Avoid the Santa Belly!
December 28, 2017
Between Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas cookies, people can gain a lot of weight during the holidays. The common belief is that the winter can lead to 5-10 pounds of weight gain. This might not be true: a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 concluded that the average weight gain during the holidays is only .81 pounds. However, this can grow to an extra 1.05 pounds over the year, as it is hard to lose—most people never will.
This weight gain can fluctuate heavily, though. For example, it gets worse in colder weather because people become less likely to go outside an partake in active exercise. The weight gain is also much higher in people who are already overweight, meaning this weight gain can compound exponentially over time. Consider how many holiday seasons you have been through in your adult life. Assuming the first few only accounts for one pound each, this provides a foundation for increased weight gain in later years.
Why people gain weight during the holidays
As we discussed briefly in our article about Christmas cookies, there are more than a few reasons for weight gain during the holidays. The biggest, by far, is overeating. Holiday festivities are so centered around eating that it can lead to obscene amounts of weight gain. The average American consumes 3.4 pounds of candy on Halloween, 3,500 calories during Thanksgiving dinner, and gains 1.3 pounds between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. If you want to avoid gaining weight during the holidays, the first step is moderating your eating.
Winter weight gain goes far beyond that, though. Another contributor to weight gain is decreased activity in the winter. Cold weather makes going outside harsh, and ice can make getting to the gym more difficult. A report from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research published by the American Psychological Association in 2006 shows that the majority of Americans adapt a more sedentary lifestyle in the winter. Life Time Weight Loss published an article that breaks down the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, which are numerous. Not only can a sedentary lifestyle lead to weight gain, but it can also permanently deteriorate muscle, lead to metabolic issues, and create insulin resistance that increases a person’s risk of diabetes.
Finally, of course, winter weight gain is catalyzed by feelings of “cabin fever.” Cabin fever, of course, is easy to deal with. However, it can be a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a much worse issue. We’ve discussed Seasonal Affective Disorder at length before, but it is important to understand how it can affect winter weight gain. While no recent studies have been done to create a direct relationship between Seasonal Affective Disorder and weight gain, a study performed by Comprehensive Psychiatry in 1997 looked into the various symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder that can lead to weight gain. Essentially, Seasonal Affective Disorder can exacerbate winter weight gain by doubling down on the two factors previously mentioned. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder are less likely to get off the couch and more likely to eat an entire batch of cookies—and with 4 to 6 percent of Americans having SAD, this is a huge problem.
Fighting off holiday weight gain
Unfortunately, there are no easy ways to avoid winter weight gain. If you want to counteract it, the best place to start is with your emotions. The core of winter weight issues is motivation and moderation, as the difficulties with Seasonal Affective Disorder show. Everyday Health touched on this topic recently, advising that anyone looking to get in a mindset to lose weight should look for a partner, as well as manage their expectations of how much weight they will lose and how much work they will have to do.
Easily the most important tip offered by Everyday Health, however, is to simply do something active. Playing on the “foot in the door” phenomenon, the best thing we can do to get motivated is to do something. In the winter, you’ll want this to be something quick that you can do indoors. Consider making it a point to make your bed in the morning, or performing a small amount of pushups as soon as you wake up.
Women’s Health provides a great resource for both women and men to deal with overeating: this list published in 2014 shows what nutritionists recommend to deal with overeating. Consider setting goals for yourself this holiday season, creating a hunger scale, or pacing yourself as you pick over Christmas cookies.