Confronting the holiday excesses

Sat, 5 Dec 2015 Source: Essel, Kojo Cobba

Holidays, especially the Christmas and New Year season are notorious for ensuring that the majority of us pack on extra pounds. It can be heartbreaking since many people have worked hard all year only to cancel out all the gains. Should the birth of our Saviour be a time for excesses that negatively affect our health?

By all means share in the love of Christmas but don’t over indulge. You do not have to consume everything in your path just because you are excited. Many times people with lifestyle diseases such as Diabetes, High Blood Pressure and abnormal Cholesterol return to the clinic in January with numbers that will overwhelm even a finance minister in Ghana. Doubling your blood sugar in just a week or two is definitely not worth the “fun”.

In a few days many people will start listing their new year’s resolutions. I am tempted to think it is the guilt of overindulgence at Christmas that drives us along this pathway that all too often leads to failure for the majority of us. The excitement of a new year around the corner, the Christmas carols in the background, the mounds of fufu and chicken and booze, and the exciting décor may all contribute in some way to this ritual of making resolutions. Surely a new year also gives us the confidence to start on a clean sheet but it needs not be a new year only; what about using your birthday or an anniversary day or even Monday my favourite day of the week? The most important thing is to start making your changes on a day that’s easy to remember or one that gives the aura of a new dawn. Monday is a fresh start and I always feel like I have been given a new lease of life.

Almost every ten New Year resolutions will have about 50% of the choices based on a healthy life style. We all know them: Exercise more, lose weight, get a medical checkup, quit smoking and drinking. Almost invariably we give up by the end of the first quarter and for some as soon as the holiday season is over. Do not despair if this scenario sounds all too familiar – YOU ARE IN THE MAJORITY! Definitely behavioural change is difficult and since we are not adequately prepared for the change, we have actually set ourselves up for failure even before we started.

After reading John C. Maxwell’s “The Difference maker” I am convinced that attitude is certainly not everything but surely it can make the difference between failed resolutions and successful ones. Adopt an attitude of a winner, do not whine but instead make the best out of every situation.

If you have not yet drawn up your New Year Resolutions, then let us plan one together:

1. Serve God with all your might

2. Make your Health a priority

3. Join a health club or choose a health buddy

Yes, I agree that “make your health a priority is certainly a fuzzy goal but it serves as a rough guide and will buttress the point that making small healthy choices daily is the way to go. We will no longer need to make a tall list of choices. We only need to decide if a choice counts towards making us healthier or not.

I believe in joining a health club (not necessarily a gym) or choosing a health buddy because as humans we perform best when we are accountable to someone and that is exactly what your buddy will do. He or she will act as a support system. You will go the extra mile because you do not want to disappoint someone. The mere thought that someone will ask you occasionally if you have smoked a cigarette may force you to tame that overwhelming urge.


1. How ready are you to change? Are you armed with knowledge to assist you through the process?

2. Have you identified your barriers to change? If you fail yearly in your resolutions, have you identified what is preventing you from changing?

3. Do you expect a relapse? Since this is almost certain to happen, you might as well identify the factors that may trigger a return to a former behaviour. This knowledge definitely helps you avoid the pitfall.


1. Prepare

a. Get all the information necessary to cause this change in behaviour. If you plan to exercise get your kit ready.

2. Be Patient

a. Start gradually. Make small healthy choices and do not try to make only “giant kills.” Do not expect to perfect the change in one day. It may take time.

3. Write it down

a. The smart folks in research found out that when we write down our goals, then we are more likely to achieve them. TRUE! So grab a pen and book (not just a sheet of paper, since you may lose that) and list your resolutions for 2012.

b. Make your goals SMART – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound. “I will lose 2kg by 30th April” that certainly is achievable and definitely not over ambitious.

4. Choice is King

a. Vary things as much as possible. If you walk to keep healthy, change your route often. Walk with dumb bells sometimes. Brisk walk and intersperse that with short bursts of jogging if possible.

5. Identify the limiting factors

a. A limiting factor is that demon that prevents you from getting the result you expect or should achieve when you are doing everything else right.

b. It could be poor eating habits, a lack of motivation or simply not allotting adequate time to pursue your goals.

6. Reward Yourself

No matter how little you may think your achievement is, give yourself a pat on the shoulder. Buy yourself a smaller size dress or belt. Go out with your health buddy to celebrate. Make a big fuss. Your brain just recognized your excitement and will help you attain more milestones.

Join the over five million Ghanaians who will be making New Year Resolutions but this time you will be armed with your survival kit above. Remember that if you get a “relapse” don’t wait for a new year to start all over again. Recognise that it is a part of the behavioural change process so go ahead and make the necessary positive changes.

Since only about 1% of us will be able to abstain from the goodies this Christmas season, why don’t we start burning calories in anticipation of our “sins”? Make that conscious effort to increase your physical activity from today.


Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel

Moms’ Health Club/Health Essentials


Dr. Essel is a medical doctor, holds an MBA and is ISSA certified in exercise therapy and fitness nutrition.

Thought for the week – “You do not have to eat and drink excessively during the holiday season. Have fun BUT do it responsibly.”


1. ‘To be or not to be, breaking the cycle of abandoned New Year Resolutions” – Dr Kojo Essel

2. www.webmd.com

3. www.abcnews.com

Columnist: Essel, Kojo Cobba