiving through New Year’s — that are joyous for most of us, but not all of us, and inevitably give rise to seasonal stress. We put extra demands on ourselves to create the perfect holiday experiences, and thereby set ourselves up for an emotional rollercoaster that can drain the sweetness from this unique time of year for many people.
A couple of years back, a publication called "Health and Wellness Monthly" reported findings from a Consumer Reports survey on "what Americans dread most about the holidays."
Dealing with crowds and long lines took the top position, with 28 percent dreading gift shopping. Twenty-three percent had a problem with seasonal music (already playing to distraction in local stores), and 24 percent said the dread comes from having to see certain relatives.
This one’s the kicker: Some 35 million people — 15 percent of those surveyed — said that "having to be nice" — was the worst thing about the holidays! Just call them Scrooges who haven’t learned their lessons yet.
Second place was a tie between gaining weight and getting into debt. Plans, goals and intentions that hold fast the rest of the year fall by the side of the road when one gets caught up in the celebratory spirit of the holidays. And, if you’ve been good all year — are you listening, Santa? — you give yourself an excuse to let go, eat a little more than usual, drink a little more than usual and spend a little more than usual.
It’s a formula for the January doldrums when you have to confront the errors of your ways, get back on the treadmill and pay down those credit card bills.
Believe it or not, Americans who are not overweight or obese gain on average only .4 pounds to 1.8 pounds during the holidays, but those who already have a weight problem can gain as much as 5 pounds. At least 60 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese.
The problem is that most of us don’t ever lose what we’ve gained, and the pounds build up over the years.
When we’re stressed — for any number of reasons that come around this time of year — food provides escape, and alcohol — empty calories — even more.
The National Council on Strength and Fitness says, "Once off the wagon, people give up until the distractions are gone." In fact, its report continued, the "heightened stress and emotion of the holidays may be even more to blame than just the presence of food."
And, just when you need the benefits of exercise to throw off the symptoms of stress, you just don’t find the time. Everything seems to work against staying healthy during the holidays.
Consider the calorie counts for some favorite and traditional foods and beverages, as reported by yahoo/health.com: eggnog, 343 calories; one mixed drink, 250; one glass of wine, 120; a half-cup of mixed nuts, 440; one piece of mincemeat pie, 360; one piece of pecan pie, 500; one piece of pumpkin pie, 320; six ounces of turkey, 340; one-half cup of dressing, 180, one-half cup of green bean casserole, 225, and one-half cup of candied sweet potatoes, 150. And who eats only a half-cup of any of these? So you can easily double those calorie counts.
Holiday eating is nothing less than a minefield, but some of our warmest memories are linked to the traditional fare served around a laden table filled with favorite faces. My mom’s cornbread dressing is, as is said, "to die for," and she’ll always make a mincemeat pie even if I’m the only one who craves it.
There are always mac ‘n cheese and green beans to satisfy an ever-present contingent of children who don’t go in for roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts or, my favorite, collards.
Brother Dan always — always — brings a seven-layer salad smothered in sour cream. Kathy turns out a juicy turkey every year without fail, and I remember when Davis fried a turkey for the first time — what a disaster!
If you’re partying, there are tips meant to help avoid over-indulging: Like anti-drug campaigns, "just say no" to anyone trying to force food onto your plate, and make it a small plate to begin with. Find a place to mingle that’s not near the food table or the bar. Eat something healthy before you go, and take something healthy to share such as a fruit or vegetable platter.
If you get gifts of food at home, take them to work to share or — and I’m guilty of this — risk eating them all yourself. Not that anyone would ever know.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.