I’m really not trying to be a Grinch, but let’s face it: the holidays are coming, and we all know what that means.
In addition to the items on your wish list, you’ll likely get some unwanted holiday gifts – a few extra pounds.
A study published in September found…
For the average person, the time just before the start of the holiday season is the low point in an annual weight gain pattern that peaks during the holidays…
…and takes nearly half a year to fully shed.
The research was published Sept. 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine by Cornell Food and Brand Lab Director Brian Wansink and colleagues from Tampere University of Technology of Finland. They analyzed the wireless weigh-ins of nearly 3,000 individuals in three countries for this study.
In the U.S., weight patterns begin rising at Thanksgiving and peak around Christmas and New Year’s (no surprises there!).
From the study:
The researchers also analyzed yearly weight patterns of 760 German and 383 Japanese participants. Similar to their American counterparts, those in Germany weigh the most around Christmas, while those in Japan weigh the most during Golden Week, four major holidays in the spring. Each country also showed a peak in weight gain at New Year’s.
“Everyone gains weight over the holidays — Americans, Germans, Japanese,” said Wansink.
The trend among the 1,781 American participants indicated a weight bump of 0.2 percent during Thanksgiving, and another 0.4 percent at Christmas.
The worst part? It takes about five months to lose those holiday pounds, with weight typically stabilizing from May to November…before the cycle begins all over again.
“We found that in the U.S., it isn’t until after Easter, about a five-month period, that weight patterns even out,” said Wansink, “Chances are, right now most Americans are at their lowest weight of the year.”
Wansink has a suggestion to help you avoid gaining over the holiday season:
“Instead of making a New Year’s resolution, make an October resolution. It’s easier to avoid holiday pounds than to lose them after they happen.”
Here are some additional tips to help you navigate the holidays without doing too much dietary damage.
You can’t outrun a bad diet: Your body adapts to higher activity levels, so you don’t necessarily burn extra calories even when you exercise more. More on that here. It only takes a couple of minutes to scarf down a few cookies, but it takes a good half hour of running to burn them off.
Prioritize: There’s nothing wrong with indulging a little during the holidays – the season offers unique treats that most people don’t even think about the rest of the year. Pace yourself, eat slowly and mindfully, and choose foods that you REALLY like – there’s no sense in over-indulging on things you have access to year-round, or treats that you don’t enjoy very much. On this note, here’s another tip: Fat is filling and provides pleasant texture to food. Low-fat and no-fat cookies taste like cardboard and aren’t as satisfying. Have you ever noticed that when you eat a high-carb, low-fat meal, you are hungry an hour later? It is hard to overeat on a moderate fat, high-protein, low-carb diet. If it comes down to choosing nuts or chips, for example, go for the nuts. Cheese or crackers? I think you know the answer. *wink*
Eat your calories instead of drinking them: The holidays are a great time to cut back on (or eliminate) your intake of sugary beverages if you are a regular consumer. Try making trades – if you want to indulge in one of those sweet holiday coffee drinks, make it a small one, sip it slowly and savor it, and skip the soda that day (wow! there are a lot of Ss in that sentence). Flavored teas make a great sugary drink replacement, and special holiday flavors are widely available this time of year. Besides, soda is bad for you – really bad, okay? For tricks and tips to help you kick the soda habit, check out the ideas at the end of this article.
The more things are forbidden, the more you will want them: Dieting, obsessing over food, constantly worrying about calories, and making certain foods forbidden is exhausting – and harmful. What happens when you tell yourself you can’t have that particular item? You think about it more – don’t you? And, you probably end up eating a darn lot of it once your resolve breaks and you give in. Try NOT obsessing and see what happens.
Be careful with the scale: During the holidays, you will likely indulge (in moderation!) in foods that are higher in carbohydrates than usual. Some of the resulting puffiness and belly bloat will be water weight. Water weight fluctuations can tip the scale in the “wrong” direction, but these fluctuations are normal and are caused by many different factors, including high salt intake, consumption of a big meal, water retention, hormonal changes, and constipation. Believe it or not, these fluctuations can cause a temporary weight increase of up to 5 pounds in one day! You are especially susceptible to these ups and downs during the holidays, when your eating patterns are much different than your norm.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself: While the holidays are a terrible time to try to LOSE weight (see you on January 1!), you can apply some weight loss mindset tricks during the season to minimize fat gain. For details on this, please read 8 Mental Obstacles That Are Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Success.
It is probably not realistic to expect to lose weight during the holidays, unless you have an iron will, don’t like decadent foods, or you have someone tape your mouth shut and tie you to a chair. Trying to maintain your weight is more reasonable. I hate to do this to you, but…remember the old adage “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips?” The ugly truth is, it is much, much harder to lose excess pounds than it is to hover around your current weight. Enjoy yourself – but do it in moderation.