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weight management over the holidays

The holiday season brings on feelings of excitement and joy. Parties and gatherings are being planned and some folks will travel to see family and friends.

Holidays can also bring on anxiety and stress for someone who is trying to manage their weight.

Let’s take a look at some things that impact this fear during the holiday season and explore ideas that will help mitigate the stress.

Holidays are traditionally associated with weight gain. This is considered the time between mid-November and early January; 6-8 weeks of hustle and bustle filled with food of all kinds. The intent related to weight during the holidays can vary dramatically between individuals. At one end of the spectrum are those who pay no attention to their weight while others obsess about it and even miss social events in fear of gaining a pound. Then there are those in between who simply want to maintain weight or even gain a pound or two. A recent study evaluated the success of an individual’s weight management plan considering the weight control strategies they used during the holiday season1. A group of participants were asked to report what their own individual weight goals were going to be during this time. They were given a list of 18 weight control strategies and asked to select their top 3.  Post-holiday season they reported their weight and how often they used each of the 18 strategies throughout the holidays.

Scale

So, why is the holiday season so challenging?

There are a variety of factors including an increased number of social gatherings with high-calorie food and drinks. This brings a change in the usual social environment making weight management more difficult. There can also be added stress of trying to prepare for the holidays and can take a toll on physical, mental and emotional health. With all the competing demands, you may find yourself with limited time to be physically active.

For certain groups of people such as those with a higher BMI or who have recently lost a significant amount of weight, the risk of weight gain is increased.  They will usually need to utilize more effort and resources to manage weight during the holidays. Also, the small amount of weight that is typically gained by anyone during these few weeks is typically not reversed. It then contributes to the overall weight increase seen throughout the rest of the year. For this reason, maintaining weight during the holidays can make a long-lasting impact on weight management efforts.

On a positive note, weight goals can be achieved during the holidays. However, it is important to have a plan before the season begins. Decide ahead of time what you are going to do to make it successful. Being mindful is key. Keep your stress levels in-check, pay attention to food choices, write down your strategies and keep your eye on the end goal.

For the weight control study, there were 18 strategies given to help participants succeed. It is important to remember that weight management is personal to each individual and the methods must fit their lifestyle and accommodate their likes/dislikes.

These weight management strategies include:

  1. Maintain an exercise routine that you are already doing
  2. Monitor portion sizes
  3. Track the kinds of foods you eat or count calories
  4. Weigh yourself regularly
  5. Add  more activity to your routine
  6. Make choices about which holiday foods are worth eating and skip items that aren’t special or important to you
  7. Adjust how much you eat during the other meals on the days that you have a party or event
  8. Try to stop eating when you feel full and/or practice other mindful eating strategies
  9. Avoid certain types of food
  10. Bring a healthy dish to share (my personal favorite)
  11. Minimize the amount of time you have tempting foods in the house
  12. Use technology to make healthy decisions
  13. Skip or reduce alcoholic beverage intake
  14. Focus on non-food elements of the holiday season
  15. Decrease the amount of time sitting each day
  16. Start a weight loss program or follow a formal diet
  17. Pack healthy snacks while traveling
  18. Share your weight loss goals with someone in your life and ask them to support you
goals

The results of the study showed that the greater number of strategies used was associated with the most success in weight loss. Interestingly, the most common strategies used were evidence-based and included maintaining exercise, monitoring portions, tracking foods, and self-weighing. 

As you approach the holidays, decide what your personal weight goal is. Then, come up with a realistic plan to achieve it. You can select from the strategies listed above or come up with some of your own – the more variety the better. Most importantly, enjoy this time of year. Your goals can be a guide that will remove guilt and stress from the festivities and social events.


Resources:

  1. Olson, KayLoni, et al. “Strategies to Manage Weight during the Holiday Season among US Adults: A Descriptive Study from the National Weight Control Registry.” Obesity Science & Practice, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Dec. 2020.
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