Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fend Off Holiday Weight Gain

The Winter months are often associated with staying indoors, celebrating, and holiday feasts.  Changes in food intake, activity levels, food choices (higher fat), body composition (higher fat), and body weight have been shown to result.  Interestingly, the amount of weight gained is lower than you might expect.

In 2000, Yanovski’s team investigated the belief that people gain an average of 5 lbs (2.3 kg) over the holidays.  They found that the average gain is only about 0.5 kg.  The real issue is that it isn’t reversed in the Spring and Summer.  

In another study, Ma’s team looked at seasonal variations for 593 participants.  They found an average increase of 86 Calories per day in the Fall versus Spring.  This coincided with an increase in Calories from fat and lower activity levels resulting in peak body weight in the Winter.  

Weight doesn’t tell us about the composition of the body; the scale doesn’t tell all.  Hull and colleagues examined body weight and composition changes in 82 college students over the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Years Day).  While body weight did not change significantly, there was an increase in body fat percentage and fat mass.  Twelve of the study participants gained more than 2.0 kg, while 17 remained stable with their weight, but had an increase in fat mass.  

Overtime, these slight changes contribute to weight gain and increased fat mass in adulthood.  Take preventative steps to eat less and move more for long term health.  Keeping your weight and body fat within a healthy range will reduce your risk of certain diseases.  Some tips to get you through the holidays and fend off weight gain:

  • Find an activity you enjoy doing or just find more ways to move (take the stairs, park further away from your destination).    
  • Spread your food throughout the day so you’re not over-hungry and ready to overindulge. 
  • Practice portion control so you can include your favourite holiday foods within reason and not feel deprived. 
  • Be careful of liquid calories – alcohol and sweetened beverages (including the syrup and whipped cream in your specialty coffee or tea) can add up quickly, especially if you’re enjoying them regularly.
-         Seek out a health professional for more personalized advice.

Stephanie Wheler, RD
Something Nutrishus Counselling & Coaching

Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, & Sebring NG (2000). A prospective study of holiday weight gain. The New England Journal of Medicine, 342 (12), 861-7.
Ma Y; Olendzki BC; Li W; Hafner AR; Chiriboga D; Hebert JR; Campbell M; Sarnie M; Ockene IS (2006). Seasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in a predominantly overweight population. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60(4):519-28.
Hull HR, Hester CN, Fields DA (2006). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition & Metabolism, 3:44.