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5 Tips to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

pies on a table
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy D. Hughes

The holiday season can be a challenge if you are trying to control your weight. But, you can overcome many of these challenges with good self-management tools, according to Dr. Andrew Philip, a health psychologist for the Deployment Health Clinical Center.

Holiday eating is responsible for much of the weight people gain over the year. Studies show that while individuals tend to only gain 1-2 pounds over the holiday season, that extra weight tends to stay with them and accumulate over the years.

"Staving off holiday gains is easier than trying to lose them later," Philip said.

During the holidays, people tend to buy foods that are higher in sugar and fats than at other times of the year. Mood can also affect eating decisions, especially during the pressures of the holidays. Stress can cause the body to store greater levels of fat.

"When we are under stress our bodies actually crave foods higher in sugar and fat, and on top of this, stress worsens our self-control," Philip said.

Philip suggested five strategies for keeping weight off during the holidays:

  • Manage food intake. Eating fewer treats is usually easier than trying to burn extra calories through exercise. Avoid skipping regular meals or trying to fast, as this may lead to greater hunger and overeating later. Minimize drinking alcohol, as most alcoholic drinks are high in calories. Alcohol may also lower your inhibition to resist unhealthy food.
  • Increase physical activity. Active people tend to gain less weight over the holidays. Activities such as group walks with the family can help work fitness and quality time with loved ones into a busy schedule. Activity may also reduce stress, which in turn lowers the risk of overeating.
  • Have a plan for the holidays.
    • Be prepared with a polite way to decline extra helpings of food or unnecessary sweets.
    • Take part in planning and preparing holiday meals to ensure healthy dishes are available.
    • Before a big meal, have a healthy snack to manage your appetite.
    • Avoid “to-go” plates, which can result in extra meals.
    • Go over all options at buffets before filling your plate. Try to fill at least half your plate with vegetables and high-fiber foods. Avoid casseroles, which may contain hidden butter, mayonnaise, or cream.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleeping too little tends to result in increased weight gain. Getting more sleep on a regular basis may also suppress genetic tendencies toward weight gain. Regular sleep can reduce stress and make it easier to manage your mood.Sleep tips can help make getting rest easier.
  • Manage stress. Be mindful about signs of stress, and avoid eating unplanned meals while stressed.Several stress apps exist to help you during the holidays.

Visit the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury blog to learn more about managing stress, sleep and food. For more tips on eating during the holidays, check out this blog post from health.mil on mindful eating.

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This page was last updated on: April 18, 2017.