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Is Holiday Weight Gain A Myth?



by Becky Zelent M.Ed., Landing Program Director, Woodson YMCA


This time of year, you will read many magazine and newspaper articles that say the average weight gain during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is 7-10 pounds. Is that a fact or just a myth? The answer is, in fact, both!


How can it be both a fact and a myth? The 7-10 pound average weight gain is a fact, though it is actually closer to 5-8 pounds. However, the good news is of that 5-8 pound weight gain, only 1-2 pounds is actual body fat. The other good news? The majority of holiday weight gain is temporary. Once people go back to eating more healthfully and limiting their food volume, their weight tends to go back to normal or just slightly above what they weighed prior to Thanksgiving.


In an article in Explore Health, Cynthia Sass, a registered dietician, with a Master’s Degree in Public Health explained that many popular holiday foods encourage water retention and bloating. The two main culprits are carbohydrates and high sodium foods, though each affects the body a little differently. Extra carbohydrates such as cookies, pies, breads, and crackers are eaten in higher volume than usual this time of year. These “carbs”, as they are commonly known, are very high in starch and sugar and get stored as glycogen in muscle tissue. The surplus of carbs cause you to feel more sluggish and your clothes to fit tighter. In addition to carbohydrates, high sodium foods are also to blame for holiday weight gain because sodium helps the body hold onto fluids, commonly known as water retention and bloating. Traditional holiday foods that are high in sodium are: cheese & crackers, dips, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, and stuffing. However, a word of caution for you. Food doesn’t have to taste salty to be high in sodium. Some common holiday items with high sodium levels are: yeast breads, rolls, and cookies.


To keep yourself looking and feeling your best during this holiday season, while still enjoying the culinary delights of the holidays, try these tips:

1. Increase your water intake. Not only will you feel fuller, but you will also retain less water and feel less bloated.

2. Make a point of increasing your intake of vegetables whenever possible. They add bulk and vitamins without a lot of calories.

3. Increase rather than skip physical activity. Go for a walk or dance if there’s a party. It not only burns calories but also helps you feel less hungry.

4. Decide ahead of time which are your favorite food items and where you’re going to “spend your calories.” You’ll find that your enjoyment actually goes up and total calorie intake goes down.

5. Eat what you want, but do it mindfully. Eat slowly and really enjoy it!

Though the actual true weight gain during the holidays is only 1 to 2 pounds, with a little bit of effort and some mindful choices, you’ll be able to enhance your enjoyment without expanding your waistline.

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