Well, here we go again. As the holidays approach, the guilt comes even quicker. “I’m probably going to gain 10 pounds over the holidays.” Really? Do we really gain that much weight over the holiday seasons? If so, is it temporary, or do we carry it with us for the rest of the year? These are good questions and worth taking the time to explore further.
Is Holiday Weight Gain Temporary? Yes. With a healthy diet and exercise, the 1-2 pounds the average person puts on over the holidays is easily lost and, therefore, temporary. However, most people do not lose those 1-2 pounds and carry it over year to year.
Whew! I’m feeling less stressed already. But, if holiday weight gain isn’t that significant and is easily lost, why are Americans getting fatter every year? Where did this myth of holiday weight gain come from, and what other myths need to see the light of day? Finally, what can you do to minimize the risk of permanent holiday weight gain while still enjoying the holiday season? Let’s find out.
Do We Gain Weight During the Holidays?
Why would we gain weight during the holidays? That’s easily answered: we eat more food. We also eat more fattening foods and tend to drink more alcohol. During the holidays, we tend to have family gatherings with a meal as the centerpiece. Think Thanksgiving, Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, all are well known for the meals associated with them.
As a society, we tend to link family gatherings with food anyway. It’s kind of a thing with us. When you add in the “special” holiday, that relationship is strengthened and underscored.
However, as already discussed, the average person actually only gains 2 pounds or less over the traditional Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season. That doesn’t sound like enough to worry about. Why do we have this myth that we’re all gaining 5-10 pounds or a full pant size during this time?
What Studies Tell Us
One study from Texas Tech University found that the average person gains about 2.2 pounds per year. Unfortunately, about 1.7 of those pounds are gained between November and January. Possibly this is where the myth originates.
It is interesting to note that in addition to actual weight, there was an increase in body fat and blood pressure, as well. Also, interestingly, the results were not gender-specific.
Furthermore, patients who were obese going into the study tended to have the highest weight gain, body fat, and blood pressure increases.
Not very surprising when you think about it. Being obese tends to make it difficult to move around and lose that weight. So, if you increase the caloric intake during this timeframe (as we all do) and can’t increase the activity level, higher weight gain, body fat, and blood pressure are certainly to be expected.
Perhaps the fact that Americans are gaining 10-15 pounds per decade is the origin of the myth of holiday weight gain. The problem isn’t that we gain 2 pounds over that 2-month period, the problem is we don’t LOSE those 2 pounds over the next 10-month period. So, the weight accumulates and becomes the obesity epidemic we see now.
In this case, the “holiday weight gain” was not temporary. Since it was not addressed, it became a permanent reminder of the excesses enjoyed during holidays past and present and, unfortunately, probably a preview of holidays future.
Holiday Weight Gain Myths – Debunked!
Here are five holiday weight gain myths we will discuss, then demythify (is that really a word?)!
Myth 1 – Most People Gain a Full Size over the Holiday Season
We’ve already touched on this one, but I think more evidence as to the fallacy of this myth is in order.
In addition to the Texas Tech study referenced earlier, WebMD backs up the 1-2 pound average with an uncited study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
They point out to truly gain weight requires overeating on a regular basis, over the course of days and days, not just a meal here or there.
Health.com continues with this trend, pointing out what most of us interpret as weight gain after that huge meal at Aunt Sally’s house is more likely bloat.
Most of those yummy meals are very carbohydrate heavy. As the body breaks those carbs down, the excess is stored as glycogen in your body. This storage will cause you to feel sluggish and make your clothes feel tighter. As you resume normal eating and activity, that glycogen will be used, and the resulting bloat reduced.
Additionally, our meals tend to be more sodium-rich, which causes water retention and bloat associated with that. Again, resumption of normal eating and activity should allow your body to eliminate the excess and reduce the bloat, and your size, back to normal levels within a day or two.
Myth 2 – I’ll Exercise More with my New Year’s Resolution and Lose it All.
Sure, you will. More likely, you won’t. There is the big rub. Though the amount of weight we gain is insignificant, it becomes obesity as it gathers over time.
Like little grains of sand washing up on the beach, pretty soon you’ll have your own sand dunes around your butt and thighs if you don’t lose those pounds as you go.
Yet, we don’t.
In fact, most of our resolutions are out the window by the second week of February….to the tune of 80% of those resolutions, according to U.S. News and World Report. Of those resolutions, over 55% are weight-loss related.
So, if we gain 2 pounds and fail to lose those 2 pounds, plus whatever other weight gain may occur over the course of a year, the myth of holiday weight gain begins to make some sense. With the largest part of our annual gain of 2-3 pounds coming during that 2-month period, the association in our mind becomes more understandable.
Myth 3 –If I Skip Meals, I won’t Gain as Much During the Big Meals.
On the surface, this one makes some sense. If I know I’m going to have a big dinner at Granny Betty’s Tuesday night, I can skip breakfast and lunch, save those calories, and enjoy dinner without worry, right?
Whoops! Wrong again! The probabilities are that you will eat a LOT more at Granny Betty’s if you go in hungry than you would if you regularly ate during the day.
If you want to eat less at Granny’s house, drink a full glass of water 10 minutes or so before you begin that meal. This will pre-fill your stomach, and you will want to eat less. It also has the extra benefit of keeping you well hydrated and reducing the risk of a hangover tomorrow, if you’re indulging in alcohol as well.
Another tip is to lay down your fork when you finish your plate and wait 10 minutes to see if you’re full or if you really do want that third helping of mashed potatoes. You’ll be surprised how frequently you’re actually full and didn’t realize it. You simply hadn’t given your brain enough time to let you know to stop.
Myth 4 – I’ll Just Eat Healthy Foods
What are you thinking? If you are truly able to look at all that yummy stuff and just munch on celery sticks (minus ranch dressing, mind you), then you probably don’t have any weight gain to worry about. Plus, we can’t be friends anymore, just saying.
Most of us mere mortals go into a big holiday meal with that exact plan, however. Then, we see and smell all those lovely calories, dipped in gravy and butter, and our plan is out the window.
If you can stick with that plan, how about the resentment and anger that comes with it. Everyone else is enjoying that cheesecake while you nibble like a rabbit with anorexia. And it’s the holidays, too.
Seriously, allow yourself some indulgence. Identify 1 or 2 “special” foods that you’re going to have and don’t ruin the day for yourself (or others). Since you’re giving yourself the “specials,” you’re less likely to feel anger or resentment. You’re also more likely to stick with the plan and not throw it out the window and over-indulge in other areas.
Myth 5 – I’ll Hit the Gym Tomorrow
If you do, more power to you. However, most of us won’t. We’ll think about it (maybe), then Cousin Eddie, who’s only in town for three days, will want to get together for a drink or Aunt Edna will throw a little brunch and you absolutely can’t hurt her feelings by not showing up, right?
The holidays are a busy time. Though you certainly want to work in work-out time (wow, that’s an interesting phrase), you probably won’t get in as much exercise as you have in the past. At least, not traditional exercise. There are other options.
Want to increase the activity while still maintaining the social aspect of the holidays? There are ways. Maybe start a new tradition of a tag football match after the brunch? Too snowy? How about a Wii Dance Off, with the winner receiving some form of a cheesy trophy that gets handed down to next year’s winner (do I sense a new tradition here?).
If you’re lucky enough to live where there’s good weather year-around, maybe a post-lunch scavenger hunt to help prepare for the upcoming dessert fest.
Be creative and find ways to increase your activity during this time, and you may find that your “holiday weight gain” is mere ounces or nonexistent.
Ways to Lose Holiday Weight Gain.
There are ways to reduce holiday weight gain, a few of which I’ve given you already. However, I know of few people who wouldn’t like all the hints and tips possible, so I thought we’d throw a few more ideas in here to see if we can’t help relieve your mind.
The following suggestions, if followed regularly, can help you lose an average of 1 pound per week. Where I can, I will include the average caloric savings.
For those of you who want to go for a RADICAL change: WildFit.
Wildfit is a radical 90-Day Challenge that will change the way you see and experience your food for good.
This year, I implemented the WildFit practice after the holiday season and was off my extra weight in 2 weeks. It also helped me regain so much energy.
But WildFit is not easy, and if you dive into it the first time, you really need to commit for the 90 days. I reckon this might not be the time yet for some of you. And that’s ok.
That’s why I’ve come up with a few small steps which still can have a big impact and help you lose that extra holiday weight…
No, I’m not going to even suggest losing your daily fix. I’m helpful, not suicidal. However, if you’re like a lot of folks, your daily java is more like a double mocha latte with extra whip and so forth.
Even if you’re much better behaved and have a 16-ounce latte with 2% milk, try a 12-ounce with coconut milk instead. You’ll cut calories and may improve your “good” cholesterol levels. Over the course of 7 days, this little swap will save you about 560 calories.
Many people drink orange juice in the morning, particularly during the winter. It’s a great way to get your Vitamin C and pretty darn tasty, too.
One suggestion is to reduce your 8-ounce glass to 4-ounces of juice and 4-ounces of seltzer water: a new taste and an easy 425 fewer calories per week.
Really? Am I going to mess with chocolate? I’m sure that’s probably illegal in some states. However, this really is a tasty change.
If you’re in the habit of grabbing a handful of M&Ms in the afternoon, try switching that out for two squares of dark chocolate. You’ll still get that “sweet” fix and the energy pickup we all love, but you’ll save about 600 calories and be giving your heart a little smile, too.
This is a super easy change, has nothing to do with food, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home. Ready? Stand up.
That’s right. Sitting burns about 100 calories per hour. Standing, on the other hand (or foot), burns 140 calories, on average. Not walking, just standing! Plus, the break is extremely good for reducing anxiety, improving cardiovascular health, and even reduces the risk of certain types of cancers.
Standing for 2 hours per day will also save you around 560 calories by the end of the week.
During the cold season, especially, folks like to enjoy soup for a meal. The warmth, the comfort, the creaminess, the calories!
Change up your soup choices. Rather than a cream-based soup like tomato or broccoli-cheddar or, heaven forbid, cheesy enchilada, try a broth-based soup.
Broth-based soups include options like vegetable or chicken noodle. Dieticians state that making this change five days a week could reduce your caloric intake by around 900 calories.
More of a salad sort of person? Many of us are. The problem isn’t necessarily your salad as much as your dressing.
Even if you’re playing it smart and order the dressing on the side, dipping your greens into the dressing or adding the dressing directly to your salad is unnecessarily increasing calories.
Instead, dip the tines of your fork into your dressing, then add the salad components on to the same fork.
You’ll get less dressing per bite, while still getting that lovely flavor. This tip alone could save you up to 500 calories. Changing to balsamic dressing from Caesar’s will save you an additional 70 calories per tablespoon.
Health.com states to lose 1 pound per week, you need to reduce your calorie intake or increase your caloric output an average of 500 calories per day.
They also have a total of 32 different ways to help you lose that “holiday weight.” Check them out and use whatever works best for you.
So, we’ve confirmed that “holiday weight gain” is temporary, but only if you take the steps necessary to make it so.
Too many of us don’t, which is why we’ve become a country of fatties. But whether you join those ranks or not is entirely up to you.
To avoid gaining weight in the first place, make a plan and stick to it as best you can. Plan your indulgences, eat well before your big meal, drink water, and pace yourself. It takes your brain around 10 minutes to decide you’re full. You need to give it the chance to let your mouth know. Put that fork down and wait.
If you still gain the average 1-2 pounds over the holidays, make use of some or all the suggestions provided. You can easily lose 1-2 pounds in just a couple of weeks if you focus and make it a priority. Don’t recriminate yourself. Don’t stare at the mirror in horror. Get up and get it gone.
Increase your activity, make some dietary changes, or switch a few things up for a bit. None of the suggested changes are life-altering in and of themselves, yet they have the power to keep your weight under control, which is life-altering and incredibly personally empowering.
If you don’t, you can join the multitudes that make and break their ‘lose weight’ resolution every New Year’s Eve.
Then, that weight gain will no longer be “temporary,” and the holiday weight gain myth will become your personal reality.