Most of us think the worst thing overindulging on the holidays will cause us to suffer is a bloated belly and possibly a hangover. In actuality, the harm is much more insidious and longer-lasting.
It’s been estimated that most people will gain 1-3 pounds during the holiday season. Of those that do, most of them will keep that extra weight for good.
A National Institutes of Health study conducted in 2000 suggests that Americans probably gain at least a pound during the six-week interval between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The extra holiday pounds are likely to accumulate through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life.
Holiday weight gain aside, overeating is dangerous because it leads to the production of excess free radicals—byproducts of cell metabolism that trigger oxidative stress, inflammation and scar tissue formation. The more food your body has to metabolize, the more free radicals are produced.
Free radicals and inflammation
Most chronic illnesses, from heart disease to cancer, are associated with an excessive production of free radicals. Free radicals damage cells by stealing electrons from them. For example, when excess free radicals steal electrons from the inner wall of blood vessels, the resulting inflammation can lead to hardening of the vessel wall (arteriosclerosis), which can compromise blood circulation, exacerbate high blood pressure and increase risk for heart attack and stroke.
Disrupting the endocrine system
Many doctors and researchers say that overeating causes biological changes that can lead to more overeating. For example, overeating disrupts the endocrine system. According to Dr. Sasha Stiles, an obesity specialist at Tufts Medical Center, excess food “sets your body chemistry sort of into red alert.” During an interview with NPR, Stiles said, “The kinds of hormone and metabolic processes that normally will try to metabolize food will go into overdrive to make sure they get rid of this huge food load.”
In addition to storing the excess calories as fat, Stiles explained that overeating triggers a harmful cycle in the body: The pancreas produces extra insulin to process the sugar load and remove it from the bloodstream. It doesn’t stop producing insulin until the brain senses that blood sugar levels are safe. But by the time the brain stops insulin production, often too much sugar is removed. Low blood sugar can make you feel tired, dizzy, nauseous, even depressed — a condition often remedied by eating more sugar and more carbohydrates.
Thanksgiving and Christmas moderation
It’s no wonder so many people pass out on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner, only to wake up and have another slice of pie. But with some planning you can avoid the dangers of overeating during the holidays.
Start the day with a hearty breakfast and a workout. Maintaining your exercise and eating schedule will help you feel better and eat less. Show up for dinner in tighter clothes and don’t arrive starving. Munch on fresh fruit and vegetables before dinner. Stay away from the eggnog and save the beverage calories for a glass of wine with dinner.
Make Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner an exercise in moderation. At the table, don’t feel like you have to try everything. Save the calories for your favorite foods. Take smaller portions of high-fat, high-calorie foods such as gravy. Eat slowly and savor every bite. Limit yourself to a small slice of pie. Choose pumpkin over pecan pie and save a few hundred calories.
When you’re finished, drink a glass of water, get away from the table and invite someone to join you outside for a leisurely walk.
The best choice you can make is to start a dietary change during the holiday season. Most people start these programs with a lot of anticipation and drive to succeed. Bank on that excitement by beginning a healthy eating and exercise program during the holiday season which will have the added benefit of keeping you from making disastrous eating choices during the biggest overeating time of the year. (WebMD, November 12, 2012)