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Holiday Weight Loss

Written by Dr. Ashley White


Patients in our practice have a long history of dreading the holidays. Year after year, they attribute small amounts of weight gain to the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. There are holiday parties every few days and constant access to really palatable foods, as well as poor sleep, mood disturbances from the prolonged darkness, and stress about everything from family drama to finances.


The entire season is like gasoline for the appetite. Patients find themselves in constant wanting and the most normal way for them to navigate wanting is with more and more food, and less and less of everything else that helps them feel well in their bodies.


Year over year, the weight creeps up and, because the brain is highly resistant to weight loss, the weight rarely regulates its way back down again without at least some conscious effort from the patient.


All of this sounds...not very merry at all.


But it can be. Humans get enormous satisfaction from being able to make small changes in the direction of their values. And most humans value belonging. The holiday season is meant as a way to show each other that we belong and we are loved. When the focus is on the material and the conflict, we lose sight of opportunities to connect and belong.


If you keep your values at the centre of your activities and your choices this holiday, you will be more thoughtful about your time, your words, your movement and your meals.


This is how you lose or simply maintain weight during the holidays.


Not with diet foods. Not with avoidance of celebration. Not with restriction for its own sake.


It's not inherently bad to want to lose weight. Nor is it bad to want to maintain momentum during this part of the year. Let's explore some of the important interplay between weight loss, health, mood and bias that will come up as you consider your efforts to lose weight during the holidays.


Health Benefits of Weight Loss

Losing weight can significantly lower your risk of serious health conditions. By decreasing heart workload and improving blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels as well as decreasing cancer risks it is an invaluable way to stay healthier and live longer.


To lose weight sustainably, it is necessary to make small modifications that feel right for you. These changes require spending some time noticing the emotional, psychological and physical cues of your appetite and shifting into more conscious decision making around how to respond to the appetite.



Weight-related health conditions

Higher weights increase your risk for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, liver and kidney disease, high blood pressure and about 22 different cancers as well as makes pregnancy and child birthing more risky.


Excess weight can put undue strain on your heart, leading to clogged arteries that restrict oxygen delivery and increase blood pressure, increasing stroke and heart attack risk as well. Losing weight may help to relieve this burden on your cardiovascular system while simultaneously improving both blood pressure and cholesterol levels, potentially decreasing heart disease risks.


Obesity is caused by many factors including genetic and physiological influences as well as food choices lifestyle habits and environmental pressures - it is truly multifactorial disease! About 60-70% of body size is inherited and so one individual only has so much control over the range of weights that is possible for them but choices and the environment also matter.


Excess weight can place undue strain on knees, hips and back joints over time, wearing away their cushioning cartilage and leading to pain. Losing weight may ease this strain and improve symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. Excessive weight may also have adverse effects on breathing causing difficulty for many; leading to health conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, pulmonary hypertension or acid reflux in some individuals.


Excess weight can increase your risk of gallstones, in which the gallbladder becomes filled with bile that's used for digestion, leading to gallbladder stones. Furthermore, obesity increases the risk of gastrointestinal cancers as well as cancer of the uterus, ovaries, and pancreas as well as mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Weight bias is a driver of this pathology so while it may be important to include weight loss as one goal to manage your health, addressing internalized bias about your body is also critical to lowering the subtle, chronic stress burden from bias.


Mental health



Many people who lose weight report an improvement in mental health as they do so, likely as a result of better diet and increased physical activity, both of which can enhance mood. Furthermore, self-image improvements may increase confidence levels and feelings of contentment while the reduced risk for chronic conditions can have positive ripple effects for overall well-being.


Just because you may lose weight doesn't mean you will automatically accept your body as a result. The work of body acceptance is not the same as losing weight, and we work hard with our clients on both.


People who are overweight often struggle with negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and stress. These emotions can interfere with following a healthy eating plan and exercise regime. Furthermore, overweight individuals are at an increased risk for weight-related health conditions that cause pain, discomfort and mobility issues as well as social isolation, reinforcing the idea that being overweight indicates laziness or lack of discipline. This is weight bias.


The more trapped you are in a cycle of bias, lack of motivation, mood disturbance, the harder it is to see that one simple action in the direction of your values can create remarkable momentum. It just takes one step on one day.


Recent research examined the connection between mental health and weight loss. 85 participants took part, visiting data collection visits at 0, 6, and 12 months for data collection purposes. Researchers measured symptoms such as depression, anxiety and perceived stress before categorizing participants as either improving or remaining stable over time; then examined how these measures related to their weight loss over time.


The results of the study demonstrated a direct relationship between one's mental health and their weight; however, its exact cause remains unknown. Researchers believe a combination of factors are at play here including lower self-esteem among overweight individuals as well as negative body image issues associated with being overweight. Their hope is that further research can identify effective methods of improving both mental health and supporting weight loss simultaneously, without reinforcing weight bias. Many will remain in a larger body despite significant positive changes to their quality of life, mood and health and these are important to celebrate, even if body size itself is larger than a patient would otherwise hope.


Self-esteem

Weight loss can have many positive benefits for one's health and self-esteem, including an improvement in one's emotional state. But losing significant amounts of weight may also be emotionally and psychologically stressful. This is why we prepare people for weight loss from the very beginning. We prepare people for enduring transformation in the direction of their values which is inherently uncomfortable, but always worthwhile.


Researchers conducted a recent study analyzing the relationship between body satisfaction and trying to lose weight among young adults. They discovered that dissatisfaction was linked with lower self-image and subjective well-being - particularly true among overweight or obese individuals who are more prone to experiencing depression, eating disturbances, poor diet and physical activity habits as well as social discomfort due to being overweight or obese - not to mention increasing their risks of weight gain, obesity and chronic diseases.


The authors examined gender and ethnicity/race differences in associations among self-esteem, body satisfaction and the decision to lose weight using a cross-sectional design and measuring self-esteem, body satisfaction and weight-control behaviors at baseline before analyzing their impact on subjective well-being over two years and testing mediation effects of self-criticism/self-reassurance on well-being as well as body satisfaction/intentions to lose weight on various outcomes.


They determined that decreased body dissatisfaction was linked with improved self- esteem and subjective well-being, likely as a result of decreased negative aspects of self-evaluation such as criticizing oneself for failing to reach weight-related goals and for being overweight. Additionally, decreasing body concerns or symptoms of depression was associated with improved self-esteem. This is independent of weight loss.


Note that an individual's worth should not be determined solely by appearance or weight; rather, character and personality traits should determine one's value. Earning more money does not make anyone more worthy than another individual, nor should becoming hooked on diets that promise quick weight loss only to cause rapid regain in time.



Holiday Perspectives

The most important thing to keep in mind this holiday is to shift your gaze from your body to your experience: of family, friends, colleagues, food and life. In this, you will become more aware of what really matters and why you'd be willing to endure discomfort in order to live more closely with your values.


In The Shift, we teach an appetite system that allows you to eat comfortably and flexibly during any holiday situation while remaining deeply focused on what really matters this holiday.


Happy holidays!


Take control of your health. Book an appointment with me today. Send an email to info@wellnessmdhealth.com


Dr. Ashley White & Taylor Osbaldeston

The Shift: Weight Loss for Extraordinary People


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