Holiday Weight Gain
We look forward to the holiday festivities, but the overeating that often accompanies the celebrations can be a cause of stress, anxiety, and guilt. The good news is that it is still possible to enjoy rich food and larger portions without derailing your diet or health goals. Allowing yourself to be flexible with your diet and getting back to a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables post-holiday can help keep you on track so you can enjoy the holiday season guilt-free.
Although many may believe weight gain is high over the Christmas and New Year holidays, there is no clinical research study to support this. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that Americans gain, on average, only about one pound during the winter holidays. One hundred and ninety-five study participants, primarily employees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), were weighed at six-week intervals before, during, and after the winter holiday season. Compared to their initial weight, the volunteers had gained just over one pound by late February, and most of that gain occurred during the six-week interval between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
The researchers also found that study volunteers who engaged in more physical activity experienced less holiday weight gain, which suggests that increasing physical activity may be an effective way of preventing weight gain during this high-risk time. In addition, study volunteers believed they had gained more weight than they had over the holidays, overestimating their weight gain by slightly more than three pounds.
Fewer than 10 per cent of subjects gained more than five pounds over the holiday season. However, overweight and obese volunteers were more likely to gain five pounds than those who were not overweight, which suggests that the holiday season may present particular risks for those who are already overweight.
The study also investigated strategies to control holiday weight gain among those who had successfully lost weight in the National Weight Control Registry as well as normal-weight individuals with no history of obesity. Those who successfully lost weight did more exercise, paid greater attention to their weight and eating habits, and displayed greater stimulus control and dietary restraint both before and during the holidays. Although they worked harder than normal-weight individuals to manage their weight, they appeared more vulnerable to weight gain during the holidays.
Registered dietitians can help with behavioral change strategies that can lead to successful weight loss or maintenance and help control the situation during this critical period.
- Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O'Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(23):861-867.
- Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutr Rev. 2000;58(12):378-379.
- Phelan S, Wing RR, Raynor HA, Dibello J, Nedeau K, Peng W. Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal-weight individuals . J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76(3):442-448.
Dima El-Halabi, MSc, RDN
College of Health Sciences
Abu Dhabi University