To Your Health: Self-control and the perils of holiday food
Editor’s note: This series will be written by practitioners in Summit Medical Group on health-related topics. This one is by cardiologist Dr. Kenneth S. Bannerman. Before earning his bachelor’s degree in English, Dr. Bannerman studied bass at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He is a member of the recently formed Montclair Orchestra and has been a member of the Society of Musical Arts Orchestra.
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us. From family get-togethers to office parties, it is truly a season of celebration as we ring in the holidays. But if you are dieting, it can also be a treacherous time as we control that impulse for just one more bite.
Each holiday has its own food traditions, and eating and drinking is part of the merriment. For me, a Thanksgiving meal would not be the same without a piece of my cousin’s pecan pie, and Chanukah festivities would feel remiss without a plate of oil-laden potato latkes.
So how do we enjoy the holiday trimmings without damaging our health? As obesity has become epidemic in the United States, this is an important lifestyle choice. In 2015, nearly three out of every four Americans were either overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
This is a serious problem. There are medical consequences to these excess pounds — high blood pressure, kidney and liver disease, sleep apnea, arthritis, and cancer, to name a few. Over time, being overweight increases your risk for heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Packing on too many pounds also raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Nearly 87.5 percent of adults with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Unlike in juvenile-onset diabetes, in type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but something called insulin resistance occurs and prevents the insulin from getting into the cells. Consequently, the amount of sugar in the blood increases and complications may ensue.
Ironically, November — the month when you are most likely to stray from your diet — is also National Diabetes Month. As the prevalence of obesity doubled from 15 percent in 1975 to 30 percent in 2000, it is not surprising that the CDC also reports a parallel increase in the prevalence of diabetes from affecting 1.5 percent of adults in 1960 to 7.4 percent in 2015.
I tell patients if they lose weight, their blood pressure and blood sugar will almost surely come down. Some have been able to come off diabetic and blood pressure medications entirely.
So what should we do these next two months when our self-control is constantly put to the test? First, remind yourself that how we eat is a lifestyle choice. The problem with a diet is that if it has a beginning, we often think of it as having an end. Instead, we need to recognize that we are going to have lapses. The key is to prevent a lapse from becoming a collapse.
When I go to a party, I look at all the food choices. Before I put anything on my plate, I ask myself, “Is the taste worth the calories?” Some foods warrant only a nibble. After a holiday binge, I also take stock the next day. If I ate an extra 3,500 calories, I know that equals about one pound of fat. So I make sure to burn it off over the next few days. Do not give up — assess the damage and move on.
As a hiker, I look at dieting as a lifelong hike. It is a trail with twists and turns that I will try to follow for the rest of my days. This holiday season, I know I will wander off the path, but this will be the exception not the rule. I plan to be back on track the following day — and I hope you will too.