Holiday Weight Gain a Big Fat Lie

The above headline comes from the December 2002 MSNBC – Web MD health website. The story suggests that holiday weight gain has less to do with overeating and more to do with lack of exercise and habits over the entire year. The story starts off by saying “Weight gain is often blamed on the season, the rich, sweet and gourmet foods that surround the holidays. The real problem, experts say, is lack of physical activity year-round, as well as serving sizes and self control, moderation is key.”

The article quotes a March 2000 study from the New England Journal of Medicine which showed that out of a study of 195 adults, followed from late September to early March, the majority put on only 1.06 pounds in that six months’ time. However, by the following September, 165 of the participants were weighed again. This time on average, they were each up about 1.36 pounds from their initial weights. This showed that the modest weight gain these people experienced over the holidays was never lost over the next six months.

Dr. Jack A. Yanovski, head of Growth and Obesity at the National Institutes of Health, said that these results show good and bad news. “The good news is that most people are not gaining five or six pounds during the holidays, but the bad news is that weight gained over the winter holidays isn’t lost during the rest of the year.”

Cynthia Sass, nutritionist with BayCare Health System in Clearwater, Fla., and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says, “Fat gain really does require overeating over many days and weeks and months.” She also noted that people who try to under-eat before the holidays are just losing water and carbohydrates stored in muscles, all of which will naturally stabilize over time. It’s the time spent exercising, or getting some physical activity, that really determines who gains more than one pound.

Sass has several recommendations that can help over the holidays.

  1. Get rid of the negative, guilt-ridden thoughts about “these horrible extra calories.” Enjoy the holiday dinner.
  2. Fix your traditional favorites the stuffing, the pie as you always have or you’ll feel cheated. Certain side dishes could lose a little fat, like the green bean casserole, candied yams, and buttered mashed potatoes. Steamed green beans, broccoli, mashed sweet potatoes, and unglazed carrots can fill in the gaps. “You’re compromising, but not in a depriving sort of way.”
  3. Eat a little bit less than you otherwise might. Eat slower. Pick one desert to treat yourself, rather than taste-testing all of them.
  4. Incorporate physical activity into your get-togethers with friends and family. Play charades or games, learn a new dance step anything that makes you move around some.
  5. Take a walk after dinner but don’t force anyone who’s overweight to walk if they’re not used to it. “Especially after a big meal, you have less blood flow and oxygen to your heart and lungs. Your body is still trying to digest it all.”
  6. Remember that quality of life enjoying life is important. Part of that is maintaining good health by preventing disease.