It Can Take Five Months to Lose Your Two-Month Holiday Weight Gain

Health Writer

According to a study published in September 2016 in The New England Journal of Medicine, it will likely take five months to lose weight gained during the two-month holiday period, from Halloween to New Year’s Day.

The study involved 3,000 subjects from the U.S., Germany, and Japan, who weighed in using wireless technology prior to the holidays (August) and then every week, specifically around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's day. Researchers received all the weight information.  The findings were that weight among the 1,781 U.S. participants rose around Thanksgiving, peaked at Christmas-time and remained high or nudged even higher near the New Year. It then took roughly five months to “gain control” of the weight. The researchers noted that similar weight gain and weight loss patterns occurred among research participants from Germany and Japan during their holiday months.

Specific findings included:

  • A weight gain of about 10 pounds in all three countries within 10 days after Christmas
  • In all three countries, weight gain occurred around national holidays
  • About half of the weight gained is lost soon after the holidays are over (at the beginning of the New Year), but the remaining excess weight is actually not lost until close to summertime

Researchers and lifestyle experts have debated for years whether holiday weight gain really happens. A study dating back to 2000 noted that overweight individuals, and people diagnosed with obesity, had a greater weight gain during the holidays, though most people appear to gain some weight during these months.

So what’s a person to do?Experts at the Food Brand Lab at Cornell University suggest making “an October Weight Resolution.” Brian Wansink, director of the lab and co-author of the NEJM study, suggests that the idea of a New Year’s resolution should become passé and replaced by a commitment in October to keep weight gain to a minimum. If you are already overweight or have obesity, then this should be an approach you embrace today. If your weight is in a healthy range, controlling your food consumption during the holiday season will keep your weight at a healthy number.  One could make the argument that if you are gaining weight during the holidays yearly, and never lose the weight completely, this could be one contributing factor to obesity.

It’s also important to consider that there have been studies to suggest that [weight gain occurs in the winter](file:///C:\Users\Amy\Documents\10.1098\rspb.2015.2443) months, due to subconscious urges to overeat in response to the colder temperatures in those areas with cold winters. Could this be at play as well?

Some techniques that can help you to limit weight gain during the holidays include:

  • Keep a food journal during the holiday season; stay honest and real with your daily calorie counts and track the number of food treats you enjoy
  • Stick with your exercise program or start exercising. Exercising daily can help you to maintain energy balance and allow you to occasionally overeat
  • If you have a support group, continue to attend meetings during the holiday season
  • For every treat that you do enjoy, commit to 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise as “pay back”
  • Plan treats ahead of time. It’s incredibly easy to miss seeing the big picture when you’re indulging
  • Use smaller plates and serving utensils when serving high calorie dishes
  • Pick and choose. Learn to take small portions of a couple of treats and really savor them
  • Don’t waste your calories on holiday beverages. They’re not filling and alcohol in particular can impair your ability to sense fullness
  • Cut down on the number of treats you serve at your holiday event and make one or two dishes the “main event”
  • Limit temptations by giving away leftovers
  • Always offer to bring a vegetable or healthy protein-based dish to celebrations. This will guarantee that there is one dish you can “overeat”
  • Emphasize the “social joy” of the holidays, and make the food a bit less important — at least some of the time!
  • Lighten recipes by using ingredients that are lower in fat calories and sugar calories, or just use less of these ingredients

Nutritionists like me know it’s critical to temper temptation. During the holidays, temptations lurk everywhere — at work, at home (especially if you are the main hostess at family events), and at the mall and supermarket where there are endless tasting opportunities. These tips should help you to minimize temptations or “holiday bait” and help you to limit weight gain.

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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert.As a health media personality, she's been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.