Considering the amount of misinformation surrounding proper health and fitness in general, it is not surprising that there are a multitude of myths surrounding holiday health and fitness. While I know that I can’t address all of the myths out there, I would like to tackle the 5 most insidious health and fitness myths I’ve repeatedly encountered.
1. Everyone Gains Weight Over The Holidays
How many times have we rationalized grabbing another piece of pie by repeating this myth? I know I certainly have before! And in a sense, this particular myth rings slightly true.
Many people claim they gained 5-10 lbs over the holidays. This is the part of the myth that is completely untrue. A study investigating this claim showed that the adults they tracked had a net gain of 0.48 kg (1.05 lbs). A more recent study helped support this lower weight gain number, as the tracked adults gained 0.78 kg (1.71 lbs).
The real culprit is the lack of tracking of health goals throughout the year. Many of us try to start tracking our goals after the holidays, but we should track our health goals during the holidays as well. This will help keep weight gain from slowly creeping up on you.
2. It’s Better To Start Healthy Eating After New Year’s Day
One of the reasons we like this myth is because we’ve instantly sabotaged any attempt at eating healthy until after January 1st. But if you stop to think for a moment, what exactly are we doing to ourselves by pushing off healthier eating habits?
- Digestive damage – Back in college, I took advantage of every free holiday treat available. I’m pretty sure it made up 60% of my daily food intake at the height of the holidays. But I sure paid for it later. For nearly a month afterward, my stomach was extremely sensitive to sugar and I would become constipated easily. TMI, I know, but I wish I didn’t put off healthy eating.
- Expand your stomach – Many of us tend to eat way more over the holidays than at any other time of the year. And it’s not just a couple days. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, there are parties revolving around food, with friends and neighbors offering seasonal treats. By indulging for about a month on unhealthy food, you can expand your stomach. This will make it harder to change back to healthy eating habits, as your stomach will feel less full, making it hard to stick to good habits.
- Change your palate – An interesting study has shown that the consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners can alter your taste buds. They become addicted to the overwhelming taste of sugar and as a consequence, become less sensitive to the more subtle flavors of healthier foods. So by postponing your healthy eating, you are teaching your palate to become mostly interested in sugar.
3. Holiday Traveling Means You Can’t Workout
I’ll admit, traveling during the holidays can make it more difficult to find time to workout than if you were just staying home. However, it is entirely possible to travel and stay fit.
For one thing, when we say “traveling for the holidays”, we really mean that we will not be at our own home at the holidays. But whether you are at your in-law’s home, your parents, or somewhere else, there are ways you can fit in a workout.
- Traveling gym pass – If you are a member of a commercial gym chain, many of them have traveling passes which will allow you to workout at their other establishments. You can also ask the people you are staying with if their gym allows them to bring a guest.
- Be creative – You may need to branch out when it comes to working out while not at home. Maybe you are predominately a cyclist; it may be time to take up yoga and pilates. When I was staying with my in-laws for 2 weeks over the holidays, I decided to start my marathon cross-training (which I should have started a month earlier!).
- Stick to a schedule – Part of what creates some of the holiday stress many of us experience is because we have completely abandoned our normal schedules. While you travel, set the time and duration for you workout then stick to it. It will help keep you balanced as you spend time your various family members and friends.
4. You Have To Feel Guilty For Eating Holiday Foods
Food guilt isn’t exclusive to the holidays but it is even more common, even among those who usually have a good relationship with food. It probably doesn’t help that everything seems to be dripping with sugar or gravy depending on what you are eating.
Interestingly, in a sad way, our food guilt can actually cause our bodies to hang onto food longer. As we feel guilty, negative thoughts about food we have consumed, this sends a message to our brains that we just ate something that should not be digested. It will be digested eventually as it cannot withstand the acid in our stomachs, but it can damage our healthy gut bacteria as it sits in our stomach.
So let yourself eat a few holiday specialties and try to avoid shaming yourself over it.
5. You Can Easily Burn Off Excessive Eating
This particular myth is one I believed for a very long time. It only came back to bite me as I was training for my first marathon.
I had ramped up my training so that I was running 30-45 miles a week. My training was intense and I was feeling strong and fit. So when a cupcake crossed my path or a second helping of turkey, I felt I had no reason to say no. I was burning tons of calories while training, so I was sure I could burn off all my excessive eating.
It was completely not true. Out of curiosity, I weighed myself New Year’s Day. I wanted mostly to pat myself on the back with how little I weighed. Instead, I was shocked. I had weighed 136 lbs in August, which is when I had started my marathon training. The scale showed I weighed 142 lbs!
Some of the weight gain was definitely muscle but the extra flab pressing against the waistband of my running leggings certainly wasn’t muscle. Not all the extra weight was due to just the holidays, but overeating during them certainly didn’t help. So watch out! And pay attention to your eating and exercise over the holidays to avoid feeling sluggish, moody, bloated, and defeated.