Moving Beyond Holiday Weight Gain

Holiday Weight Gain is Real

The real and rather pesky phenomenon of holiday weight gain has been studied at length by nutrition researchers. Despite some headlines reporting gains of 10 pounds or more, research finds American adults gain an average of 0.5 kilograms, or about one pound during the holiday season. This equates to about 50 extra calories a day - or one bite size chocolate bar - over the weeks of November through January. I know what you’re thinking. If one measly mini chocolate bar a day is the problem, then we’re all doomed.

There’s more. It also turns out there’s a lot of variation from one person to the next when it comes to holiday weight gain, and that variability is largely determined by your baseline weight. People with a ‘healthy’ body mass index (BMI = 18.5 - 24.9) tend to gain less during the holidays than those who are overweight or obese. Plus, short-term weight gain is more likely to stick around for those with greater BMIs.

Strategies abound. One biggie is self-monitoring. Researchers have spent a good deal of time figuring out if this works, and the general conclusion is that food logs, weigh-ins and calorie counting does not help ward off unwanted holiday pounds. Even those highly motivated individuals gain weight during the holidays just like everyone else.


The Party Plate

a minefield of choices 


Practice the Pause

But let’s return to that mini chocolate bar…That single data point clearly tells us that it’s the little things adding up daily over the holiday weeks that really do, well, add up. Rather than fixating on the calorie counts of the candy bar or how many candy bars were eaten after the fact, what if you bring awareness to the moment before the first bite?

Initiate awareness by pausing for three seconds, or the time it takes to inhale and exhale three times. Then ask yourself if you really want this exact treat right now. No need for a highly intellectual debate in your head. Simply distill it down to yes or no. In other words, you’re ‘monitoring’ your sense of what you do or do not want to eat in a given moment as opposed to ‘monitoring’ the food like a math equation. It’s essentially moving from externalized, dogmatic self-monitoring to an internalized, dynamic awareness.

During this holiday season, practice this pause whenever you find yourself confronted with holiday treats. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. It will start to feel like a natural routine. In fact, the pause can bring about a welcome change of pace, quite literally, in a frenzied time.


Holiday Party Tactics

Holiday schedules often include numerous festive gatherings and weekend parties, which means we’re met with an assortment of sweet nibbles and scrumptious bites on multiple occasions. It’s basically repeated sensory overload, which if unchecked, leads to calorie overload which leads to weight gain.

When in a holiday party situation, consider this approach:

  • Browse

    • Check out all of your options. Just like you wouldn’t buy the first sweater you see at your favorite clothing store, don’t succumb to eating the first sweet treat that catches your eye. Instead, scan all the choices and consider what looks most appealing in that moment. And by the way, no grazing under the guise of searching for your favorite. You’re an adult. You know what you like.

  • Select Your Sweet Trio

    • Zone in on up to three options that appeal to you. Consider texture too. Perhaps gooey chocolate fudge, salty white chocolate covered pretzels and peanut brittle cover the ground of sweet and salty plus creamy and crunchy. Aim for three bites of each sweet. The first few bites are the most enjoyable anyhow. You’re not trying to fill up on it, just savor it.

  • Pair with Protein

    • Pair your sweets trio with a protein-rich savory option such as chicken, shrimp or tofu. A few bites of protein, especially if eaten before your sweet trio, will help satisfy your hunger and cravings. And if there’s any indulgent tendencies brewing within, best to eat a few extra bites of protein over a few extra sweets.

  • Plate It

    • Find a small plate (even a hefty napkin will do). Stage your chosen items like they’re each special - because they are. You chose each individually and thoughtfully, and they deserve to be plated. Not only does this step help with portion control, it also sets the tone that there’s no space in the mind or on the plate for mindless calories.

  • Enjoy

    • It almost goes without saying, but be sure to actually enjoy your delights! If for some reason, something you’ve chosen isn’t to your liking at all or even if it’s just that the cake is a tad dried out, then don’t finish it and don’t replace it either. It’s okay to just leave some behind.


From the three second pause to the holiday party approach, bringing a combination of awareness and pre-meditated tactics to the situation is one of the best overall defenses against unwanted pounds. Who knows, this sort of tactical awareness may turn into a successful post-holiday habit too. Try it all out and let me know how it goes.  


BMI Calculator -
The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight