Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Tips to avoid holiday weight gain (for humans)

The obesity epidemic has roots that go far back — as in millions of years back.

Most people in the U.S. have access to a lot of calories in some form year-round. That’s not the case for many wild animals, and some have adapted to winter scarcity by hibernating. 

Richard Johnson, professor of medicine and chief kidney disease specialist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, studies the causes of obesity. He’s identified a major part of the modern diet that makes our bodies behave as if we were adding fat as insurance against starvation later on, a process inherited from our evolutionary ancestors.

But unlike much of the natural world, rather than benefitting from what he describes as an on-off switch built into our metabolism, well-fed humans can face continuing weight gain, and the diseases that come with it.

So it’s not a personal failing that a big holiday spread looks so appealing — nature has set us up for a bit of a struggle. As Johnson explains, the kinds of food you eat — ideally low in sugar and salt — as well as staying hydrated, can help keep your body from following a pattern better suited to a bear preparing for winter.