Celebrating the Holidays–Too Much of a Good Thing – by Dr. Deb Rivera

If your clothes are fitting snugger than they were a few months ago, you are not alone. Weight gain during the standard holiday period (approximately November—specifically,Thanksgiving– to the second week in January) has been the subject of several studies (Yanovski, Yanovski, Sovik, Nguyen, O’Neil, and Sebring, 2000; Diaz-Zavala, Castro-Cantu’, Valencia, Alvarez-Hernandez, Haby, and Esparza-Romero, 2017).

Diaz-Savala et al (2017) points out that the holiday season is a time for socializing (office parties, family get togethers, and various community celebrations). These functions are often accompanied by desserts, alcohol, sugar-laden drinks or high-caloric meals (this author loves her seasonal food and drinks. Thank you Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice Lattes!). Physical activity may also decline during this time (marathon shopping–from Black Friday to last-minute Christmas gifts–does not count). As expected, decreased exercise and increased eating translates into unwanted pounds. Can you guess the average holiday weight gain?

According to some experts, the claim that Americans will gain between 5-10 pounds during the holidays, may be over inflated (Yanovski et al., 2000). Kaplan (2016) explains that while some studies report 3 to 4 pounds as typical, the median range would be 1.3 pounds. Some readers might think: Hey, a little more than one pound! That’s not so bad! However, researchers discovered that unfortunately any weight increase during the holiday season, is not lost in that year. In fact, it will represent 50% of any weight gained during that new year (Diaz-Savala et al., 2017). In addition, the cumulative effects of weight gain for the fall/winter seasons create not only a pattern throughout adulthood, it contributes to a myriad of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, the likelihood of developing obesity, and other related or comorbid conditions (Yanovski et al., 2000).

In asssessing those individuals who might be at risk for holiday weight gain (and those who are resistant to weight loss), there are many factors to consider: age, health status (including metabolic and neuroendocrine mechanisms), self-monitoring (behavioral mechanisms), fat percentage and pre-holiday body weight, and self-reported exercise (Diaz-Zavala et al., 2017). Other secondary inhibitors to weight loss include: socioeconomic status, depression, and the availability of social networks or family support (Yanovski et al., 2000; Thomas, Hyde, Karunaratne, Kausman, and Komesaroff, 2008).

In regards to conflicting data as to whether weight gain during the holiday season is one pound or even up to 10, this author offers two insights: 1) In my work as a fitness counselor and a certified special needs personal trainer, most of my clientele have self-reported an average weight gain of 5-8 pounds (from October–yes, all that Halloween candy, through the second week in January). 2) Last holiday season, this author gained 8 pounds (much of which can be attributed to my lovely out of state, two-weeks long Christmas trip, when the foods I normally eschew, became fair game). So while these situations may not involve empirically based assessments, they do reflect personal experiences–struggles I believe many of our readers can relate to.

For those of us who have indulged this season and are facing the task of taking off what we’ve put on, there is hope and there are viable weight loss solutions. You might ask: What are they and which one is the best? We’ll explore those options in my follow-up article: “We Ate, We Drank, and Were Merry–Now What?”

Until then, I leave you with this:

  “I didn’t mean to gain weight, it just happened by snackcident“–Anonymous


Diaz-Zavala, R.G., Castro-Cantu’, M.F., Valencia, M.E., Alvarez-Hernandez, G., Haby, M.M., & Esparza-Romero, J.E. (2017). Effect of the holiday season on weight gain: A narrative review. Journal of Obesity, 2085136, 13. doi:org/10.1155/2-17/2085136.

Kaplan, K. (2016). All over the world, people celebrate holidays by gaining weight. Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-holiday-weight-gain-20160921-snap-story.html

Thomas, S.L., Hyde, J., Karunaratne, A., & Komesaroff, P.A. (2008). “They all work…when you stick to them”: A qualitative investigation of dieting, weight loss, and physical exercise, in obese individuals. Nutrition Journal, 7 (34). doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-7-34.

Yanovski, J.A., Yanovski, S.Z., Sovik, K.N., Nguyern, T.T., O’Neil, P.M., & Sebring, N.G. (2000). A prospective study of holiday weight gain. New England Journal of Medicine, 342, 861-867. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200003233421206.

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