The holidays are a time for celebration, family, and fun. Unfortunately, it’s also a season of overindulgences that often lead to weight gain. A growing body of research suggests that setting a goal to maintain your weight could be key to a healthy holiday and a healthy start to the new year.
Extra Pounds Add Up
Scientific studies investigating changes in bodyweight during the holiday season find that most people gain around one to two pounds on average, with overweight individuals typically gaining a bit more weight than leaner individuals (1). While this may seem like a trivial amount of weight – just a few pounds – there is reason for concern. Some research suggests that these pounds are not lost after the holiday season comes to an end and may add up year after year.
In one study, researchers recruited participants as part of a workplace wellness program (2). Much like the pattern of weight gain observed in other research studies, these participants gained around one to two pounds on average over the holiday season. When the research participants returned one year later for follow-up measurements, they hadn’t lost last year’s holiday pounds. Surprisingly, the weight they gained during the short, six-week holiday season accounted for half or more of the weight that they had gained over the whole year.
Halt Holiday Weight Gain
If much of the excess weight we are likely to gain each year happens during the holiday season, then putting a stop to seasonal weight gain could have a lasting impact on our well-being. The results of this workplace wellness study reflect the long-term pattern of gradual weight gain that catches up with many of us over time.
Some researchers have proposed that the few extra pounds gained each year during the holiday season might play a large part in the pattern of gradual weight gain that most of us experience throughout our lives (3). For instance, data from a large, nationally representative health study shows that starting in our early 20s, many of us gain an average of one to two pounds each year. By the time we reach our 60s, we weigh about 40 pounds more than we did when we graduated high school (4).
Small Steps, Big Benefits
For many of us, the biggest challenge to maintaining weight may be the temptation to put healthful habits on hold until after the new year. Taking small steps toward a healthier holiday, such as staying physically active or sending leftover holiday treats home with friends and family, can help you maintain your weight and lead to big benefits for weight wellness in the new year. Make the decision to create healthier versions of your favorite holiday foods or start new healthy traditions such as playing an active game or taking a walk with your family. Preventing weight gain during the holiday season is an achievable goal, especially when you make your health an important part of your holiday celebration.
Most of us gain a little extra weight over the holiday season between November and January, but by setting a goal to maintain your weight over the holiday season, you can have a healthier holiday and set yourself on the path to a healthier new year.
- Díaz-Zavala RG, Castro-Cantú MF, Valencia ME, Álvarez-Hernández G, Haby MM, Esparza-Romero J. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. J Obes. 2017;2017:2085136.
- Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, Sebring NG, Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med 2000;342:861–7.
- Schoeller DA. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiol Behav. 2014 Jul;134:66-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.03.018.
- Ogden CL, Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Flegal KM. Mean body weight, height, and body mass index, United States 1960–2002. Adv Data 2004;347:1–17.