It’s that time of year again: candy canes, sugar cookies, and large turkey dinners, followed by eggnog around the fire. For many of us, the holiday season is a joyous time to gather with friends, family, and colleagues to celebrate the year’s cheer.
As I enter the holiday hoorah, I tend to start my New Year’s resolution list. “I’ll watch what I eat after New Year’s,” I’ll say, while eating another serving of pumpkin pie.
“And I’ll start exercising again, too,” I’ll add, propping my feet up on the couch, just in time to continue television’s winter movie marathon.
The problem here is that once the New Year begins, I will have gained weight and likely won’t lose it.
More weight is gained during the holiday season than during any other time of year, explained Brenda Davy, registered dietitian, associate professor of human nutrition, foods and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and affiliated researcher with the Fralin Life Science Institute and the Translational Obesity Research Center.
Not only is weight gained during the holidays, she added, but it’s often not lost during the course of the rest of the year.
Contrary to resolution frenzy, the healthy solution may not be about getting on the right track after the New Year, but instead about making conscientious choices throughout the holiday season.
Davy also explained that additional weight gain tends to happen this time of year because regular routines change. Instead of heading home after work, we engage in parties, gatherings, late night nostalgia—all surrounded by a plethora of food and drink, right there in front of us, to be tried, discussed, nibbled, gobbled, and juxtaposed with feelings.
So how can we keep from adding on extra pounds? One way is to pay close attention to our behavior during the holiday season rather than wait until the start of the New Year.
In a 2011 study published in SCAN’s Pulse newsletter, Davy, along with Virginia Tech colleagues Jyoti “Tina” Savla, associate professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Jamie Zoellner, associate professor of human nutrition, food and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, investigated the effectiveness of daily self-monitoring for weight maintenance over the holidays.
Participants who had already lost weight were able to more successfully maintain their body weight by completing weekly self-tracking logs. In these logs, participants recorded their daily body weight, number of steps per day, and consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Ultimately, the researchers found that self-monitoring body weight, food intake, and physical activity may help prevent weight gain over the holidays.
This is a particularly helpful strategy for overweight, obese individuals because they are potentially at higher risk of gaining weight during the holidays, gaining up to five times more weight than normal weight individuals.
The study also discusses common reasons for general weight gain, including lack of portion control, stress, sugary beverages, eating away from home, consuming too many calories, and lack of physical activity—all behaviors that tend to emerge from holiday festivities and the doldrums of winter months.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly the American Dietetics Association, supports ways we can eat healthier by offering helpful tips for holiday eating and party planning. For suggestions, visit eatright.org and enter search terms like party time or holiday celebrations to get started. This information is free and open to the public.
For additional information on nutrition and how it affects health and obesity, follow Davy on Twitter @DavyBrenda.
Holidays happen. So this year, let’s cheers to our health and start healthy resolutions before we ring in 2016.
Updated Dec. 22, 2015