The holidays are a time when family and friends gather to enjoy each other’s company — and eat! Indulgent meals, bountiful buffets, cookie swaps, holiday parties… it’s no surprise that maintaining a healthy weight can present even more challenges during the holidays than throughout the rest of the year. Each year, on average, we tend to gain a small amount of weight (about one pound per year). According to some research, most of that weight is gained over the holiday season.
Study suggests you can control holiday weight gain
Does that mean we are destined to see a bigger number when we step on the scale in January? Or can we keep the end-of-year weight gain at bay?
A study published in The BMJ sought to find out. Researchers examined the effectiveness of a brief (four to eight week) behavioral intervention to prevent weight gain over the Christmas holiday period. The researchers randomized 272 adults into one of two groups. The intervention group was given a behavioral intervention intended to increase their restraint of food and beverage consumption. The intervention involved three components: encouraging participants to regularly weigh themselves and record their weight; providing specific weight-management strategies; and providing information on how much physical activity would be needed to burn off the calories consumed in typical holiday foods and drinks. The control group received information on healthy living.
Results showed that the intervention group lost an average of 0.3 pounds, while the control group gained 0.8 pounds. This may not seem like much, but research shows that weight gains are not fully lost in the months following the holidays. Although the yearly gain is small, it can add up to an increase of 10 pounds over 10 years.
10 top tips for weight management
Study participants in the intervention group were encouraged to follow these 10 tips to help prevent weight gain:
- Keep to your meal routine. Try to eat at roughly the same times each day.
- Go reduced-fat. Choose low-fat foods when possible.
- Walk off the weight. Aim for 10,000 steps each day.
- Pack a healthy snack. Choose fresh fruit or low-calorie yogurt instead of chocolate or chips.
- Look at the labels. Check food labels for fat and sugar content.
- Caution with your portions. Don’t heap food on your plate, and think twice before having second helpings.
- Up on your feet. Stand up for 10 minutes every hour.
- Think about your drinks. Choose water or calorie-free drinks, and limit alcohol.
- Focus on your food. Slow down, and don’t eat in front of the TV or on the go.
- Don’t forget your 5-a-day. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
How much activity would it take to burn off this eggnog?
Physical activity — or at least understanding how much physical activity it would take to burn off calories, and possibly considering that information when making choices about what to eat — also played a role in preventing weight gain. In the study, the researchers provided the intervention group with a chart that showed the approximate amount of activity it would take to burn the calories found in a given amount of festive foods. For example, it would take approximately 12 minutes of walking or six minutes of running to burn off the calories in five pigs in a blanket, and it would take approximately eight minutes of walking or four minutes of running to burn off the calories in 5 tablespoons of gravy.
More strategies to prevent holiday weight gain
Here are a few more tips to help you keep your weight in check without foregoing your holiday traditions.
- Mark all of the holiday events you’ll be attending on your calendar so that you’ll remember to plan ahead. If the meal is not at your home, eat lighter the day of the event to balance the extra calories you may consume at the party. If the event is in the evening, have a healthy breakfast and satisfying lunch, with a light snack before the event to avoid overindulging later.
- If you are the host and struggle with tasting while cooking, try chewing sugar-free gum while preparing the meal, or have a small snack before you start cooking. Serve plenty of raw vegetables and yogurt-based dips to start the event and fresh fruit to finish. After the meal, send leftovers home with friends and family.
- The workplace can be hazardous around the holidays; holiday lunches and office parties can make it difficult for even the most health-conscious employee to make smart choices. If the team is going out for a special holiday lunch, choose lower-calorie items and go light on dinner that evening. Move holiday cookies and candies to a high-traffic area to spread the goodies around.
- Start new traditions that don’t revolve around food. For example, attend a holiday concert or show, or take a drive or walk to see holiday lights. Catch up with a friend over a yoga or Zumba class instead of meeting for a peppermint mocha latte.
Preventing weight gain over the holidays can be a challenge. But it is possible!
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content.
Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date,
should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Commenting has been closed for this post.