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.

Tips to keep off holiday pounds

  • Eat holiday meals at normal meal times. Eating at a regular meal time tends to help people eat a “normal” amount compared to an unusual meal time when they may be more likely to overeat.
  • Be aware of how many calories are in the drinks you choose. Twelve ounces of soda can contain more than 150 calories, while a serving of punch or lemonade can exceed 200. In particular, watch out for eggnog, which can pack 342 calories in each 8-ounce glass. Alcoholic drinks are no exception. A shot of liquor averages about 125 calories, and wine or beer have about 160 calories per serving. Mixed drinks that use juice or sugary flavorings are even unhealthier choices.
  • Start a meal with soup or salad. These energy-dense foods will help you feel fuller sooner.
  • Before going back for seconds, wait 20 minutes. That’s how long it takes your brain to process whether you’re feeling full after you eat.
  • For dessert, try angel food cake, gingerbread, or fruit as lower-calorie alternatives.
  • Eat a light meal or healthy snack and drink a glass of water before going to a party. You won’t be tempted to overindulge out of hunger.
  • Instead of feeling like you have to try everything, select a few treats that are your favorite or that you only see during the holidays.
  • Prepare some simple, light foods, such as green beans sautéed with almonds instead of green bean casserole.
  • Plan holiday celebrations around activities, such as a walk after dinner, sledding, or ice skating. A walk soon after a meal can help your body manage insulin better.
  • Help others. Rethink the food gifts you give and limit the holiday goodies you bring into the office.

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.

References

Sources

National Institutes of Health. (2000, March 22). Holiday weight gain slight, but may last a lifetime.

Retrieved from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/Pages/holidayweightgain.aspx

Calorie Control Council. Stuff the bird, not yourself: How to deal with the 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving meal.

Retrieved from: http://caloriecontrol.org/stuff-the-bird-not-yourself-how-to-deal-with-the-3000-calorie-thanksgiving-meal/

Schoeller, D.A. (2014, July). The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. [Abstract]. Physiology & Behavior. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.03.018

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24662697

Stevenson, J.L., Krishnan, S., Stoner, M.A., Goktas, Z., & Cooper, J.A. (2013, Sept.). Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. [Abstract]. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67, 944-949. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.98

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23695203

Branscum, P., Kaye, G., Succop, P., & Sharma, M. (2010, Aug.). An evaluation of holiday weight gain among elementary-aged children.

Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, 2, 167-171. doi:10.4021/jocmr414w

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3104651/

Phelan, S., Wing, R.R., Raynor, H.A., Dibello, J., Nedeau, K., & Peng, W. (2008, June). Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal weight individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 442-448. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.76.3.442

Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137466/

Hull, H.R., Hester, C.N., & Fields, D.A. (2006, Dec. 28). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition and Metabolism, 3. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-44

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1766354/

Hijikata, Y., & Yamada, S. (2011, June 9). Walking just after a meal seems to be more effective for weight loss than waiting for one hour to walk after a meal. International Journal of General Medicine, 4, 447-450. doi:10.2147/IJGM.S18837

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119587/

Yanovaski, J.A., Yanovaski, S.Z., Sovik, K.N., Nguyen, T.T., O’Neil, P.N., & Sebring, N.G. (2000, March 23). A prospective study of holiday weight gain. New England Journal of Medicine, 342, 861-867. doi:10.1056/NEJM200003233421206

Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336296/

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. Control holiday weight gain.

Retrieved from: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/pdf/hgic4092.pdf

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