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Holiday Tips to Prevent Weight Gain


Holiday Tips to Prevent Weight Gain

Great ideas are not always easy to execute, but great ideas work, as long as you put in the effort to make them work. That is why it is so important to know the reason why you are putting in the effort. Here are some ideas to get you started and some holiday tips to help prevent weight gain.

Get a buddy
Studies have shown that people who partner up to lose (or maintain) weight tend to do better than those flying solo. Kind of makes sense, right?

Imagine you have had a stressful morning and really want two slices of pepperoni pizza at lunch. Your coworker who you buddied up with is there to “talk you down from the ledge,” helping you go for soup and salad instead.

Or what about when your alarm goes off at 6 am for your morning run, but you cannot imagine anything better than staying under those warm covers. Your buddy starts knocking at your door and yelling at you to get up and get moving! Having someone in your corner can motivate you to make changes you never dreamed possible, and you can return the favor and do the same for your buddy. 

Still not convinced?  Here are a few more reasons to have a buddy:

  • Helpful friend: A buddy is someone you always can call during a crisis, knowing you will get good advice/feedback
  • A helping hand: A buddy can help you plan and prepare healthy meals or snacks the night before
  • A workout buddy: A buddy can go to the gym with you or play sports with you (basketball, tennis, etc)
  • An open ear: A buddy is there to hear about your successes and struggles
  • Accountability: A buddy is someone to talk to if you start to relapse or if you need a kick in the butt to get restarted
  • Motivation: A buddy can keep you on target and help you make the small, steady steps that you need to take every day to achieve your goals
  • A guiding hand: A buddy can teach you tips and tricks to mix it up and stay on track

Stay active
A 30-minute jog can burn about 300 calories. Doing 30 minutes of interval training can burn a ton more. While many consider nutrition as about 60%–70% of the equation when it comes to weight loss (or weight gain prevention), do not disregard the 30%–40% contributed by physical activity! 

If you are currently active, stay that way! We often are knocked out of our routines during the holidays because of travel, additional evening commitments, and the shorter days of winter (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Take a look at what your current physical activity level is (number of days per week, how long, and how intense), and make it a point to continue that level of activity through the rest of the year. Or kick it up a notch if you feel confident that you could do more. You do not need to do much more, maybe just an additional 10 minutes added to your usual workouts. Consider it a pre-New Year’s resolution.  

If you would like to become more active prior to the holidays, get started 1 day at a time. Even though the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 days/week for health benefits, increase your activity gradually. If you exercised once this week, aim for twice next week, and try to maintain twice/week for a few weeks. Once you are sticking to twice/week, try adding a little more time to those 2 days. Then add a third day a few weeks later. The key is to feel comfortable with your current routine before making any additional changes.

You can add to your current routine in these ways:

  • Longer duration: Increasing workout time from 30 to 45 minutes
  • Increased intensity: Working harder during the same amount of time (see interval training)
  • Increased frequency: Increasing exercise sessions from two to three times/week

By New Year’s Day, you will have already accomplished the amount of exercise that everyone else is resolving to do! 

Stay consistent
Rather than going out of your way to make inconsistent changes, why not focus on the consistent things you were doing to maintain your weight (or to lose weight) for the previous 9–10 months of the year? Just like with any job or responsibility, it is much easier to maintain our current habits than to start a whole new set of them. 

Take a moment to think about all of the successful things you have done in the past 3 months to keep your weight steady. Write them down on a piece of paper. This is now your action plan to maintain your weight during the holiday season. Just keep doing these things—no restrictions or substitutions required! If you slip up one day, do not worry. All you need to do is to reread what you are doing that is successful and get back to it at the next meal or the next day. One unplanned dessert or meal does not result in weight gain. It is the activities we do and the foods that we eat every day, day after day, that lead to weight gain or weight loss.

Another thing to consider is the many temptations that you will face during the holiday season—Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and maybe a work party or two. That is about 5 days out of 60. The other 83% of the days are just like any other day during the year, and you can do the same things that kept you successful during those days of the year in November and December too! 

Keep a journal
Finally, if you really are worried about how you will react or feel when faced with the holidays and its associated foods, keep track! Write in a daily journal, and at the end of the day, rate yourself on how you ate that day from a score of 1 (poor) to a score of 5 (awesome). In addition, write down why you gave yourself that rating.
Also write down one improvement you made that day in your eating habits, because there is always a silver lining. If you normally eat eight cookies when you are stressed out but stopped yourself at four today, that is progress—positive progress.

Note one eating choice that you could have improved on. It is not just a matter of good vs bad foods. Even some people who eat great 85% of the time make nonideal choices because of many circumstances (travel, lack of planning, socializing, etc). Reviewing your day’s eating habits the day they happen allows you to see where you can make improvements tomorrow. 

Record and celebrate your successes, because they are real and they are what keep you going. When you are having a lousy day a month from now and you feel that you have made no progress, you can look back at your journal and read about all of your successes. You also need to record areas for improvement, because if you think everything is perfect, odds are things are actually not perfect. Having an area of improvement gives you a specific target and action for tomorrow. 

It is easy to say, “I am going to eat better tomorrow” and then do nothing. If you intend to eat better tomorrow, you need to know how you ate today and what you are going to do tomorrow to improve from today. That is why writing in a journal is useful. Writing in a journal for 3 minutes a day can make a world of difference. Is preventing weight gain this holiday season worth 3 minutes a day?


References and recommended readings
Baker RC, Kirschenbaum DS. Weight control during the holidays: highly consistent self-monitoring as a potentially useful coping mechanism. Health Psychol [serial online]. 1998;17:367-370. Available at: Accessed November 20, 2012.

Black DR, Gieser LJ, Kooyers KJ. A meta-analytic evaluation of couples weight-loss programs. Health Psychol. 1990;9:330-347.

Boutelle KN, Kirschenbaum DS, Baker RC, Mitchell ME. How can obese weight controllers minimize weight gain during the high risk holiday season? By self-monitoring very consistently. Health Psychol [serial online]. 1999;18:364-368. Available at: Accessed November 20, 2012.

Gorin AA, Phelan S, Wing RR, Hill JO. Promoting long-term weight control: does dieting consistency matter? Int J Obes Metab Disord [serial online]. 2004;28:278-281. Available at: Accessed November 20, 2012.

Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation [serial online]. 2007;116:1081-1093. Available at: Accessed November 20, 2012.

Phelan S, Wing RR, Raynor HA, Dibello J, Nedeau K, Peng W. Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal weight individuals. J Consul Clin Psychol [serial online]. 2008;76:442-448. Available at: Accessed November 20, 2012.


Contributed by Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, CDN

Review Date 11/12


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