Are the holidays really the happiest time of the year? Does everyone really gain at least five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's? During a season ripe with fantasy, it can be hard to separate myths from reality. Here, we dispel four bogus holiday health myths.


Myth 1:  It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Fact: Between shopping for gifts, attending special holiday events, and trying to balance work and home life, many people find their stress levels skyrocketing during the holidays. And for those who don't have a network of family and friends to share the season with, the holidays can often be the most depressing time of the year. Plus, the shorter daylight hours don't help matters either. Research conducted by the National Mental Health Association found that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is caused by less exposure to sunlight during shorter winter days, can compound holiday stress. To avoid getting burnt out during the holiday season, experts suggest packing away those perfect expectations of the season. Take time to think about what the holidays really mean to you. Plus, understand that you can't do everything, so focus on the things that you can accomplish and enjoy.


Myth 2: Everyone puts on at least five pounds over the holidays, so I might as well accept it.

Fact: Believe it or not, the average holiday-season weight gain is much less: It's actually closer to one pound. That's good news, right? Well, not so fast. According to experts, most people never end up shedding that pound they gained between Thanksgiving and New Year's. The cumulative result: ten extra pounds every decade. And how's this for a snowball effect? Being overweight can increase your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, or having a stroke.


Myth 3: If there weren't all these tempting holiday treats laying around, I wouldn't gain weight.

Fact: It may be difficult to resist the cream-filled cakes, fried meats, and other delectable dishes, but when it comes to resisting holiday fare, the key word is (as always): willpower. Sure, treating yourself here and there won't do damage to your diet (and it may actually help stop you from senselessly bingeing on treats of the season), but if you say "yes," every time, your weight is likely going to suffer. Fortunately, watching your waistline during the season doesn't mean you have to give up all your favorite festive foods. For example, preparing macaroni and cheese with fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese (instead of full-fat ingredients) can save you hundreds of calories-and if you forsake the bacon (or replace it with turkey bacon), you'll save even more.


Myth 4: The holidays are the perfect time to spend, spend, spend.

Fact: In today's economy, that just simply isn't (and can't realistically be) the case. More than a million Americans lost their jobs this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many will be faced with tough choices about tightening their budgets during the holiday season. comScore, a leader in measuring the digital world, recently reported e-commerce spending for first half of the November/December 2008 holiday season is down four percent compared with the previous year. So instead of choosing to spend, spend, spend, Americans are more apt to save, save, save this year. But that certainly shouldn't put a damper on your holiday spirit. Often, the least expensive gifts end up being the most meaningful. Here are some ideas: Offer to watch your friends' kids for the evening while she grabs dinner with her husband, or help your sister organize photos for a scrapbook she's been meaning to create. Presents like these are so much more memorable and will remind you of what the holiday season is all about.