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December 14, 2022

How to Avoid Gaining Five Pounds During the Holidays

Fall is gone and the holiday season has arrived. For many of us, this means we will make the transition from Pumpkin Spice Lattes (50 grams of sugar) to Peppermint Mochas (55 grams of sugar). We’re not spending as much time outdoors because it’s too cold. We’re going to parties and family get-togethers every weekend. Someone is bringing cookies to the office every week. And our stress hormones are elevated because there’s just not enough time to get everything done.

It’s the holiday season—the time of year when most of us stop exercising (I’ll get back to the gym after the first of the year), binge on sugar (just one more won’t hurt me), and eat way more than we usually do. Why wouldn’t we? The stress of shopping and decorating and saying yes to everything we get invited to is enough to make anyone grab a king size pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Christmas Trees at the grocery store check-out line.

Most of us gain about 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I used to think that statistic was a made-up guess, but a recent study at Cornell University proved it to be more than an urban myth. The researchers analyzed the wireless weigh-ins recorded in fitness apps of nearly 3,000 individuals. The trend among Americans revealed that most of us gain about 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The data also indicated that it takes five months for us to lose those holiday pounds. Americans usually maintain a stable weight from May to November, then repeat the cycle of holiday weight gain and spring weight loss.

Another study found that 51% of Americans’ annual weight gain happens during the 6-week winter period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. The average American gains one to two pounds per year from their mid-20s to their mid-50s. That weight gain is usually due to the fact that we gain about five pounds during the holidays, then we only lose three or four pounds before the next holiday season rolls around. Many of us (at least the 42% of us who are obese) repeat this cycle every year until we are 30 to 60 pounds overweight in our mid-50s.

Why not make this year different? What if you reversed the trend and lost weight (or at least stayed the same) during the holiday season? Let’s look at a few tips to help you get and stay on track from now until the beginning of the year.

Don’t have an “I’ll start after the holidays” attitude.

Many Americans give themselves permission to stop exercising and eat like crap between the holidays because they plan to turn over a new leaf and start a big fitness kick in January. For most of us, that big fitness kick is over by Valentine’s Day. This kind of rationalization makes us fatter, lazier, and sicker. Yes, all those sugar binges we go on during the holidays can reduce our immune systems’ effectiveness by as much as 40 percent. I honestly believe many of us get sick around the holidays because of all the sugar we eat.

Giving yourself permission to make unhealthy choices now because you’re going to be super healthy in January is a recipe for feeling sick during one of the best times of the year.

Don’t stop exercising because the weather has changed.

Yes, I know it’s cold outside. But getting outside in cold weather is great for your health. Unless the temperature dips below negative 20 degrees, it’s safe to go outside and walk. Get outside for some physical activity every day—it’s key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. And it has very little to do with how many calories you burn, and everything to do with reducing your stress and helping you feel better.

Getting outside for fresh air is very important for your health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air in your house contains more pollutants than the air outside, especially in the winter. And getting out for a walk on a cool winter day will improve your immune system.

Don’t be afraid to throw food away.

Nobody becomes obese because of one day. We end up gaining those five extra pounds because the cookies, candies and pies hang around in our kitchen for three weeks. If someone brings you a plate of cookies, you have three choices:

  1. Politely say no thank you and refuse the cookies. This is you if you are gluten intolerant. Politely explain your situation to your friend.
  1. Accept the cookies, have one and immediately throw the rest away. This is you if you have the willpower to stop at just one cookie.
  1. Accept the cookies and immediately throw them all away. This is you if you don’t have the willpower to stop at one cookie. (I’m in this group.)

Remember the 80/20 rule (eat simple foods 80% of the time, and allow yourself to relax a little the remaining 20%), but also remember your tendencies. Some people can eat just one piece of pie on Christmas day then ignore the pie after that. For others of us, that one piece of pie can set off sugar cravings that will last for days. If you’re in the second group, avoid the pie and go for a low-sugar desert like a nice keto cheesecake. My wife makes a keto cheesecake at Christmas and it’s amazing.

Getting through the holidays without gaining five extra pounds is all about your attitude. Have a plan and stick to it. Know your weaknesses and avoid them. Don’t stop being active. And don’t be afraid to throw food (crap) away.

Stay Strong,

Bo Railey