Meal Plans

Here's How Much Weight You Actually Gain Over the Holidays

It's probably not as much as you think, but it hangs around longer than you'd expect.

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How Much Weight Do You Actually Gain During the Holidays
Peter Dazeley / Getty

The holiday season is an incredible time of year to take some time off of work and spend it with family and friends. But looming between you and your loved ones is stress about something you can’t ignore. It isn’t family drama, it's holiday foods.

The spread looks like it came straight out of a catalog and it smells delicious, but you worry about all the weight you’ll gain if you dare to indulge at every holiday meal. If this is you, you’re not alone. The good news is that you probably don't gain as much as you think you do.

According to a study done by The New England Journal of Medicine, Americans gain around 1.3 pounds on average between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This number is much lower than the amount of weight Americans believe they gain during the holiday season. The study also reported that Americans believed they gained around five pounds during the holiday season. That’s something to feel festive about!

But don’t go celebrating with another slice of pie just yet. The research also found that the one pound was surprisingly difficult to lose. In a recent study done at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, it took participants around five months to lose the holiday weight they had gained, even though it was only a measly pound.

On average, adults gain one to two pounds per year, but for people who are already overweight or struggling with other health conditions, this number is much higher. A study conducted by Oxford Academy’s Nutrition Reviews found that, on average, people who were already overweight gained around five pounds or more during the holidays.

This adulthood weight gain can be attributed to more things than just the festive season. In a study published in Cell, York University professor Jennifer Kuk found that if an individual today were to eat and exercise the same as an individual from 1988, they’d still be heavier. The reasons for this trend aren’t yet clear, but researchers suspect there could be several factors at play for this change in human metabolism, such as a pollutants, medications, and changes in eating schedules and gut microbiome.

It also certainly doesn’t help that the American holiday season occurs as the temperature begins to drop, with the cold weather driving many people inside and making it more difficult to stay active. Brian Wansink of Cornell University and one of the co-authors of the study says this is most likely a contributing factor.

The best way to handle holiday weight gain is to not gain it in the first place. That doesn’t mean avoiding all holiday foods entirely—it would be downright cruel to tell everyone they can’t enjoy their favorite holiday snacks. The trick to surviving the holiday season (and the holiday buffet) is eating mindfully.

Here are some tips for making holiday meals mindful:

  1. Notice how your body feels when its hungry and when its full.
  2. Telling yourself you’re not allowed to eat any dessert hardly ever works—instead, pick a favorite dessert and eat until you are feeling satisfied. Most of the time, the massive slice of pumpkin pie you think you have room for is too big a portion.
  3. Pay attention to how your body feels after eating and how certain foods sit with your body.
  4. Maintain a consistent aerobic exercise routine, this will help offset inflammation and blood sugar spikes that go hand and hand with holiday eating.
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