Study: Year's Major Weight Gain Occurs During Holiday Season

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Are you feeling your waistband already biting into your stomach after your Thanksgiving feast? Well, you have four more weeks to go of holiday parties and feasts, and you’re already right in the middle of the part of the year where you’re most likely to gain weight that can eventually lead to weight creep and a higher body mass index, according to a new study that focused on holiday eating.

    This study out of Texas Tech University involved 48 men and 100 women who were between the ages of 18-65 years of age. These participants were evaluated in mid-November and then again in early January.  The researchers looked at a variety of data, including body fat percentage, blood pressure and body weight. They also asked the participants to report on their exercise levels during this period. Approximately 50 percent of the participants were regular exercises who said they participated in exercise approximately five hours each week. This was nearly double the amount of moderate physical exercise recommended by the American Heart Association. The remaining participants said they did not follow an exercise program.

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    What did the researchers find at the end of this study? First of all, there were significant increases in body weight and body fat percentage. In addition, there were increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers. Participants who were already obese had a greater increase in the percentage of body fat when compared with participants who had a normal weight. And most surprisingly, exercise didn’t protect against holiday weight gain. Participants gained an average of 1.12 pounds a year, which suggests that must of the average person’s primary annual weight gain -- which is approximately two pounds a year -- happens during the holiday season. Furthermore, researchers have found that once these pounds are gained, most people rarely lose them.


    The researchers also found that exercise did not have a significant impact on holiday weight gain. The researchers hypothesize that the small size of the study might be a factor in this finding since it makes it difficult to identify small differences in weight gain between those who exercised and those who don’t. Another hypothesis is that people may be eating a lot more calories than they are burning off.

    While this is a small study, it does provide some impetus to closely watch what you’re eating over the holiday season in order to limit your caloric consumption. Don’t assume that you’ll just burn off those calories through physical activity. Let’s remember that you need to expend a lot more calories than you consume. “Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound,” the Mayo Clinic explains. “So if you cut 500 calories from your diet each day, you'd lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Because of changes that occur in the body over time, however, calories may need to be decreased further to continue weight loss.” So, conversely, if you eat some extra food over the holiday season but maintain your regular exercise regimen, you’re probably going to experience some weight gain.

  • And don’t overestimate how many calories you’re burning. For instance, one hour of low-impact aerobics burns 365 calories in a person who weighs 160 pounds, 455 in a person who weighs 200-pounds and 545 calories in a person who weighs 240 pounds. Downhill skiing burns 314 calories in a person who weighs 160 pounds, 391 in a person who weighs 200-pounds and 469 calories in a person who weighs 240 pounds. Walking at 2 miles per hour consumes 204 calories in a person who weighs 160 pounds, 255 in a person who weighs 200-pounds and 305 calories in a person who weighs 240 pounds.

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    In 2010, University of Minnesota School of Public Health professor Lisa Harnack pointed out the following caloric values for various holiday foods:

    • Pecan pie, 1 slice – 526 calories
    • Apple pie, 1 slice – 436 calories
    • Sweet potato pie, 1 slice – 340 calories
    • Pumpkin pie, 1 slice – 316 calories
    • Macaroni and cheese, ½ cup – 250 calories
    • Stuffing, ½ cup – 214 calories
    • Candied sweet potatoes, ½ cup – 165 calories
    • Turkey with skin, 3 ounces – 156 calories
    • Mashed potatoes, ½ cup – 119 calories
    • Gravy, 3 tablespoons – 54 calories
    • Green bean casserole, ½ cup – 96 calories
    • Cranberry sauce, ¼ cup – 110 calories
    • Wine, 6 fluid ounces – 150 calories
    • Apple cider, 8 fluid ounces – 136 calories

    So maintaining or increasing your exercise routine while passing on that serving of stuffing and extra piece of pie (as well as the appetizers and other goodies that come with holiday events) may help you avoid the holiday hangover of weight creep.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Mayo Clinic. (2011). Exercise for weight loss: Calories burned in 1 hour.

    MedlinePlus. (2013). Exercise may not stave off holiday weight gain.

    University of Minnesota. (2010). School of Public Health expert offers calorie counts for top holiday foods and tips for dealing with holiday eating.

    Stevenson, J. L., et al. (2013). Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Published On: December 04, 2013