Why Holiday Weight Gain Still Lingers

Keep up with your exercise and diet efforts, and there will be a lot less weight to lose.

It’s tough to stick with your diet over the holidays. First there’s Thanksgiving Dinner, followed by weeks of Christmas cakes, cookies, treats, and hot chocolate. Then comes Christmas dinner with a side of New Year’s partying (and overdrinking) thrown in for good measure. All those extra calories will go somewhere—right to your gut.

According to a new study, the weight you gain at Christmas may be a lot harder to get rid of than you might expect. In fact, up to 50% of that gained weight may stick with you far longer into the New Year than you’d like.

A team of researchers at Cornell University studied more than 3,000 adults from the U.S. and two other countries. They discovered that the adults’ weight increased an average of 0.6% in the 10 days immediately after Christmas. Not only that, but the weight they gained (roughly 0.6 kilograms on average) was incredibly difficult to lose. By the summer, up to 50% of the weight had yet to be lost.

The truth is that the Christmas holidays tend toward excesses. Not only do we end up eating a lot—up to 6,000 calories for Christmas dinner, it’s estimated—but the consumption of alcohol increases. We have wine and beer over dinner, spend more of our winter vacation drinking and relaxing, then end the year with a lot of alcohol at New Year’s Eve parties. It’s definitely no surprise that weight gain is a very common problem.

But knowing that the weight is even harder to lose may be the kick in the butt we need to be smart about our holiday eating and drinking. Just because it’s Christmas and New Year, that doesn’t mean we can be excessive in our caloric intake. In fact, we should be even more judicious in our eating habits simply because it is Christmas—the time we like to relax and socialize. The more lax attitudes toward eating and drinking will increase the risk of overindulging. The result: weight gain, and a darned hard time losing all that weight.

Click to enlarge.

Be wise with your holiday eating. Limit yourself to a few servings, and stay away from the “empty calorie foods”: desserts, cakes, cookies, chocolates, candies, white bread, and even mashed potatoes. Load up on vegetables and protein. Make sure to work out the day before and after Christmas Dinner. Keep up with your exercise and diet efforts all through the winter holidays, and there will be a lot less weight to lose come the New Year.


1. “Weight gain over the holidays in three countries“, Brian Wansink et al.,New England Journal of Medicine, doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1602012, published online 22 September 2016.