Very Merry Mind Games: Six Weight-Gain Rationalizations You Should Avoid This Holiday Season
By now, we all know that the average American gains five to seven pounds over the course of the holidays. (Most of us have experienced this phenomenon ourselves.) There are all sorts of reasons why we fight the annual battle of the waistline bulge: cold temperatures, warm leftovers, less daylight, more office parties and family get-togethers, darker weather, and—lest we forget—free food and plenty of it!
If nothing else, says Gary Marino, the holiday season shows how clever we can be at coming up with so-called “good reasons” to postpone taking care of ourselves.
“I used to be the master of holiday-buffet excuses,” says Marino, producer and star of the new film Million Calorie March: The Movie, which documents his Florida to Boston obesity awareness walk. “For a large chunk of my adult life, I was one Super Bowl party away from 400 pounds. For me, the holidays provided a perfect excuse to wave the white flag and roll the dice on a successful New Year’s resolution—and that’s still the case for a lot of people.
“Forget the debt ceiling in Washington,” he adds. “Most of us this time of the year are raising our weight ceiling.”
While most people gamble on a successful New Year’s resolution and enjoy their holiday overindulgence, the fact is that New Year’s resolutions represent the triumph of hope over experience.
“We have a 95 percent failure rate on long-term weight loss in this country,” shares Marino. “The truth is, most of our resolutions will have shaved their heads and checked into rehab Britney Spears-style by the end of February.”
That’s where a basic understanding of psychology comes in handy. Since willpower is not enough, it’s helpful to know what, exactly, is going on inside your head when you try (and sometimes fail) to overcome overindulgence.
“We can always find a reason for procrastinating and avoiding doing what we consider difficult or unpleasant,” says retired psychologist Dr. Howard Rankin. “That’s largely because humans aren’t usually logical. Instead, we’re emotional, psychological beings…with an emphasis on the ‘psycho.’ Fortunately, when you know beforehand the pitfalls into which your pleasure-driven brain might cause you to fall, your odds of avoiding them improve.”
First, Rankin says, it’s useful to understand psychologists’ five-stage motivation model.
“As you navigate everything from holiday hors d’oeuvres to sit-down feasts, these are the stages you’ll pass through—or not—on your way to behavior change,” he says.
1. Pre-contemplation. Here, there is no acknowledgment of the need to change. This is sometimes called denial.
2. Contemplation. There’s a recognition that change needs to happen, but no commitment to action.
3. Preparation. In this stage, the person readies themselves for change.
4. Action. Here, the person finally takes some action steps.
5. Maintenance. In this ongoing stage, action steps are continued so changes can be developed and preserved.
Since forewarned is forearmed, here are six rationalizations to watch out for as you’re fa-la-la-ing through a food-dominated season:
Rationalization # 1: “I can’t be rude or unsociable.” Here’s what you’re thinking: I don’t want to seem rude or unsociable. Aunt So & So hates it when I don’t try her triple-decker red velvet cake. And if I don’t polish off a giant slice, she’ll hover nonstop until I tell her what was wrong with it.
“Pick your spots when possible,” advises Marino. “In the example above, make the decision that you’ll enjoy your aunt’s cake since she does place such a high importance on it, but back off on other offerings. Also, remember that taking care of yourself is not being unsociable; it’s being smart.”
Rationalization # 2: “I can hide it.” Here’s what you’re thinking: I can hide my excess weight better under winter clothes. If others can’t see it, I won’t either. This is the perfect time of year to let go and indulge a little bit.
“You can wear all the urban camouflage you want, but at the end of the day, do those bulky layers really make you feel better about yourself?” Marino asks. “Furthermore, keep in mind that hiding your weight gain won’t make it magically go away. If you’re anything like me, you’ll hate putting the winter coat away when you can no longer stand the heat!”
Rationalization # 3: “Winter is coming.” Here’s what you’re thinking: Shorter daylight hours and colder weather mean I won’t be able to exercise. Might as well stop now—a week or two won’t make much difference.
“This excuse is especially flimsy if you live somewhere like Miami,” Marino points out. “But even for a Boston resident like myself, there’s still a gym just around the corner—and they make some great thermal workout gear these days. Denial’s a river we all need to avoid.”
Rationalization # 4: “I’ll wait ’til the New Year.” Here’s what you’re thinking: This year is almost over. I’ll wait until January 1st and start off with a clean plate, I mean clean slate. What better time to become the new me than on January 1st?
“Food addiction doesn’t have a calendar,” reminds Marino. “And the problem with a diet that starts on January 1st is January 2nd. Grab inspiration anytime you can get it. Why dig yourself deeper into a hole over the holidays? You’re only making things more challenging for yourself after the big ball drops in Times Square.”
Rationalization # 5: “I’m too busy right now.” Here’s what you’re thinking: There’s so much to do for the holidays. Shopping for gifts, getting the house in order, working out the menus, visiting family and friends…there’s simply not enough time to count calories and stay active.
“It’s not about the time,” Marino states. “It’s about how you use it. The fact is, if you make health a priority, you’ll find the time to maintain a reasonable diet and to keep your body moving.”
Rationalization # 6: “I’ll be cooking.” Here’s what you’re thinking: I’m going to be cooking a lot. Staying healthy is just going to be too difficult with all that food around. I’m the chef—I have to eat what I prepare! And I don’t want to let the leftovers go to waste.
“Yes, but your house doesn’t have to look like the Walmart food aisles, and you don’t need to stock up with enough food for a bomb shelter,” clarifies Marino. “Buy just enough food for the special occasion and donate the leftovers. Just don’t drop them by my house!”
“Yes, it’s a struggle to stay healthy in the best of times, much less in the midst of the holiday eating bonanza,” Marino concludes. “But you have to stay aware and stay in the fight. You know what giving up is like. Many of us have lived it, and it’s no fun there. Fortunately, with mindfulness and motivation, you don’t ever have to go back.”
About Gary Marino:
Gary Marino is an author, filmmaker, and health activist and has spearheaded four national campaigns on wellness and obesity.
About Dr. Howard Rankin:
Dr. Howard Rankin, a retired psychologist and author of 10 books, is now a full-time writer.
About the Film:
Million Calorie March: The Movie documents Gary Marino’s walk from Florida to Boston to raise awareness for childhood obesity, which was followed by some 70 million people. It highlights the trials and tribulations Marino encountered along the walk, as well as the difficulties faced in making meaningful change to the country’s leading health problem.