How Much Weight Do We Gain At Christmas, And What Can We Do To Avoid It?
Controlling excesses at Christmas is not easy. In a very short period, there are parties, family celebrations, company meals, etc., which lead us to eat very high calorie meals and consume many drinks (mainly with sugar and/or alcohol). These excesses in food and drink can make us feel unwell the following days, which can lead us to neglect our lifestyle habits in terms of physical activity, food and rest. This is why Christmas is considered a critical period for weight gain.
But how much weight can we gain at Christmas?
The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a curious study quantifying the average body weight that an American can gain during Christmas (in this case counting from Thanksgiving Day - celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November - until after New Year's Day) (1). Although the average increase in these 6 weeks (~+0.4 kg) would not seem excessive, it is striking that this weight gain was not lost in the following months, including the summer months. Moreover, how hard it is to fight against the weighing scale at Christmas is reflected in the fact that those who had tried to lose weight during these dates not only failed to do so, but also gained slightly more weight (+0.13 kg) (1). Although it may not seem clinically relevant, the cumulative effect of the gain in these few weeks would be equivalent to a body weight gain of 2 kg in only 5 years, which could contribute to the alarming increase in overweight and obesity rates in recent years (2). Similarly, a study carried out in 258 overweight patients who had been following a low-calorie diet for at least one month showed the difficulty of avoiding excesses during Christmas (3). Thus, in the two weeks of festivities from December 25th to January 5th, these people gained an average of 0.29 kg.
And how can we avoid gaining weight this Christmas?
A recent study by Spanish researchers has attempted to answer this question (4). The research evaluated the effects of a supervised exercise intervention during the three weeks of Christmas (December 20th to January 10th) on body weight and cardiometabolic health in people with overweight and metabolic syndrome. Prior to the Christmas holidays, the participants had participated in a 12-week exercise intervention. However, when the holiday period arrived, they were randomly divided into a group that continued training and one that stopped training. At the end of Christmas, the control group had increased body weight (+0.7 kg), insulinemia (+2.3 µIU·mL−1), and mean blood pressure (+3.1 mmHg). In contrast, the intervention group not only did not suffer these negative effects, but also reduced their total and LDL-cholesterol levels (-8.7 mg·dL−1and -9.2 mg·dL−1, respectively).
We must be aware that what we do at Christmas can have important effects on our future health. Therefore, celebrate the holidays with your loved ones, but do so in moderation and with physical exercise.
Author: Javier S. Morales, UCA
1. Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O'Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861-7.
2. Abarca-Gómez L, Abdeen ZA, Hamid ZA, Abu-Rmeileh NM, Acosta-Cazares B, Acuin C, et al. Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128·9 million children, adolescents, and adults. Lancet. 2017;390(10113):2627–42.
3. García CG, Berná A, Sebastià N, Soriano JM. Prospective study on the effect of the influence of holiday periods in the weight during a low-calory dietetic treatment. Nutr Hosp. 2013;28(6):2246-51.
4. Ramirez-Jimenez M, Morales-Palomo F, Ortega JF, Moreno-Cabañas A, Guio de Prada V, Alvarez-Jimenez L, Mora-Rodriguez R. Effects of Exercise Training during Christmas on Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Health in Overweight Individuals. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(13):4732.