Thanksgiving is this week which means the holiday season is upon us. It is a time for shopping, spending time with family and friends, and eating. The bad news is that weight gain between Thanksgiving and the new year is a very real possibility. The good news is that the typical holiday weight gain is less than you might think. The even better news is that this weight gain can be prevented.
First, the bad news. Research shows that, on average, people gain about one pound during the holidays. Even subjects who said they were trying to lose weight over the holidays ended up gaining about 0.5 pounds on average. The problem is that this extra weight is not lost during the spring or summer, meaning that holiday weight gain is a major contributor to the gradual increase in weight, about one pound per year, most people experience over time.
Now for the good news: The weight gain that typically occurs during the holidays can be prevented. Since people tend to gain less than one pound, even small modifications to activity or diet can make a difference. Here are some strategies:
1. Stay active. The average holiday weight gain could be prevented by walking about one mile, or about 20 minutes, per day. Since time may be a factor, you can turn a shopping trip into a chance to be active by taking an extra lap around the mall or parking further away in the parking lot. Go for a walk before or after a family meal or party – take your family and friends with you.
2. Stay away from the food. Most holiday parties include lots of food, and usually not the healthiest choices. You can reduce the amount you eat by limiting your time near the food – literally, fill your plate and move away from the food. Using a smaller plate will reduce the amount of food you take, too. Getting rid of the candy dish on your desk at work or the plate of treats on the countertop at home are also smart ideas.
3. Don’t drink your calories. Alcoholic beverages, soda, and juice all contain calories and can add up to a big part of your total calorie intake. For example, egg nog can contain over 300 calories per glass. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite drinks, but enjoy them in moderation.
4. Plan ahead. If you are trying to watch what you eat, have a healthy snack before you go to party. You will feel less hungry so you will probably be less inclined to eat as much. If you are bringing a dish to the party make it something healthy that you like.
5. Focus on family and friends, not food. The holidays are a time to enjoy special meals and events with family and friends, and that should be your focus. You should enjoy your favorite foods and drinks, just do it in moderation.
You can prevent holiday weight gain by watching what you eat and staying active. It is easier to keep the weight off than it is to lose it later, so a little extra effort now is worth it in the long run. Considering that many people plan to exercise and lose weight after the holidays, you could get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions along with making this a happy and healthy holiday season.
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.