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Mythbuster: Is Weight Gain over the Holidays Inevitable?


Mythbuster: Is Weight Gain over the Holidays Inevitable?

I took an unscientific poll in the office and asked co-workers: “how much weight do you think people gain, if any, over the holiday season?"

The answers ranged from 2 to 15 pounds with the average number at 6.5 pounds. Well, luckily the results of my pseudo poll were way off. 

As it turns out, Americans gain an average of 1.32 pounds (0.6 kg) according to a study published in September 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study looked at weight gain over the holidays in three countries: Germany, Japan, and the United States. Americans participating in the study saw their weight increase by 0.2 percent during the Thanksgiving holiday and 0.4 percent over Christmas. Another study from 2000, in the same journal, found that the average holiday gain minimum was 1 pound (0.48kg). A look at studies over the last decade yielded similar results, demonstrating holiday weight gain is less than commonly asserted. Therefore, I remain optimistic for our waistlines between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. 

So what’s the problem?

Weight gain, even a little, is still weight gain that takes time and effort to come off. Although up to half of holiday weight gain is lost shortly after the holidays, the other half seems to remain until the summer months and sometimes beyond. Year after year, that weight can add up, not including any weight gain that occurs the rest of the year. So as hard as it is to resist the extra piece of pie or prevent weight gain during the holiday season, remember, it is much harder to lose it later.

Weight gain is not inevitable

Stay focused on all the healthy habits you have been working on the rest of the year. Here are some quick and familiar reminders from past blogs to get you through the holiday season: 

  • Eat complex carbohydrates with fiber, lean proteins, and healthy plant fats
  • Be physically active on most days of the week – make it a priority
  • Watch portion sizes – Ex: select small serving dishes
  • Make traditions healthy with some smart recipe substitutes
  • Be prepared ahead of time with meal and snack prep – Ex: Eat something healthy before going out to a holiday party or bring healthy options to the party
  • Stay social, but not by the food table – talk more, eat less by making food less accessible  
  • Eat consciously, no mindless eating
  • Skip the leftovers  
  • Watch the alcohol – these are empty calories
  • Find a buddy – build a support system 

The most recent study assessing weight gain in three countries concluded with the recommendation that the less one gains, the less one then has to worry about trying to lose it. I am going to agree with the researchers on this one! Check out this month’s blog to learn more on how to enjoy the holidays without packing on the pounds.  

Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information