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With the holidays upon us, it’s time once again to talk about the relationship between obesity and sleep apnea. Over-eating has become a part of our culture. From road trip fast food frenzies to barrels of popcorn at the movies to Christmas and Thanksgiving feasts, gorging ourselves is an essential component of some of our happiest memories.

But overindulgence comes at a price. Several studies have found a link between obesity and sleep apnea. One study found that a mere ten-percent weight-gain makes you six times more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. Another found that 40-60% of overweight men aged 45 and older likely suffer from OSA. Considering that most people in the United States are overweight, that means the majority of Americans over 45 suffer from sleep apnea. It’s probably the most underdiagnosed and undertreated medical condition in the modern U.S.

Obesity on its own can lead to a host of negative health conditions. These conditions are compounded by the effects of sleep apnea. OSA has been found to greatly increase the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Incorporating food into our celebrations has been going on since the beginning of time, and it’s not going to go away any time soon. But breaking bread with loved ones does not necessitate over-indulging.

Let’s take the first Thanksgiving as an example. The food served by the pilgrims was generally healthier fare than you’ll find on the table this Thanksgiving. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the feast included lots of wild game, including deer, duck, wild geese, and pigeons. Surprisingly, seafood played a big role in the feast as well. The pilgrims dined on shellfish, lobster, fish and even eel. Yum!  Side dishes would have consisted of Native American staples such as corn, beans, pumpkins, and squash with a few old-world additions such as carrots, garlic, and turnips.

There was no wheat. The only bread that would have been available was cornbread, and it’s uncertain that even that made an appearance. Corn was generally eaten as a kind of gruel. For dessert, nuts and berries would most likely be the only option. As far as preparation goes, everything was either roasted, boiled, or baked in a primitive oven.

We asked Dr. Ellis Morrow, in-house nutritionist at the Pasha Snoring and sinus center, how this feast holds up against modern holiday fare. This is what he had to say:

“There were no processed or refined foods, especially added sugars. The hearty helpings of seafood probably provided ample omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts and poultry are good sources of unsaturated fats, while the vegetables are good sources of vitamins and minerals. The preparation methods avoided adding excessive calories. There were none of the desserts or sugary beverages included in Thanksgiving dinners nowadays.”

So if you want to avoid packing on a few extra pounds this Thanksgiving, a good way to do it is to go on a “Pilgrim Diet”. There’s actually a lot of overlap between what the Plymouth colonists were eating and foods suggested by popular diets such as the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet.  But make sure to portion your food correctly. Piling meat on your plate and ignoring the veggies won’t get you anywhere. Dr. Morrow Recommends using MyPlate guidelines when picking your portions. If you are trying to control weight, follow the two plate rule. Fill the first plate with vegetables and select smaller portions of your favorite foods on the second plate. Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly. Stop eating when satisfied – it takes up to 20 minutes to sense that you are full.

And don’t just eat like a Pilgrim, work like a pilgrim too!

Dr. Morrow says “We may assume they were more physically active. Nutritional needs between now and then differ greatly due to environmental settings. The environment was not obesogenic, meaning they did not have an overabundance of foods and decreased physical activity—no television, phones, etc. That’s something to consider if you want to stay slim by modelling your Thanksgiving meal after theirs”

The best thing you can do to stay fit this season is practice combination of portion control and physical activity. Make sure to plan activities, like a morning or evening walk. Consider playing a family football game after dinner.

Improving your diet doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. All it takes is a little creativity and you can eat well without regrets. Holidays are all about traditions. Try going extra traditional with the Pilgrim Diet this Thanksgiving.

If you are overweight and have trouble sleeping or experience daytime drowsiness, you may suffer from sleep apnea. Although most prevalent in middle aged men, anyone who is overweight is at increased risk of sleep apnea. In fact, obesity is the second leading cause of childhood sleep apnea, behind enlarged tonsils.

The Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center has been treating sleep apnea in Houston for 20 years. We understand that conditions such as sleep apnea are connected to your whole health. That’s why our team focuses on addressing the causes of your condition rather than the symptoms. Sometimes something as simple a losing a few pounds can improve OSA symptoms. If you suspect you may suffer from sleep apnea, pay us a visit!

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