Eggnog, pecan pie, Campari cocktails, Christmas sangria, sugar cookies, peppermint bark–no matter which festive foods or drinks you can’t live without, almost everyone overindulges at some point during the holiday season. However, the notion that many people gain 5 to 10 pounds and a pant size during the last six weeks of the year is more hype than fact. While holiday weight gain is real, the actual amount most people gain isn’t excessive nor is it cause for concern.
Here’s what the science says: According to international data published in the New England Journal of Medicine, weight gain around the holidays is only a total of about 0.7% of your lightest weight during the year. For a 150-pound person, that equals about one additional pound. A recent review of several published studies on holiday-related weight gain in the Journal of Obesity found that average holiday weight gain is 0.5 to 2 pounds, and among those who are a bit more diet-conscious–described in the study as “self-monitoring”–weight gain is often insignificant.
Research also shows that those who are overweight are most likely to experience significant holiday weight gain and struggle more to get those extra pounds off come January. In a study of college students published in Nutrition Journal, overweight students added 2 pounds over their Thanksgiving break while normal-weight students experienced no change in weight. The authors concluded that those who struggle with their weight are most susceptible to weight gain during the most wonderful time of the year, and that they might want to take steps to try to minimize (or avoid) any holiday weight gain.
Even if holiday weight gain isn’t nearly as bad as you thought, it’s one holiday “gift” that doesn’t come with a return receipt. In fact, it takes several months to lose just half of the weight you’ve gained over the holidays and the other half, well, that’s likely to stick with you for good.
To unpack any weight you’ve gained during the holidays when the new year rolls around, follow this three-step plan.
Start your day right. Eating an optimal amount of protein and fiber in the a.m. can help tamp down hunger to keep you on track all day long. For best results, try to get 20 to 30 grams of high-quality protein and at least 6 grams of fiber in a 400-calorie breakfast. Try a couple of eggs scrambled with fiber-rich veggies and a whole-grain English muffin; a cup of Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen berries and a sprinkle of granola; or my favorite protein pancakes topped with plain Greek yogurt and a light drizzle of honey.
Clock more Zz’s. No, you’re not dreaming: Research shows that getting more sleep helps control hunger and bolsters your willpower to help you cut back after the holiday parties end. One recent study found that when participants increased the amount of time they slept, they ate nearly 170 fewer calories the next day. While everyone has their personal optimal hours of sleep, most adults need seven to nine hours per night.
Track your bites. There’s no better way to get back on track than by logging everything you eat with an app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It!–or good old pen and paper. Logging your food daily helps you become more mindful of what you’re eating. A food journal can help deter you from less nutritious picks or ginormous portions because you remember that you have to log it–and it might blow your daily macros or calorie budget.