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The festive season brings on a barrage of challenges — from the stress and anxiety of family get-togethers to the onslaught of temptation found in traditional holiday delights and treats.
It’s difficult to cope at the best of times, but for those who face the daily challenges of weight issues, the stress is that much greater.
Every bite of foot tends to be scrutinized, debated and challenged. How many calories in that eggnog? What about this gingerbread cookie? Double serving of stuffing?
Many look at the season in two ways: With caution, or with tossing caution to the wind, figuring January’s the traditional month to tackle — yet again — the idea of losing weight.
Struggling with one’s weight is one of the most sensitive if not misunderstood subjects, and those who grapple with this issue — be it a few pounds or a few hundred pounds — suffer from a variety of consequences that range from the physical to the psychological.
A 2020 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal points out that “obesity is a prevalent, complex, progressive and relapsing chronic disease (that) impairs health. People living with obesity face substantial bias and stigma, which contributes to increased morbidity and mortality independent of weight or body mass index.”
Research shows obesity is at an epidemic level with new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting adult obesity is increasing, and that it has worsened since the pandemic.
Where does one start looking for answers to his complex issue? The fact is, this isn’t just a question of overeating, or in the case of the holiday season, facing the consequences of indulging in too many rich foods.
“This is a true medical problem, and should be addressed as such,” says Dr. Stephen Glazer, a distinguished physician who is also the medical director of the bariatric medical and surgery program at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital. An assistant professor in internal medicine at several universities as well as president of the Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons, Glazer is a diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine.
It’s a given he knows of what he speaks.
Glazer has participated in multiple clinical research projects and publications, as well as authored a special Pre-Operative Management for Bariatric Surgery chapter for the 2020 Canadian Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines.
And he is passionate about helping those struggling with their weight. His recent article, co-authored with respected psychologist Dr. Michael Vallis and titled Weight Gain, Weight Management and medical care for individuals living with overweight and obesity during the COVID‐19 pandemic (EPOCH Study), was published in Obesity Science and Practice, focused on weight gain and medical care for those living with overweight and obesity during the COVID‐19 pandemic.
The findings were startling but not surprising: “Results suggest that the COVID‐19 pandemic negatively impacted patient care for those living with overweight and obesity, (and) was associated with weight gain and interfered with weight management strategies.”
Here’s the thing, says Glazer — the subject of weight should be viewed as a chronic illness, a disease and a brain-related disorder that has more to do with so many other factors including one’s own genetics than with an individual’s choices.
“Let’s step back and just say … controlled eating is challenging and complicated and multi-factorial,” said Glazer during a recent interview. “So for us to understand the challenges that a person has, all the different components that contribute to the control of eating as well as the triggers and factors, it’s important to understand exactly what are the triggers and drivers and start from there.”
It certainly isn’t a question of overeating, nor is it a question of eating more because of the holiday season, although he does say “these are factors that may be intensified” but not the overall reason for weight gain.
“We’re looking at a true medical problem, that needs a multi-faceted approach,” said Glazer, who was one of the first in Canada to be certified in the field of obesity medicine through the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and was involved in bariatric surgery more than 15 years ago.
One of his research papers, an international survey dealing with obesity, also co-written with Vallis, in the hopes “it will help us shape the medical care of people living with obesity as we move forward through this new era of medicine.”
Nutrition counselor & processed food addiction specialist Dr. Joan Ifland, Ph.D., F.A.C.N., says it’s important to eat well and healthy during the holiday season — and stay away from processed foods, which she notes act as triggers towards making poor nutritional choices and starting a domino effect that impacts everything from sleep to low energy, stress and anxiety.
“When you eat better, you feel better — and feeling healthier, happier, and more energetic during the stressful holiday season will set you up for a more joyful and less drama-filled experience,” said Ifland in a recent email release.
A Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, and a leading researcher on the ways processed foods impact physical, mental, and emotional well-being, Ifland recommends managing food desires and monitoring triggers that can lead to unhealthy eating during the holiday season. “The skill of being able to calm ourselves when something stressful has happened can make a big difference when working to resist temptation,” says the founder of Food Addiction Reset.
Experts will tell you guilt should be replaced with kindness for those and by those who struggle with weight issues.
One place to start, says Glazer is “not to focus on the numbers on the scale but to obtain the goal of living a healthy lifestyle with healthy food choices.”
A compassionate approach in dealing with this chronic disease is the key, adds Glazer.