How to prevent piling on pounds at Christmas


As the holiday season looms many people worry about potential weight gain, which, to be fair, has also become somewhat of a tradition at the end of the year. But who says you can’t avoid this? A recent study suggests a very simple solution.

During the holiday season exercise is not exactly on the top of our mind. In other words, Christmas and the New Year are one of the few times during the year when eating yourself silly is not something people tend to beat themselves up about! The weight gain that is associated with the holiday season has even become somewhat of a joke among friends. But there is a downside to all this merriment too: on average, each year the population gains 0.4 to 1 kg and almost 50% of this weight is gained during the holiday season, meaning at Christmas and the New Year. “On Christmas day alone, an individual might consume up to 6,000 calories, or three times the recommended daily allowance”, says Amanda Farley of the University of Birmingham, who is also the co-author of the study. So, what if we decided to change the tradition, to prevent obesity?

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Always keep an eye on the key figures!

You can make it through the holiday season without gaining any weight, as demonstrated in this study, with two very simple solutions. How? By weighing yourself daily and by having a correct idea of the effort you need to make to expend the calories of the food you eat at Christmas and the New Year. In other words, you must always keep an eye on two important figures, namely the numbers on the scale and the number of calories on your plate.

So, does it work? Yes, it does! In the group of 272 British adults (mainly women), who were monitored for 45 days as part of this study, this was quickly revealed to be a winning strategy, as well as a motivational approach. Almost half of the participants were randomized to a leaflet about healthy living. The other half were told to weigh themselves regularly, ideally every day, to record their weight and “to reflect on their weight trajectory”. They also were given 10 tips to manage their weight as well as pictorial information about regularly consumed foods during the holiday season, with information on the physical activity needed to expend the calories per portion (e.g., it takes 32 minutes of walking to burn the calories in a small glass of mulled wine).

You won’t have to lose the weight you don’t gain

The researchers found that the intervention group (the group that monitored its key figures) lost a significant, albeit modest amount of weight. The control group, meanwhile, unsurprisingly gained a little bit of weight. In practice, the difference in terms of weight gain between the two groups was 0.49 kg: -0.13 kilos on average for the first group and +0.37 kilos for the second group. While this is not much in the short term… given that the weight we gain during the holiday season is rarely lost during the year, this small difference has a substantial impact in the long term!

Conclusion: no, piling on pounds at Christmas is anything but inevitable. And preventing weight gain seems to be the best way forward…

Also read: Intuitive eating: the anti-diet by Karine Gravel

Mason F. et al., BMJ, 2018, 363, k4867.