Holiday Weight Gain: Nothing to Celebrate


It is a fact that Americans gain weight during the holiday season.

At this time of the year, eye-catching magazine headlines populate the racks along grocery store checkout lanes. Almost every cover hollers about holiday weight gain—avoidance strategies, lower calorie recipes, and big words of warning. Maybe the warning needs to come from health care providers.

It is a fact that Americans gain weight during the holiday season. From last week of November to the first or second week of January, weights tend to increase and studies prove it.

Worldwide, many cultures hold religious and cultural celebrations. No celebration is complete without holiday meals and fat and sugar-filled treats, or alcohol. Adults are at high risk for significant weight gain. The holidays can be stressful for people who are trying to lose weight, or for those who struggle to maintain their weights, but even people who are at healthy weights tend to pack on a few pounds during the holidays. Studies also show that people are less likely to exercise at this time.

Weight gained during the holidays is unlikely to be completely lost in the subsequent year, and some experts think this specific period may be critical for adults who wish to control or lose weight. Studies suggest that up to half of stubborn annual weight gain occurs during the holidays. Health care providers need to talk to patients about these facts.

Health care providers should share that even small weight gains are important because if the weight sticks (and it probably will), it accumulates over the years. And, studies show that even motivated individuals who self-monitor may gain weight.

Patients also need to be aware that they will purchase higher volumes of less-healthy items during the holiday season with the intent of returning to more healthy patterns in the new year. However, research proves otherwise. Retail sales data show that purchasing high calorie, high fat, sugary foods continues in the weeks immediately following holiday seasons. Consumers also buy more healthy items in the early weeks of January, but that may reflect wistful thinking and good ideas rather than good eating patterns.

Many of the factors associated with holiday weight gain are obvious (eg high calorie foods and bigger portion sizes). Health care providers should advise patients to avoid cafeteria style eating—buffets and self-serve tables; they have been proven to cause loss of weight regulation. Food intake under these conditions activates the reward system, and makes eating more highly enjoyable.

Health care providers can suggest several strategies to patients:

· Tell patients that people who purchase foods that are advertised as “low-fat” often eat greater quantities of those foods and feel little guilt, but these foods often have the same or more calories than normal-fat versions.

· Encourage patient to make grocery shopping lists and avoid impulsive purchases (which tend to be less healthy).

· Suggest visualizing a typical shopping cart in the early autumn months, and making a similar cart the goal during the holidays.

· Recommend using visual cues to divide shopping carts and baskets in half, designating half for high-nutrient items and restricting the number of less healthy items to the other half of the cart.


Díaz-Zavala RG, Castro-Cantú MF, Valencia ME, et al. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review.J Obes.2017;2017:2085136. doi: 10.1155/2017/2085136.

Helander EE, Wansink B, Chieh A. Weight Gain over the Holidays in Three Countries.N Engl J Med.2016 Sep 22;375(12):1200-2.

Pope L, Hanks AS, Just DR, et al. New Year’s Res-Illusions: Food Shopping in the New Year Competes with Healthy Intentions.PLoS ONE9(12): e110561. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110561

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