By Michaela Copp
The holiday season is a glorious time for those of us who love food. Jump-started on Halloween with buckets of candy and ending on New Year’s with flutes of champagne, this period of the year is rife with delicious food and drink. Unfortunately, the holiday season is also associated with an increase in body weight. The media suggests the average American gains upwards of 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in surveys, people estimate their weight increases by 5 pounds. But are these values accurate, or are they a gross exaggeration?
Several studies in Western societies have revealed that the average weight gain among adults between mid-November to mid-January is 0.5 kg (approximately a pound). Although this value is less than what is commonly asserted, the majority of people never lose the additional pound of weight put on during the holidays. Considering the average weight gain of an adult ranges from 0.5 to 1.0 kg per year, much of midlife weight gain could be attributed to holiday eating.
For people who are already overweight or obese, the outcome of holiday weight gain is more extreme. A study showed that the relative incidence of a large weight gain (>2.3 kg or >5 lbs) during the holiday season increases from 5% in those with a healthy body mass index (BMI < 25 kg/m2), to 11% in overweight individuals (BMI ≥ 25 and ≤ 30 kg/m2), up to 17% in those classified as obese (BMI ≥ 35).
The extra pound(s) of body weight during the holiday season is not restricted to adults. A study conducted at the University of Oklahoma revealed that college students experienced a significant average increase in body weight (0.5 kg) during the Thanksgiving break. In the study, 94 college students had their body weight assessed prior to, and immediately after, the Thanksgiving holiday break (13 ± 3 days). The findings of the study revealed an increase in body weight in males (0.6 kg), females (0.4 kg), and graduate students (0.8 kg). More notably, when the participants were categorized by BMI as normal or overweight, the normal group experienced a non-significant increase of 0.2 kg pre and post-Thanksgiving holiday, compared to a 1.0 kg increase in the overweight group.
Fortunately, people don’t have to fall into this trap. The New England Journal of Medicine stated, “the less one gains, the less one then has to worry about trying to lose it.” So how is it possible to enjoy the holiday festivities, without putting on the pounds? Below are several tips backed by science for navigating the upcoming holiday season.
- Choose Protein: Protein has been proven to help maintain a healthy weight and improves satiety. Try to fill up on turkey, roasted chicken, or green beans before moving to the bread rolls.
- Drink Water: Pregaming Thanksgiving dinner with water is a useful way to feel fuller and consume fewer calories. Drinking water during meal time is another approach to slow down eating to give the brain time to register feelings of fullness.
- Move it and Lose it (or Maintain it): Staying active throughout the holiday season is one approach to ensure the added calories don’t have a lasting effect. Making a conscious effort to move, such as tracking steps with a pedometer, is an effective way to maintain an exercise regime and maintain weight.
- Practice Mindful Eating: Evidence suggests that focusing on how your body feels, such as performing a body scan meditation, helps manage cravings. An easy way to be mindful throughout holiday meals is to chew slowly, savor each bite, and wait before grabbing seconds.
- Cave in to Cravings (in moderation): Allowing yourself to enjoy a small slice of pumpkin pie, rather than avoiding dessert altogether, helps ensure you don’t go overboard and binge on the sweet treats.
Overall, when approaching this holiday season, remember to eat, drink, and cranberry.
Peer-edited by Samantha Stadmiller