There’s good news and bad news about holiday weight gain. According to researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, most people gain only about a pound of weight during the six-week interval between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The bad news? They usually don’t lose that extra pound, and they keep adding another one year after year. That’s not a good thing when it comes to your waistline or your health.
Why is Holiday Weight Gain So Common?
Temptations abound around the holidays – pecan pie, Christmas cookies, party appetizers, alcohol, and many people cut back on their activity level or completely stop exercising due to time pressures. One study found that holiday weight gain could be blamed solely on two factors – appetite and activity level. Study participants who reported being more hungry and less active during the holidays were the ones who packed on the pounds. Those who reported being less hungry and stayed active were least likely to gain weight.
Unfortunately, the holidays can be a stressful time. Shopping, food preparation and family visits all add to the stress level and make it harder to stick with a regular exercise routine. People respond to stress in different ways. Some seek comfort by eating their favorite foods – and there’s plenty of that around during the holidays. Other people lose their appetite, and lower their stress levels by staying active. These are the people least likely to end up a pound heavier after the holidays.
Sleep can be an issue too. With so much to do, sleep becomes less of a priority. Lack of sleep causes levels of ghrelin, an appetite hormone, to soar. With so much food around, that can spell disaster. Plus, some people mindlessly snack while they’re preparing holiday foods. A little taste here and a little taste there add up.
Tips for Getting Through the Holidays without Gaining Weight
Exercise first thing in the morning. When time is a factor, it’s best to get exercise out of the way first thing so life doesn’t intervene. Keep your exercise clothing by the bed so you can slip them on as soon as you put your feet on the floor. It’s even more important to stick to an exercise routine during the holidays.
Practice portion control. You can indulge in a few holiday goodies if you keep your portions small and plan ahead. Load your plate with lower calorie foods like vegetables, salad and lean protein sources to fill up. Then treat yourself to a half portion of your favorite dessert.
Watch what you drink. The calories in alcoholic beverages and egg nog add up fast, and liquid calories don’t activate satiety hormones like food does. Sip unsweetened green tea or coffee instead of higher calorie holiday drinks.
Don’t hang out at the appetizer table at parties. Get a small plate, and put a few appetizers on it. Then make that last the evening. Look for appetizers that aren’t fried, crispy, sweet or loaded with cheese or cream cheese. Spend more time socializing and less time munching and drinking. Eat a healthy snack before you go so hunger won’t be a temptation.
Get more incidental exercise. Incidental exercise is unplanned exercise you can do in small chunks throughout the day. When you’re holiday shopping, park as far away as possible, and walk as fast as you can to the door of the shopping center. Hop around the kitchen while you’re preparing holidays meals. Take the dog for a walk when you have a free moment. Clean the house with lots of enthusiasm and vigor to burn more calories. Those extra calories add up.
The Bottom Line?
Most people only gain a pound or so around the holidays. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a problem if it happens year after year. Fortunately, you have control. Keep exercising and watching what you eat.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Holiday Weight Gain Slight, but May Last a Lifetime”