Christmas in Siberia

Angst About Holiday Food, Health, and Happiness

The approach of the big holiday of Christmas often conjures thoughts about sharing meals and festive food. Many tables are overflowing with excess and with that excess comes a certain amount of angst about holiday food, health, and personal happiness.

This year, we have a new twist on how to cope. Popular media is serving up tips on how to think about taking an “Ozempic holiday.” It is a mark of just how much these new obesity medicines have wormed they way into popular culture.

Caution About Metabolic Jolts

First of all, let’s be clear. GLP-1 agonists, whether for the treatment of obesity or diabetes or both, are not meant for stop and go regimens. These drugs work over time to recalibrate a person’s metabolic functions that regulate blood sugar, appetite, and many other aspects of physiology. So it might not be smart to endure the metabolic jolts that come with abrupt starts and stops of therapy.

Obesity medicine physician Veronica Johnson explained to Good Morning America:

“If a patient skips their medication for one to two weeks, there is a potential for them to have some increased side effects. They might not see those improvements in their hunger and appetite, and so they’ll inevitably eat more and that may contribute to some weight gain.”

Needless to say, if a person is looking to stabilize their weight and metabolic health, stopping a medicine that helps with this might not be helpful. It’s yet another disruption on top of the disruptions that holiday stress can bring.

Real Human Experiences

But then we still have to cope with the real human experience of a holiday that can be stressful and wonderful at the same time. Food is part of this equation and for many people it is a source of great holiday pleasure. Changing this element of a big holiday can be tough on some people, as obesity medicine physician Christopher McGowan explains:

“Some patients will say they lost a friend; food has been comfort for them for years, as it is for most of us, and suddenly they’re robbed of that. They’re learning and re-learning how to cope with stressors when they can’t turn to food.”

This brings us to an inescapable fact. Physiology is critically important for overcoming obesity. New medicines help greatly with this. But more than physiology is at work when we interact with food. This is why attention and help for lifestyle issues and psychological coping skills can make all the difference.

The need is different when we have obesity medicines that work. But the stresses around holiday food and health make it clear just how important this dimension is. This is why a big shift is underway in lifestyle programs for obesity.

Click here and here for more on how people are coping with holidays in the age of GLP-1 medicines. For recent research on patterns of holiday weight gain, click here.

Christmas in Siberia, painting by Jacek Malczewski / WikiArt

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December 23, 2023