How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Follow these simple strategies to avoid putting on the pounds.

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 just under 1 pound during the holiday season. That might not sound like a lot, but studies also show that this weight is often not lost once spring and summer roll around. Over time, these pounds can add up.

So why do we gain weight this time of year?

“People who struggle with their weight may feel a lack of control over the holidays, even when they have figured out how to manage their weight over the rest of the year,” says Dr. Rekha B. Kumar, an attending endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “This loss of control may stem from disruption of daily routine, being around more food and higher-calorie foods, and even social stressors such as family or acquaintances whom one may not typically choose to hang out with.”

On top of that, if the weight isn’t lost, it “perpetuates the cycle of weight gain over one’s lifetime, which can then increase the risk of many diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer,” she says.

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

Continue to Stick to a Routine
When your schedule is packed with holiday parties, it is easy to deviate from structured mealtimes and usual exercise. This lack of structure may increase one’s tendency to overeat at holiday events or gravitate toward high-sugar food choices.

Eat Protein in the Morning
Packing your breakfast with protein will keep blood sugar and some “hunger hormones” more stable throughout the day, helping to control appetite. Egg-white omelets, Greek yogurt, and protein shakes are some examples.

Get Adequate Sleep
Holiday events might keep people out later than usual. 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. Sticking to clear liquors with club soda while limiting beer, wine, and mixed drinks is a good approach.

Exercise Early in the Day
Events during the workday and after work can interfere with time for the gym. Getting even 10 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) out of way early in the day will keep your metabolism revved and ensure you don’t miss a workout.

Portrait of Dr. Rekha Kumar

Dr. Rekha B. Kumar

Try a Protein Preload
Showing up to a holiday event on an empty stomach can lead to overeating high-calorie finger foods and appetizers. Having a protein shake or protein-rich bar an hour before an event 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 crudites will lead to longer-lasting fullness and less space for non-nutritious foods.

Don’t Deprive Yourself
The holidays are a fun time to socialize and 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 portions of a few dishes.

Dr. Rekha B. Kumar is an attending endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of various endocrinology disorders, including obesity/weight management and thyroid disorders. She is also the medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine.