8 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Follow these simple strategies to avoid putting on the pounds this holiday season.

A collage of images including a moon, sneakers and a jumprope, and nuts
A collage of images including a moon, sneakers and a jumprope, and nuts

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the average American gains slightly under 1 pound during the holiday season. That might not sound like a lot, but studies also show that this weight is usually not lost once spring and summer roll around. Add that to the so-called “Quarantine 15” (the weight people say they have gained during the coronavirus pandemic) and this year the pounds could really add up. “Many people who generally manage their weight year-round may feel a lack of control over the holidays, especially after such a trying year,” says Dr. Jayne A. Lieb, a bariatric (weight-loss) surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Most of us experienced a loss of control when quarantine orders caused dramatic changes to our regular daily routines. The holidays also disrupt our regular routine, and there’s usually more food and higher-calorie meals. Additionally, social stressors may be different this year with more time indoors with close family than ever before.”

Dr. Jayne Lieb

Dr. Jayne Lieb

When holiday weight gain isn’t lost, the cycle of putting on extra pounds over one’s lifetime continues, which can increase the risk of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, Dr. Lieb says.

Here, Dr. Lieb offers strategies for keeping your weight in check while also enjoying the holidays.

Stick to a Routine

It is easy to deviate from structured mealtimes and usual exercise in the name of celebration. This lack of structure may increase one’s tendency to overeat during the holidays or gravitate toward high-sugar food choices.

Eat Protein in the Morning

A high-protein breakfast can keep blood sugar and “hunger hormones” more stable throughout the day, which can help control appetite. Some suggestions: egg-white omelets, Greek yogurt, and protein shakes.

Get Adequate Sleep

While we may not be out late at large holiday events this year, the pandemic has disrupted sleep routines. Too little sleep or nonrestorative sleep may stimulate weight gain-inducing hormones.

Limit Alcohol

Many people enjoy a few more drinks than their norm over the holidays, but a significant increase in alcohol — especially mixed drinks with high-sugar content — can lead to increased caloric intake. If you choose to drink, sticking to clear liquors with club soda while limiting beer, wine, and mixed drinks is a good approach, in moderation.

Exercise Early in the Day

Getting even 10 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) in at the start of the day will keep your metabolism revved and ensure you don’t miss a workout if your day gets busy later on.

Try a Protein Preload

Having a protein-rich snack like a shake or bar an hour before a holiday meal will allow for more self-control.

Eat Strategically

Fill up on vegetables before you reach for the high-carbohydrate hors d’oeuvres. Starting the evening with crudités will lead to longer-lasting fullness and less space for non-nutritious foods.

Don’t Deprive Yourself

The holidays are a time to enjoy many types of food. Indulge mindfully by eating small portions of several things you want to taste rather than filling your plate with large servings of a few dishes.

Jayne A. Lieb, M.D., FACS, FASMBS, is a general and bariatric surgeon practicing within NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley and an assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She specializes in surgery for obesity and other related diseases and performs a variety of laparoscopic, robotic, and minimally invasive surgical procedures. Dr. Lieb is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

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