Holidays and your health 

Understanding times when people are more likely to gain weight is important for the development of prevention strategies. The festive season between mid December and the beginning of January, including New Year’s celebrations, is potentially one of those danger times. Some of the behaviors that may be observed during the holiday periods include:

  • Increased alcohol intake
  • Increased portion sizes (especially on Christmas day)
  • Increased exposure to fatty snacks and party foods
  • Reduced physical activity, especially the day after a big night out
  • Increased reliance on fast food and take away
  • Less sleep with late night social functions
  • Increased stress levels from Christmas shopping, preparing large meals and family functions

All these factors may contribute to weight gain, especially in combination. Research has also demonstrated the impact of holidays on your body shape.

The research 

A prospective study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the impact of holidays on the body weight of 195 adults. They found subjects gained an average of 0.5 kg in the six weeks surrounding Christmas and the New Year, which was more than a similar period of time before and after the holiday period. The researchers also examined a number of factors they saw as potentially predictive for holiday weight gain, such as changes in stress levels, hunger, activity, smoking habits and the number of parties or receptions attended. The only factors related to holiday weight change were activity levels and hunger. Not surprisingly, subjects who reported being much less active or much hungrier over the holiday period gained the most amount of weight. The researchers commented that the holiday season may be particularly risky for people who are already overweight, and stressed the importance of seasonal efforts to prevent weight gain. They also stated that holiday weight gain (while being small) is unlikely to be reversed during the rest of the year, and can contribute to the substantial (yet gradual) increases in body weight that can occur during adulthood.

How to prevent festive season weight gain 

Following are a series of strategies designed to maintain physical activity levels and prevent hunger to help reduce holiday weight gain.

  • Eat before you arrive – Have a snack that’s high in protein just before you arrive at social gathering, such as a handful of unsalted nuts, a tub of low fat natural yoghurt, or tuna and avocado on toast. If you’re not ravenous, those fatty party treats will be less tempting.
  • Drink plenty of water – A by-product of extra alcohol consumption and the warmer weather is dehydration. And because dehydration may trigger hunger, it’s important to drink plenty of water. Replacing juice, soft drink and alcohol with plain water will also help reduce your kilojoule intake.
  • Accumulate exercise – If you are too busy to fit in long bouts of exercise, try to accumulate exercise throughout the day in small amounts. A short walk to the bus before and after work, and a walk to get your sandwich at lunch may not seem like much. But they all add up, and can combine to help prevent weight gain.
  • Do intervals – If you’re short on time, but need a big kilojoule burn before a big night out, add some intensity to your workouts. Interval training is more effective at burning fat and boosting your metabolic rate.
  • Try some summer sports – Catching up with friends and family doesn’t just have to be about food and drink. There are plenty of water based activities that are fun to do together, and are a lot more appealing in the warmer weather. Activities like swimming, body surfing, sailing, stand up paddling, canoeing and kayaking can keep you cool, entertained and active.

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