This popped up in my Facebook news feed last week. Pretty startling, isn't it? Or rather, it would be...if it were true.
Here's the real story: most of the studies (here and here and here are a few of them) show the average weight gain during the holidays is one, maybe two, pounds. At the far end, people who are already overweight may gain up to five. While this is still not ideal or desirable, it's nowhere near as dramatic as the 5/7/10/12/15/gazillion pound made-up statistic that is often thrown around to scare us out of eating over the holidays.
But this post isn't about holiday weight gain; I already did that. This post is about being afraid of food.
How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh, if I even look at _________, I gain ten pounds!"? Or, "If I eat that, it will go straight to my hips." Back in the day I used to say, "I might as well sit on it, that's where it will go anyway." Somehow we have come to genuinely believe that certain foods (like holiday food) have special fat-making powers. Usually they are foods that taste good; I'm sure you have your own list of things you're afraid to eat because you think they will make you fat. Some unfortunate souls come to believe this is true of all food. Can you imagine that kind of shame and guilt and fear every time you eat? If you don't have to imagine it because you feel it, please hug yourself for me. It's an awful, awful feeling- I know.
The good news is that food and bodies don't work that way. There is no one food (or macronutrient, carb-haters) that has the ability to cause weight gain on its own. Not one. Not cheesecake, not peanut butter, not bread, not [insert your fear food here]. There are foods that are more or less nutritious and there are foods that are more or less calorically dense, but there is no food that will make you gain extra weight just by eating it. That is not how weight gain happens.
What really causes weight gain is eating more food (calories) than your body needs to maintain your current weight. That's it. It doesn't matter what the food is. It matters if you're striving for health, but that's another post for another day (and even then I'll still tell you that all foods fit).
Imagine your body has a fuel tank*. When you fill your tank daily, you are probaly well nourished and will maintain your current weight. If you overfill that tank on a regular basis, your body will store that extra fuel as weight gain. If you under fill your tank on a regular basis, one of two things will probably happen: you will either lose weight, or the entire machine (your metabolism) will slow down to conserve fuel.
Now let's imagine you put some peanut butter or maybe cheesecake in your fuel tank. Depending on your size and the size of the portion you ate, that food may take up between 5% to 25% of your tank. So not only was it perfectly safe to eat those calories, you actually still need to eat more to meet your fuel needs for the day. Physiologically, there is no way that one food item can make you gain weight unless you overfill your tank with it often and for a sustained period of time- but that has more to do with your behavior with the food than the food itself. You would be completely burned out on cheesecake before that happened, I promise, and you could do the same thing with broccoli if you ate enough of it.
Let me say it one last time so it really sinks in: It's not one food or even one meal that causes weight gain. Weight gain is caused by repeatedly eating more food than your body needs to maintain your current weight. Later on I will write about how to avoid doing that, but for today I just want to tell you that you don't have to be afraid of food anymore. Food should nourish your body and provide enjoyment, not fear, self-hatred, or guilt. Anything you eat will only represent a fraction of you fuel needs on any given day, so please don't give any one food that kind of power over you. When you change your beliefs about food, your relationship with food will start to change as well. And maybe, hopefully, your relationship with yourself might change too.
*I'm sorry for the goofy fuel tank analogy, but I try not to mention calories and especially specific numbers too often because I don't want to trigger anyone who is already sensitive to that kind of talk. Plus, metaphors and analogies are fun.