Holiday Weight Gain
With the holiday season quickly approaching, it is appropriate for patients, practitioners and other stakeholders to avoid holiday weight gain. This time of year, stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, and sometimes expanded to include Halloween, includes indulgence in food and drink beyond recommendations for a balanced diet. Weight gain during the holidays is a common problem, although most American adults typically gain only around one pound. Unfortunately, people do not typically lose that one pound in the following year. When it happens repeatedly, holiday weight gain can put people at risk of weight-related conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. Another worrying finding is that those who are already overweight gain more holiday weight than those at healthy weight.
Holiday weight gain is also prevalent in other countries. One study found that participants in Germany experienced the same seasonal weight fluctuations as Americans, and Japanese participants gained weight during Golden Week, an important national holiday in Japan (Figure 1). This finding suggests that weight fluctuations throughout the year are linked to consumption patterns during holidays.
How can holiday weight gain be avoided? A recent study reported that a ten-week program directed at state employees was effective at preventing weight gain during the fall holiday season (Halloween through New Year’s). This team-based intervention emphasized the role of social support in weight maintenance and allowed employees to form groups and compete for prizes. The researchers found that participants actually lost weight during the intervention period. Those who participated in the intervention two years in a row averaged a 2.5 lb. weight loss.
Interventions that target the individual have also shown promise. Both self-regulation and consistent self-weighing during the holiday season have led to successful weight management. A pilot study examining intermittent fasting suggested that intervals of caloric restriction could effectively reduce holiday weight gain. Another promising study found that conjugated linoleic acid was effective in reducing body fat in overweight patients and preventing holiday weight gain.
Consistent with the studies on self-regulation and self-weighing, recommendations from health experts revolve around mindfulness: those who are trying to prevent holiday weight gain should be intentional about which treats to choose, recognize the caloric content of alcoholic beverages, and make an effort to relieve holiday stress with physical activity, rather than overeating.
Although one pound of weight gain after the holidays seems benign, over the course of a lifetime it can add up to an amount that significantly impacts health. Increased physical activity following a heavy meal can help. However, strategies that increase awareness of this risk as well as new ways that balance celebration with overconsumption are needed to help individuals counteract weight gain during this high-risk season.