‘Tis the Season for Holiday Weight Gain?
By Justine Karduck
December 4, 2017

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” as first sung by Andy Williams in 1963.  Although you may agree or disagree, the holidays have officially begun and that means just as the song says, “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, etc.”   Is weight gain over the holiday season inevitable?  Do you feel compelled to eat every holiday treat offered to you at the office party, friends or family gatherings, or just because ‘tis the season? 

Many believe that adults gain anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds over the holidays however no published research supports these beliefs.  In a 2017 review of the literature by Diaz-Zavala et al. found that adults gain an average of 1 to 2 pounds during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.1   The same amount of weight gain was reported in those trying to prevent weight gain by self-monitoring.  In general, those who were overweight or obese gained more weight, up to 5 pounds, compared to those of normal weight status.2  Those that participate in regular physical activity had less holiday weight gain than those who do not exercise at all.  In another study in 2016, researchers studied holiday weight gain in three countries; the US, Germany, and Japan.2  They found that although up to half of the holiday weight gain is lost shortly after the holidays, half the weight gain appears to remain until the summer months or beyond. 

Although there is not extensive research available on holiday weight gain, there are some strategies to prevent holiday weight gain.  Roberta Duyff, Registered Dietitian, College of ACES Alumni, and Author of the bestselling Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide has several ideas for preventing holiday weight gain:

Plan ahead.  Balance eating at parties with other meals and snacks.  Eat smaller, lower-calorie meals and snacks throughout the day so you can enjoy celebration foods too.

Take the edge off hunger beforehand.  Eat a small lower calorie snack that is high in fiber and protein.  Check out the “Smart Snacks” handout from McKinley Health Center for some fresh ideas: http://mckinley.illinois.edu/sites/default/files/docs/smart_snacks.pdf

Conversations are calorie free!  Focus on mingling and enjoying the company before rushing off to eat or drink.

Ask for sparkling water instead of high-calorie drinks.  Sparkling water has no calories compared to wine with 120 calories per 5 oz. glass or eggnog with 460 calories per 1 cup.

Start out with lower calorie appetizers such as raw veggies with dip, cocktail shrimp, and fresh fruits.  Go easy on the fried foods, heavy dips, and cheese cubes. 

Limit yourself to one trip or one plate at the holiday buffet.  Be selective choosing only the foods you really want to eat and keeping the portions small.  Do not waste your calories on foods you can have every day like chips, crackers, slices of bread, etc. 

Do not socialize right next to the buffet, which encourages unconscious nibbling.

Bring a healthy dish to the party to share with all. If you are hosting, swap out high fat, high-calorie traditional dishes with lower calorie makeovers that still taste delicious.

Limit yourself to one-a-day.  That is one-a-day small serving of a sweet or treat per day.  Allowing yourself a one-a-day will help you stay in control while still getting to enjoy your favorite holiday treats.

Do not forget to move it.  Make a time and plan for exercise before or after your holiday party.  Better yet, make physical activity part of your holiday gathering by having a dance party competition.  Mall walking, ice-skating, sledding, or even try a free, online home workout for fun winter physical activity. 


1. Díaz-Zavala RG, Castro-Cantú MF, Valencia ME, Álvarez-Hernández G, Haby MM, Esparza-Romero J. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity. 2017;2017:2085136. doi:10.1155/2017/2085136.

2. Cunningham E. What's the Latest on Holiday Weight Gain?. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;113(11):1576. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.09.007.

3.  Helander E, Wansink B, Chieh A. Weight Gain over the Holidays in Three Countries. New England Journal of Medicine. 2016;375(12):1200-1202. doi:10.1056/nejmc1602012.

4. Duyff R. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.