The Real Truth About Holiday Weight Gain

Do people really gain 10 pounds over the holidays? Is maintaining a healthy weight even possible this time of year? You may be pleasantly surprised to learn the real truth about holiday weight gain!

As the holiday season starts to close, you step on the scale and see a five-pound jump from a few weeks ago. You start to fret and feel as if that hard work put into reaching an ideal weight has been unraveled.

But you may be pleasantly surprised to learn the real truth about holiday weight gain. What’s more, there are tried and true tips to keep weight loss and maintenance goals in check while enjoying the holiday season! 

5 Holiday Weight Gain Facts and Myths

Do people really gain five to 10 pounds over the holidays and is maintaining a healthy weight even possible this time of year? 

Find out the real truth about holiday weight gain (or lack thereof)! 

1. A five to 10-pound weight gain is common.

False: According to research, weight gain over the holidays is less than one pound.

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, holiday celebrations and parties are abundant. This, in turn, often means an abundance of food and an increase in calorie intake during this time of year. Most people assume they gain about five or more pounds throughout this seasonal stent.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine set out to find how much weight is actually gained. The researchers measured body weight in almost 200 adults on separate occasions:

  • Pre-holiday (late September to mid-November)
  • Holiday (November to January) 
  • Post-Holiday (January to March)

Weight increased significantly during the Holiday, but not during the pre-holiday or post-holiday intervals. But the gain is far less than commonly assumed. 

In fact, the researchers discovered people gain about 0.37 kilograms or about 0.80 pounds. 

2. Holiday weight gain is likely water weight gain.

True: Weight gain is often a reflection of fluid retention.

Whereas water makes up over 50 percent of body weight, carrying extra water as referred to as “water weight.” This water or fluid retention can be related to many factors, including dietary patterns around the holidays.

For instance, excess carbs can likewise lead to excess water weight. This is because the body stores extra carbs, in the form of glycogen, in liver and muscle tissues. Each gram of glycogen holds on about 3 grams of water, thus increasing potential pounds of water weight. A high-salt diet can also cause the body to hang onto excess water.

So when seeing the scale tip quickly, do not automatically fret that those extra pounds gained are body fat. Ways to lose water weight include:

  • Drink more water: While this may seem counterintuitive, drinking more water helps flush out excess water and sodium. It also combats from dehydration, which can force the body to hold onto fluid. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water daily. 
  • Limit salt: Limiting salt intake can quickly eliminate water retention. Avoid the salt shaker and cut back on high-sodium foods common around the holidays, including sausage, cheese, bread, and crackers.
  • Moderate carb content: From sweet potato casserole to pecan pie, carbs tend to a fixture around the holidays. While these foods can still be enjoyed, moderate their intake to lower weight gain risk.
  • Exercise: Exercising can cause the body to release fluid in the form of sweat. It also improves blood flow and circulation, which can lower uncomfortable feelings of bloat. 

Because remember, the weight will fluctuate from day to day due to hydration, bathroom patterns, and other factors. Try not to get too caught up in the slight increase and decrease you may see every day but look for trends.

If you pick one day per week to be your actual weigh-in day, this will be most indicative of losing true fat mass.

3. A small holiday weight gain is not a major issue.

True and False: A small weight gain is nothing to overstress about, though is worth managing for future health outcomes.

Again, a small weight gain is nothing to overly fret about. The holidays should be a time to enjoy those seasonal favorites anyways! 

However, the issue with holiday weight gain is that most people do not lose that weight. So, fast forward a decade, that could add up to over 10 pounds from the holidays. And not to mention, the risks of weight gain that come with age.

While the number may seem trivial and one must not always consider the scale, gaining weight, even if gradually, can increase the risk of health conditions. These include, but are not limited to, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

4. “I’ll lose this holiday weight in January!”

False: While this is not entirely false for everyone, sticking to that resolution is unlikely. 

People tend to use the holidays as an excuse to overindulge, as they claim to “lose holiday weight come January.”

Unfortunately, only about nine percent of those who make New Year’s Resolutions stick to them? In fact, a whopping 80 percent of resolutions fail. 

And rather than waiting for a new year to arrive, why not start now to get a jumpstart? 

5. One can maintain a healthy weight during the holidays.

True: There are tried and true ways to avoid holiday weight gain.

(And no, this does not require extreme methods such as resorting to a restrictive diet or self-prescribed water pills.)

Keep health and weight in check using these holiday tips:

  • Take care of hunger rather than avoiding it. Saving up on calories and attending a party while ravenous can backfire, as there is a greater chance of overeating. Keep hunger in check with a satisfying breakfast and snacks as needed. 
  • Moderate portion and serving sizes, including by balancing the meal with protein, fiber, and healthy fat. Using smaller plates and drinking water before and with meals can also keep portions moderated. 
  • Keep hydrated and watch out for liquid calories from alcohol and sugary mixers. 
  • Include physical activity. Embracing an active lifestyle leads to many health benefits, including weight management and a healthy heart.
  • Ensure adequate sleep to protect from cravings and heighten energy levels. 
  • Manage stress with positive coping techniques. Doing so staves against stress eating bouts and can improve both physical and mental wellness.

All-in-all, gaining weight during the holidays is not always a gift one receives!