holiday weight gain

While it’s commonly reported that people gain about five pounds during the holiday season, normal-weight people often gain about one pound between mid-November and mid-January, but the problem is that they never lose it, according to research in the journal of Physiology & Behavior. Whether you gain one pound or five, it’s likely to from three main sources.

The number one cause of holiday weight gain is an increased caloric intake. It takes 3,500 extra calories to form one pound of fat. Sadly, there are 3,500 calories in that one meal you had at Thanksgiving (as well as the breakfast of pecan pie and sweet potato casserole the next day, and the 3 pomegranate martinis and fried calamari at yesterday’s holiday party). That coupled with the second source of weight gain during the holidays, decreased activity, can put an extra pants size on your next shopping list. The last source of weight gain during the holidays is SAD, seasonal affective disorder. This is when a lack of sunlight leads to a depressed/lethargic state, and although those in the northern hemisphere are most affected, southerners are at risk as well.

How to Be More Mindful During the Holidays

Good news! There is still hope for you. You can actually not only survive the holiday season, but actually thrive during it! What do all three of the above sources of holiday weight gain have in common? Hormone imbalances and a lack of planning.

Your Hormones and Holiday Weight Gain

We used to think that some weight gain over the holiday season was due to hormone regulation to encourage “hibernation”, or up-regulating hunger and cravings and down regulating energy in order to increase fat for the winter months. This hypothesis has since been squashed, but hormones are still at the root of much of our holiday weight gain.

What does the holiday season bring? Joy, excitement, family … as well as excessive anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation… all of which affect our adrenal glands. Excessive anxiety and stress can lead to increased cortisol levels. Sustained cortisol production can lead to increased food cravings and binge eating (i.e. increased calorie intake over the holidays). It can also alter our glucocorticoids, a class of hormones that regulate blood sugar and insulin release (possible fat storage).

Sleep deprivation (from holiday parties, online shopping, or excessive binge watching of Christmas lifetime movies) throws off melatonin production, the chief hormone for our circadian rhythms and our hunger time-clock. The chronic sleep deprived have a 15% increase in ghrelin release (one of our hunger hormones) and an overall decrease in leptin (our satiety hormone). End result: more over-eating!

So should you just throw in the towel and grab another pint of Ben & Jerry’s?

No! With a small amount of planning, we can better regulate your stress, your sleep, your hormones, your activity level, and your waistline!

Create a successful holiday life plan.

1. Step one will be to better plan eating habits over the next 30 days. Get your daily planner out. Mark down all of the holiday parties, the movie nights, the overscheduled shopping trips.
2. Make a meal plan for the days you will be eating at home. Include a grocery list and when you can go to the store. Schedule lighter meals for the days you will be partaking in higher-calorie dinners or parties.
3. Start researching healthier alternatives for “treats” you may normally prepare for parties or get-togethers.
4. Create or purchase healthy snacks/ bars for your purse or car for those extra-long days of work or errands.
5. Have a start and stop point when it comes to alcohol at parties–maybe limit how many days/week to include alcohol.
6. Keep a daily food log for accountability. (We like MyFitnessPal.)
7. Snack before parties, you will be less likely to overeat. Then, at the party, only eat off of a plate, and socialize away from the buffet line.

No matter what, always have a plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Delicious Low-Carb Snacks That Fill You Up

Fight Adrenal Fatigue

Ready to take it a step further? Add in foods that will help eliminate or prevent adrenal fatigue, balanced hormones during the holiday season it a must. Foods high in caffeine, sugar, and processed or refined flours will exacerbate adrenal fatigue. Instead, focus on nutrient dense foods like salmon (anti-inflammatory properties), grass-fed beef (B vitamins), seaweed (vitamins A, B, sodium, potassium),wild rice (quality carbohydrates, fiber for energy), figs, blueberries, blackberries (anti-oxidant properties), and avocado, chia, or flax seeds (omega -3s to decrease inflammation).

Remember to hydrate!

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration not only leads to fatigue, but also to overeating and a lowered ability to burn fat. (Alcohol dehydrates you for 72 hours.) Drink at least half of your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water daily.

This article first appeared on as “Why You Gain Weight Over the Holidays” and was reposted here with permission.

– By Mindy Black and Sammy Pappas, R.D.s

Smart Lifebites