What You Need to Know About Holiday Weight Gain – 24 Carrot Diet

Healthy Living Help: How to Survive the Holiday Season Without Falling into Bad Eating Habits

Is holiday weight gain really a thing? North Americans generally believe it’s an issue, with some people feeling they could potentially gain up to 5 or even 10 pounds due to overeating during the Christmas season. And of course, businesses selling fitness and rapid weight loss products are happy to capitalize on our fears!

But will you suddenly become obese after eating too many Christmas cookies and drinking too much eggnog? In reality, most people gain just under a pound during the Christmas season.

Making extra room next to your turkey for extra mashed potatoes and stuffing, or indulging in a little sucre à la crème between meals isn’t necessarily the end of the world. But it is important to recognize how treating ourselves to big meals, rich foods and sweets, and larger amounts of alcohol during the Christmas season can impact on our eating habits after the holidays.

The average person gains just under a pound during the Christmas holidays – 24 Carrot Diet
The average person gains just under a pound during the Christmas holidays
(Image: Capri23auto/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

Why Binging During the Holidays Carries Over After Christmas Too

One issue we need to be aware of is what’s called “creeping obesity.” Basically, it’s a failure to return to our former weight after we experience a small weight gain. So if we enjoy a couple weeks of hedonism during Christmas and New Year’s, we need to address that holiday weight gain promptly.

If we write it off as “just a pound or two” and don’t make any changes to our diet or activity levels, that weight will stay with us. And then the next time we come around to a holiday or special occasion, we’ll be starting with a slightly higher weight before we add on that pound or two. I hope you can see how this habit would add up pretty quickly over the space of a couple of years. It’s like compound interest, and not in a good way!

So if we don’t actively work to lose weight that’s gained over the Christmas season, however small, it will likely stay with us permanently. And the bad news is, once we throw caution to the wind, we may continue to overeat long after all the Christmas parties are over and done with.



Researcher Brian Wansink of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab says we usually try to get back on track after the holidays, actually buying three times the healthy fruits and vegetables when we go to the grocery store. The problem is that we don’t stop buying the junk food, and we end up consuming 14% more calories at a time when we need to be cutting back a bit so we can work off the holiday weight gain.

You can see how that adds to our predicament! But forewarned is forearmed. So if we go into the Christmas season knowing consequences of our little holiday indulgences, and most especially if we can plan ahead so we can avoid the worst of the pitfalls, theoretically we should be able to limit our holiday weight gain and maybe even manage to lose weight before Easter comes rolling around!

Creeping obesity is an issue for those who can’t lose the holiday weight gain promptly – 24 Carrot Diet
If we don’t lose weight soon after Christmas, that extra pound contributes to creeping obesity
(Image: annca/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

How to Avoid Overeating at Parties

The very best advice I’ve read on this subject is so simple: eat at home before you go to the party. More specifically, eat healthy protein like lean meat, low-fat yogurt, or legumes. You should also load up on low-carb veggies – or consider bringing your own, just in case there are few on offer at the party. It’s important to have the protein because it stays with you longer. The fibre in the vegetables is also really great for making you feel full and satisfied. And that means you won’t be letting your eyes control your portion sizes at the party!

Once at the party, use a plate to serve up your food. If you wander around and graze a little here and there, you won’t see how much food you’re consuming. Putting the food on a plate forces you to look at it all together at once. Try to balance your plate and to choose a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, in addition to the cheese, seafood, deli meats, and fried or breaded foods.

Once your plate is full, it can help to eat the high-fibre vegetables and lean protein before foods that have a higher carbohydrate load. Just like eating protein and loading up on veggies before the party, this trick will help you prioritize the foods that are going to do the most good for your body. That may result in you eating fewer starchy, fatty, or highly processed foods. Research also suggests that eating vegetables and protein before cabs can help to regulate insulin levels and prevent blood sugar spikes that promote weight gain.

Watch the Calories in the Drinks!

Remember that drinks count towards your energy intake, and not just foods. Those calories can really add up, especially if you choose one or more alcoholic beverages throughout the night. The calories in alcohol come mostly from sugar, so it’s important to limit them despite any health benefits associated with beverages like red wine.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation, and respect the low-risk drinking guidelines to minimize caloric intake and health risks associated with over-consumption;

  • Drink a glass of club soda or infused water at the beginning of the party and after every alcoholic beverage. This will help you cut calories and alcohol, and help keep you hydrated. If you drink about 15-30 minutes before going to the buffet table, you may also feel more full and make healthier choices about the foods you put on your plate;

  • Choose a shandy or a spritzer as a lower-alcohol option;

  • If your drink comes garnished with a slice of fruit or a stalk of celery, eat it. In fact, ask for extras and take a little time to munch before going back for a refill;

  • Check the alcohol content on the bottle. Light and extra light beers in Canada have 4% alcohol or less, which also means fewer calories from the sugars in alcohol;

  • When making cocktails, opt for drinks that contain a single shot. Watch out for drinks that contain 3 or more different kinds of alcohol. Those can be a killer in more than one way!

  • Ice wines often have a lower calorie count than other wines, so if you like them you may want to opt for them instead of that glass of Shiraz or Chardonnay;

  • In a similar vein, mixed drinks that include a shot of liqueur may have more alcohol and calories than those using other distilled spirits;

  • Drinks mixed with milk, cream, or ice cream are going to have more calories than those made with club soda or pure fruit juice. And the whipped cream on that boozy hot chocolate counts too! If you’re going to partake of the hot cocoa bar or drink a little eggnog from the punch bowl, you probably want to forgo the other creamy drinks.



It’s OK to Indulge – Just a Little!

It really is OK to indulge a little every now and again, especially during the holidays. So if you want to enjoy the seafood bar or eat a little of everything from the buffet table at the réveillon, that’s OK. Eat a little of everything you like. Let me repeat that: eat a little of everything. Indulging doesn’t have to mean eating until you have to unbutton your pants!

But please, don’t deprive yourself either. It’s less healthy in the long run than allowing yourself a treat on a special occasion.

Scientists back in 1975 did a really cool experiment in which they gave people a milkshake to drink and then left them in a room with three bowls of ice cream, telling them they could eat as much of the ice cream as they wanted. People who weren’t dieting would eat less of the ice cream if they’d consumed more milkshake, because they were already feeling full. But people who were dieting actually ate more ice cream if they had drunk more of the milkshake.

Weird, huh? Well, it turns out this may just be human nature. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself – if not with food, maybe with time management, shopping or paying your bills, studying, or in some other area of your life. The harder you try to “be good” and the more you focus on not breaking any rules, the easier it is for you to throw all the rules out the window as soon as you break just one of them.

People who try to restrict their eating too much seem to lose sense of when their bodies are hungry and when they are full. Restrained eating patterns are associated with a loss of impulse control once the diet is broken or the forbidden food consumed.

While other people would eat a moderate amount of a richer food or stop eating when they feel full, people who practise restrained eating will tend to write the whole day off once they feel they’ve broken the rules. What follows can be a pretty serious binge eating session. So really, give yourself small treats and allow yourself richer foods now and again. If you don’t feel deprived, it’s easier to continue making healthy eating choices.

Holiday weight gain: The Takeaways – 24 Carrot Diet
Key points to remember about holiday weight gain
(Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Capri23auto)

Holiday Weight Gain: The Takeaways

  1. It’s OK to indulge a little during the holiday season. In fact, trying too hard to stay away from less healthy foods can set us up for binge eating later;

  2. Don’t try to “bank” calories by skipping meals before the party: it’s actually healthier to eat before going to the party. Eat protein and load up on low-carb veggies before you leave home;

  3. Watch out for the hidden calories from alcohol;

  4. Beware of creeping obesity. Even a small weight gain is a problem if you can’t lose weight soon after the holidays. Balance party days with a few days of austerity to minimize both weight gain and falling into continued bad eating habits;

  5. Do eat more healthy fruits and vegetables after the holidays, but beware of the increased calorie count that comes from buying both them and the junk foods. After the holidays, you need to reduce caloric intake for a bit. So clean out your pantry after the holidays, and leave the chips and pizza pockets at the grocery store for a while longer!


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What You Need to Know About Holiday Weight Gain | The average person gains just under a pound at Christmas – and fails to lose weight afterwards. Learn why we can’t shed the pounds and how to make healthier choices at those holiday parties. | #24CarrotDiet | #healthylivingtip
It’s OK to indulge a little at Christmas – if you have a plan to combat holiday weight gain!
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I am not a nutrition expert or health professional. I am just sharing information I have learned so you can further your own exploration of healthy foods. The information is as complete and accurate as possible at the time of publication, but some sources vary in their recommendations and the science of nutrition is always changing. Nothing presented here should replace the advice of a licensed dietitian, certified herbalist, or medical doctor. You and only you are responsible for obtaining professional diagnostics and advice, and only you can make your own healthy eating choices. If you choose to consume alcohol during the holiday season or any other time of the year, please do so responsibly and find a safe way home from the party.

38 thoughts on “Healthy Living Help: How to Survive the Holiday Season Without Falling into Bad Eating Habits”

  1. Super important to find that balance in diet during the holidays! Holiday weight can really sneak up on you, so you really have to be aware of your dietary habits

    Sondra xx

    1. As in all things, balance is the key. It’s fine to splurge a little over the holidays but, as you say, the weight gain can sneak up on us if we overdo it!

    1. It can be difficult to stay on track, especially when there are so many good foods to eat. But if we all try to be moderate, I think it is possible to indulge without completely going overboard.

    1. Alcohol really does add to our calorie load, and often we don’t even think of it! But there are so many other ways that we eat empty calories or load up on low-quality carbs and fats instead of nutritious foods.

      It’s good to allow ourselves a bit of a splurge. But if we moderate our indulgences, it’s so much easier to return to healthy eating and avoid weight gain after the holidays 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great tips! Over eating during the holidays is always an issue, there’s so much delicious food everywhere you go! Great idea about eating protein before heading out to a party, I will keep that one in mind. I don’t want to gain too much this season after I have lost some pounds already.

    1. Don’t forget the high-fibre vegetables too! Congratulations on your weight loss. I hope you’ll be able to navigate the holiday season easily, and that your healthy eating habits will continue to pay off for you 🙂

    1. Love the food, but especially love the vegetables! That will really help you to stay on track. I know for me, the more vegetables I add to my diet, the more healthy and satisfied I feel, and the less I want to binge on rich foods.

  3. I have been doing pretty good so far! Although this past week has not been good for working out. I think part of the problem with the holidays is that it actually gets so stressful!

    1. It is often a stressful time. And we can be hard-pressed when it comes to all the extra commitments – parties, shopping and wrapping gifts, going to kids’ school concerts and family gatherings, etc. It can be tough ti find time for that workout or to cook a healthy meal. Try to find creative ways to get moving and to eat well, even if it means buying takeout salad and subs loaded with vegetables.

      Most of all, be kind to yourself. If you miss a workout or eat too much at one meal, forgive yourself and move on. Just try to do a few extra healthy things later to balance it all out 🙂

  4. Wow you have some great tips here. So true that we must be more aware of these things during the holidays. Your tip to eat before going to a party makes sense. I agree with your comment about it’s ok to indulge a little. If I want to eat a slice of pumpkin pie, I’ll eliminate mashed potatoes or another major carb to save enough macros for the pie. So it’s all about planning. Great post!

  5. I can honestly say that I have not heard of creeping obesity, but now I see even more clearer how it manages to happen. Those drinks I think would be my downfall.

    1. I wish someone had warned me about the alcohol and fruit juices in my 20s. We were so conscious of eating sweet, rich foods. But we thought nothing of all the drinks we were consuming. It’s easy to put on weight if you drink even a moderate amount of alcohol several times a week. And even without the alcohol, fruit juices are a culprit as well.

  6. Thanks for these great tips. It helps me to plant the seed of awareness so that I don’t go on autopilot and go crazy. Creeping obesity is a scary thing & definitely something to watch out for because it lulls you into denial.

    1. That’s a good way of describing it: being lulled into denial. I think a lot of us will be scared we will gain the much larger 5-10 pounds that people worry about, so when it turns out it’s less than a pound we want to forgive ourselves (which we should do) and to forget about trying to lose weight (which we shouldn’t do.) As long as we aren’t finding ourselves buying looser clothes, we are lulled into a false sense of security. It must be OK, because we can still fit into our jeans. But after a couple of years, those jeans go up a size or two. And after a decade, we’re facing real health problems. It takes a long time, but it’s going to have an impact eventually.

  7. Thanks for sharing this is really important especially this time of year. I know i’m really guilty of this since I have a big family to shop for during the holidays so I’m always on the go. Just starting taking vitamins so I’m hoping i’m off to a good start. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Even better than taking vitamin pills is trying to get enough vegetables and fruit each day. So few of us are able, but just adding one or two vegetables can make such a huge impact on our nutrition! Check out the recent post on dark green and orange vegetables for lists of nutrient-rich veggies and fruit. The foods that supply pr-vitamin A, in particular, are superior to taking vitamin A supplements – and the experts say it’s safer too!

  8. If only I had discovered this a few weeks ago. I’m already well into bad eating for the holidays. Maybe it’s not too late to get back on the wagon!

    1. Absolutely! From my own personal experience (and from what the research says about disinhibition) what’s important is to not get caught up in thinking that we’ve already “cheated” so everything is spoiled and we might as well eat whatever we want. Anytime you resist the temptation, really remark on that to yourself so your inner dialogue is recording that success. Just keep building on that little success and allowing it to get bigger and bigger. Think of it as a game with yourself, if that helps. You can try to beat your personal best. Or simply say to yourself that you can go another hour without eating junk food, and then when the hour is up, challenge yourself to another hour.

      If you give in, that’s OK. Just start again. Don’t fall into the trap of scarfing down every forbidden food in sight, because you’ve already ruined the day.

      The more often you say yes to healthy food and no to foods that are less healthy, the easier it becomes. Even during the holidays, you can still make at least some healthy food choices 🙂

  9. These are all great tips! That “creeping obesity” is definitely something to watch out for. That made me realize that I need to make some lifestyle changes.

  10. I just told a friend that I track my food in my fitness pal which allows me a little flexibility with eating. Trying to get her to do the same to avoid over indulging.

    1. Tracking is a good way to see what we’re doing right and what we’re either overdoing or missing in our diet. It can seem a little overwhelming to people at first, though. There are different options for tracking, though. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

  11. It’s so hard to eat and drink healthy during this time of year. I really like these tips, especially how we should drink water or club soda between drinks and eat many fruits and vegetables. Great tips and habits I should be aware of!

    1. I love to drink club soda all the time. My favourite is just a President’s Choice soda water with lime flavouring. It’s crisp and refreshing, and guilt-free too 🙂

  12. Thanks for sharing this! I always need the reminder not to overdo it during the holidays! Especially at parties and gatherings!

    1. It can be really hard to resist temptation, can’t it? One of my follow-up posts will offer tips for party hosts, so they can support their guests in maintaining healthy eating habits even though we all want to indulge just a little at the holidays 🙂

      1. That’s a wonderful idea for a post! I would never have thought of that but it is a great idea!

        1. I figured if we’re going to give tips to the guests because hosts aren’t making it so easy to enjoy the party and still make healthy choices, maybe we should just encourage hosts to offer those choices in the first place. Right?

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful, Mara! I have a couple of follow-up posts on related topics coming in the next week or two. I hope you’ll check back in and see what else you can learn 🙂

    1. If those are the little indulgences that make you happy, you should treat yourself! If you follow the tips on indulging moderately, you may find that you can maintain both your weight and your healthy eating habits during the holidays. BTW, both of those are actually healthy items when consumed n moderation. Red wine has antioxidants that have a number of health benefits. And potatoes get a bad rap with all this “don’t eat white food” business. But they supply vitamin C, potassium, and several other nutrients. And their fibre contributes to us feeling full. Plus the red-skinned ones have healthy anthocyanins!

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