Part of the fun of the holiday season is enjoying food and drinks that you typically only indulge once a year, such as sweet potatoes with marshmallows, lobster bisque, fudge, champagne, and eggnog. It’s no wonder that the 6-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is responsible for a lot of the weight problems Americans experience.
According to a National Institutes of Health study, Americans gain about a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. About 10 percent of adults gain 5 pounds or more over the holidays.
While 1 pound is not alarming, the problem is that we tend not to lose the holiday weight gain. National Institutes of Health researchers found that almost all of the weight people gained over the course of a year can be explained by the pounds they add over the holiday period. Adults’ weight tends to steadily and slowly creep up as we age. Annual holiday weight gain may explain much of that gradual increase between the ages of 30 and 60.
It’s not hard to put on a pound. Eating just 4,050 calories more than you need in a year will result in a gain of 1 pound, according to one analysis. A typical Thanksgiving dinner alone can consist of 3,000 calories, not including appetizers or alcoholic beverages. That’s more than an entire day’s worth of calories for most men and women!
People who are already overweight tend to struggle even more. A 2014 study found that people who were already overweight and obese gained more weight over the holidays than people at a healthier weight. The percentage of body fat as well as blood pressure also tend to rise during the holiday period, according to a 2013 study.
And adults aren’t the only people impacted by holiday festivities. A study published in 2010 found children gained an average of 1.2 pounds over the holiday period. Research on college students found no increase in weight. However, the students did show an increase in body fat over the course of the holiday season.
So, how do you end up on January 1 with the same weight you had in mid-November? There are many tried-and-true strategies for avoiding that extra pound or two. Overall, researchers say, there are two main factors that influence weight gain: level of hunger and level of activity. You need to address both, and that requires some planning and commitment.
To avoid hunger that drives you to overeat, plan ahead. Eat carefully at home to offset the big New Year’s Eve party or the sugar cookies and peanut brittle that appear in the office. Don’t deprive yourself of favorite foods, but eat smaller portions. Don’t skip meals; skipping meals lowers blood sugar levels and can cause you to overeat later in the day.
In addition, experts advise that you be aware of the role stress plays in overeating. Eating foods high in sugar and fat releases endorphins in the brain, giving a temporary feeling of happiness and wellbeing. But that temporary surge won’t last, and you may end up feeling tired and craving more sugar and fat. Healthy eating is the best way to withstand stress. Most of your meals throughout the holiday period should be well-rounded and consist of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, and lean meats.