Holiday Weight Gain: 5 Simple Strategies to Stay Fit This Holiday Season

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holiday weight gain

As good a time as this holiday season offers, there is also the harsh reality of holiday weight gain. Or is there?

It’s the time of the year when eating and drinking take center stage. Office parties, gatherings with friends and family, and other celebrations scatter the calendar.

Every year, people talk about the weight they put on over the holidays. There seems to be a general consensus that the average holiday weight gain is between seven and 10 pounds. But where does this number come from? Are people eating and drinking that much?

The Truth about Holiday Weight Gain

In reality, to gain one pound, you’ve got to eat about 3,500 calories worth of extra energy per day—meaning you’re above and beyond your maintenance calories.

For example, if based on your current weight and activity levels you need about 1,800 calories per day, you’d have to consume 5,300 calories at least 10 times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. If your maintenance calories are 3,000 daily, you’d need to eat an additional 6,500 calories.

Eating that much in both scenarios is a real struggle. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that, for the majority of you, it might be impossible.

When you look at it in relative terms, you see how ridiculous the claim of putting on 10 pounds in a month is. Most people don’t even put on 10 pounds in a year. Even those who are obese have been acquiring their excess weight over the course of years.

So, how much weight can you gain over the holidays?

Well, it really depends on how hard you want to work at it. You can gorge yourself for a month and probably put on a few pounds—maybe even 10 if you really put your heart into it.

Most Americans, however—and this is according to scientific research published in the New England Journal of Medicine—average less than a pound of weight gain during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

The study found that less than 10% of participants gained five pounds or more, which still sits well below the commonly held belief that people gain about 10 pounds.

When the Scale Says You’re Heavier

There are a lot of factors that can affect a scale reading, and they may be even more pronounced during the holiday season.

Your scale weight can be influenced by the time of day you weigh yourself, water retention, and what you’ve eaten in the past week. And all of these factors can lead to an increase in weight.

That weight, however, is not going to be fat mass most of the time.

Let’s say, for example, that you wake up on Dec. 26 after big dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Let’s toss in some grazing on sweets and a few seasonal cocktails for good measure.

If you look at the scale and you’re six pounds heavier than you were at your last weigh-in, you might think that you put on six pounds of fat. But you didn’t.

What’s really happened is that the snacks and alcohol—and likely the salt in the dinner—has led you to retain water. The extra weight could also be attributed to the fact that all the food hasn’t passed entirely through your digestive system yet.

If you have a normal day of eating, drink plenty of water, and get to the bathroom, you’re likely to lose the weight in a day or two. It’s not fat mass.

Still, there is the opportunity to gain weight over the holidays, and even a pound per year can add up. If you want to avoid holiday weight gain, there are some simple strategies to help you out.

Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Although it’s a good idea to sit back enjoy yourself over the holidays and eat the stuff you love for the season, keeping it in check is a must.

Here are five tips on getting through the season with minimal impact on your waistline.

1. Eat Before Shopping

If you’re planning on hitting the malls for some seasonal shopping, it’s worthwhile to eat a healthy meal at home before heading out.

Packing a snack like almonds or an apple is useful if you’re there for a long time. It will help you avoid the calorically dense junk food sold in mall food courts and kiosks.

2. Avoid Picking

One of the biggest obstacles to weight maintenance over the holidays is the accessibility of little chocolates, candies, and baked goods. They’re probably in the office and on the side tables of friends and family, ripe for the picking.

You can avoid these by having your own healthy snacks handy to reach for at work, and by not getting too close at the homes of family or friends.

Don’t be too scared of them, though. A couple of pieces won’t hurt!

3. Eat Slowly

It takes about 20 minutes to start feeling full after you start eating, so pace yourself. Don’t load food onto your plate, but rather take a reasonable amount of all the offerings you like.

Eat slowly and wait to see if you’re full. This allows you to enjoy the flavor a little more while almost guaranteeing that you won’t need to go back for more helpings.

4. Go Easy on the Lead-Up

If you’re concerned about overeating at the holiday table and you want to make as much room to stuff yourself to the top, prepare for it.

In the preceding few days, try to practice very healthy eating habits. Stick to nutritious items like salads, veggies, nuts and lean proteins, and maybe even fast for the morning leading into the big meal.

Of course, bingeing for the meal is never the best idea. But if you’ve been looking forward to it all year and there’s no stopping it, at least go in with a little extra room in the tummy!

5. Get Back to Normal as Fast as Possible

The biggest key to avoiding holiday weight gain is sticking to normal life as much as possible, save for a few days.

Be selective with how often you’re eating out, and try to eat beforehand if meeting colleagues and friends for drinks. On the off days, live a normal life and eat healthy.

After the big feasts, don’t hang on and keep snacking for days on end. Instead, enjoy the meal, have a great time, and then get back to your regular habits the next day.

Falling into bad habits during the season is the more likely cause of notable weight gain.

Holiday Weight Gain Is Only a Little More Real Than Santa Claus

The reality is that you probably won’t put on nearly as much weight as you think during the holidays—if any at all.

Planning your meals and not going overboard is likely enough to prevent holiday weight gain and allow you to enjoy the fruits of the season. For the most part, keep up with your regular eating and exercise habits and things should be just fine.

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Article Sources (+)

Yanovski, J., et al, “A prospective study of holiday weight gain,” New England Journal of Medicine, March 2000, 342(12):861-7;, last accessed December 12, 2017.
Saunders, T., “The truth about holiday weight gain,” PLOS, December 17, 2014;, last accessed December 12, 2017.