Holiday Weight Gain: How the Holidays Can Cause Back Pain

And what you can do to avoid weight gain and back pain

Turkey. Green bean casserole. Ham. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, custard pie. Sugar cookies, candy canes, chocolate. Wine, eggnog, hot cocoa with whipped cream.

What's not to love about the holiday season? Well, how about the weight you put on, thanks to all that festive food—and the possible back pain from that extra weight?

In a survey conducted by SpineUniverse in late 2007, 69% of people estimated that they typically gain up to 8 pounds during the holiday season. And 9% put their weight gain at over 8 pounds.

Weight Survey Question 1 and answer

It's what some people call the "Seasonal Seven." Or the "I'll-start-my-diet-in-January" month-long celebration. Or the "But-when-else-can-I-eat-gingerbread-men" attitude.

But before you start filling your second plate at the office Christmas party, think about this: according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, most people struggle to lose their holiday weight.

In the SpineUniverse survey, 11% of the people can't shake that weight until the next fall—just in time for the Halloween candy. And another 11% say that they don't ever lose the weight. So year after year, they add on weight during the holidays, and in the long-term, that holiday weight gain really adds up.

Weight Survey Question 2 and answer

In fact, extra weight can add up to back pain. "If you're overweight, your spine may be overworked as it tries to carry that extra weight. This can produce injury and back pain," says Steven Richeimer, MD, Chief of Pain Medicine at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine and a member of the SpineUniverse Editorial Board.

He continues, "When you're overweight, you're more likely to injure your back, and it is more difficult to recover—the result can be chronic back pain. Additionally, being overweight can exacerbate or even lead to symptoms of degenerative disc disease, compression fracture, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis."

Thinking about back pain isn't exactly full of holiday cheer—probably right up there with eating fruitcake and pretending to like that sweater with appliquéd reindeer on it.

But in order to stay healthy and protect your back for the future, here are some simple things you can do to fight that holiday weight gain:

  • Exercise: Walking in a winter wonderland is a wonderful way to get in some quick exercise. In the rush of parties and shopping and wrapping and unwrapping, it can be tough to find time to fit in exercise. But 32% of people in the SpineUniverse survey said that they find exercise the best way to lose or maintain their weight.

    So even if you can't fit in a full workout, a brisk walk is a good option. Don't beat yourself up over not being able to exercise as much as you want: even a 20 minute walk is better than no exercise at all.

  • Eat: You can't get away from food during the holidays, so you need to develop an action plan for eating. You don't have to completely avoid chestnuts roasted over an open fire—or the sugar cookies, big family dinners, cakes, and other delicious temptations.

    But you do need to eat in moderation. For example, before going to a party, eat a healthy snack at home so that you're not tempted to fill up on the sweets. At dinner, pass on the gravy and consider sharing dessert.

    There are also plenty of healthy (and tasty) recipes for holiday favorites—try something new this year!

Weight Survey Question 3 and answer

It won't take much to keep the weight off this holiday season. And down the road, having healthy holidays will help your back.

You could even (in a very cheesy kind of way) think about taking care of your back as a gift to yourself…one that keeps on giving as you grow older!

Updated on: 02/01/10
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