Christmas Day has arrived – a time to eat, drink, and be merry! But be careful not to overindulge too much; up to half of any weight gained over the holidays is likely to loiter well into 2017.

[A person in a Santa costume standing on a set of scales]Share on Pinterest
Researchers say that weight gained over Christmas can remain for months.

A recent study of nearly 3,000 adults from across three countries found that in the 10 days after Christmas, there was up to a 0.6 percent increase in weight gain, compared with the 10 days before Christmas.

In the United States, adults gained an average of 0.6 kilograms in the period between Christmas and New Year.

Furthermore, the researchers found that by the following summer, participants had only lost around half of the weight gained over the holidays.

Study co-author Brian Wansink, Ph.D., of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and colleagues published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It is perhaps no surprise that the festive season can lead to weight gain. According to the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the United Kingdom, Christmas Day gorging is likely to clock up around 6,000 calories – almost three times the recommended daily calorie intake.

Furthermore, these calories can be hard to burn. The RSPH note that it takes 44 minutes to walk off a large glass of mulled wine, while burning off the calories from Christmas dinner would take 1 hour and 40 minutes of running.

Based on their findings, Wansink and team say that while healthcare professionals should advise patients to employ greater self-control over Christmas, it may be more beneficial to warn them of the persistent weight gain due to holiday calories.

“[…] it might be better to advise patients that although up to half of holiday weight gain is lost shortly after the holidays, half the weight gain appears to remain until the summer months or beyond,” say the authors. “Of course, the less one gains, the less one then has to worry about trying to lose it.”

When it comes to festive food, however, saying “no” is easier said than done.

“The festive season is a time for many of us to take a well-deserved break and enjoy good food and good company, so it’s only natural that we treat ourselves over the holidays,” notes Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH.

However, there are a number of ways to limit the damage when it comes to food intake over the holidays.

Erin Morse, chief clinical dietitian at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center at the University of California-Los Angeles, notes that there are an array of healthful holiday foods to choose from, such as whole cranberries, multicolored cauliflower, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables.

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Have fun over Christmas, but be mindful of your health.

Morse provides some other tips to help avoid holiday weight gain:

  • Avoid sitting down to dinner on an empty stomach: around an hour before Christmas dinner, eat an apple or a cup of vegetable soup. This will increase satiety and reduce the desire to pile up your plate
  • Choose wisely: think about whether what you are eating is really worth the calories. Is there a healthier alternative? Choose foods that will satisfy you the most – for example, swap a floured white roll for a sweet potato casserole
  • Steer clear of the appetizer table: if your Christmas is more of a buffet affair than a sit-down meal, try not to lurk around the appetizer table – you’ll be picking without realizing
  • Get some exercise: while it can take a lot of exercise to work off a whole day’s indulgence, every little bit helps. Why not go out for a post-meal walk with the family?

While Christmas is a time to relax, have fun, and spend some quality time with family and friends, it is important that health is not overlooked during the festivities. As Cramer says:

“[…] trying not to overindulge too much and keeping active over the holidays might help a little when it comes to avoiding a nasty shock on the scales and a lot of hard work in the New Year!”

Read about peer pressure and festive food.