The Truth About Holiday Weight Gain

Tis the season for family, presents, and weight gain! Holiday weight gain is one feared by many, as it is said to happen around the time of Thanksgiving and last until around New Years when all the holiday festivities have fully simmered down. While I hear people talk of this quite often and especially right now, I myself have never experienced any noticeable weight gain during the holiday season. With that being said, is it really true that many people gain weight around the holidays, or is it just another debunked myth?

According to New York Times, although the average surveyed person says they have gained about 5 pounds over the holidays (and media stories exaggerate the weight gain to 5-7 pounds),  many studies show the average is actually just one pound or less. Many people tend to overestimate their weight gain due to post holiday guilt, i.e. they feel bad about how much they indulged during the holidays and therefore assume they packed on the pounds. So while the average person is not at any high risk for weight gain during the holiday season, people that are already overweight are. There has been many studies which suggest those who start with a higher BMI tend to gain more weight in general, and therefore during the holidays will in fact gain the 5-10 pounds, or even more. This was coincidentally found in the same study  (of 2000 participants) that debunked holiday weight gain, which showed 20% of obese subjects, and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than 5 pounds (only 5% of non-overweight people in the study had the same result).

Another study revealed that those who were formerly overweight struggled with weight gain over the holiday season. 178 people who had formally been very overweight, but lost a very significant amount (77 pounds or more), were tracked in this specific study, and also 101  people who have never been overweight. Despite trying their hardest to not gain weight and making careful plans,  39% of the formerly overweight people gained at least 2.2 pounds over the holidays, in comparison to 17% in the group of 101 people.

But what about us college kids? We are used to eating dining hall food and maybe even eating less than when we are at home. That being said, do college kids gain a significant amount of weight over holidays? A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oklahoma weighed 94 students the day before Thanksgiving, and then weighed them again about two weeks later. Students who were of normal weight gained about half a pound, while students who were overweight (body mass index of 25 or more) gained about two pounds. With that conclusion, I think it is safe to make the assumption that you can expect the same results in regards to Christmas and New Years. If you find yourself still worried about the possibility of gaining a few pounds over the holidays, lists 15 tips to help avoid it. Some of the most notable ones suggest setting up a workout to do in the morning, to be  very picky with what you eat (especially on the actual holiday), to build up will power, and to chew slowly to minimize how much you eat.

It’s safe to say that the dreaded holiday weight gain is in fact a myth as there have been countless studies throughout the years coming up with the same result; the weight gain is insignificant (although some studies show that the one pound gained over holidays is hard to lose, and some people never do; but this mostly pertains to adults). Of course for some this is not a myth, as if the third variable of being overweight is involved, significant weight gain can and most likely will occur. Thus most of us can face the holidays without fear of packing on the pounds. And with that, happy eating!


6 thoughts on “The Truth About Holiday Weight Gain

  1. Samantha Marie Grillo

    This blog was interesting to read because I know a lot of people worry about gaining weight over the holiday season. As a college student, I find that it’s normal for students to go home after a long semester and indulge in home-cooked meals after spending months eating in the dining hall and getting take-out. It was interesting to read about the different factors that could contribute to gaining weight over the holiday season, such as how people who were previously overweight tend to gain more weight during the holiday season compared to people who were not.

    Here is the link to an article about ten ways to avoid weight gain during the holiday season:

  2. Gregory Giliberti

    All the studies you show seem very reasonable in asserting the idea that the holiday season brings along weight gain, especially those who are already overweight. However, I wonder if it is the holiday season, or the time of year the holiday season is in that causes the weight gain. To me, something does not make sense about significant weight gain in just four meals (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). I wonder if these four holidays were in July, when people tend to be more active, there would still be people gaining the “holiday pounds”. I could not find specific study that measured this variation in weight due to inactivity during the colder months. However, I would propose an experiment to test the hypothesis that summer activities cause a decrease in weight over the course of a 3 month period. I would have one group do activities likely to be seen during the summer months such as moderate walking or bike riding, and have the control group not participate in these activities in an attempt to stimulate the inactivity many people go through during the winter months. Along with this randomized experimental design, I would use a large and representative sample to try to produce a causal relationship between inactivity that occurs during winter months and weight gain.

  3. Hung Chieh Wang

    Interesting topic! Many of my friends always said they gain a lot of weight over the holidays, but they looked the same. I always think people did gain weight during the holiday, but only a little. It truth that people eat much better during the holiday, so it’s reasonable to gain a little weight. Some people may think it is holiday so they have the reasons to eat a lot and gain weight. But there are also people that are strict with their diet and eat carefully. It’s all depend of people. Here is a article on huffington post about holiday weight gain: Digging Into the Truth About Holiday Weight Gain

  4. Kendra Hepler

    Holiday weight gain is one of those things that people will probably never stop talking about. I am fortunate enough to have a good metabolism, so I definitely go all out, food-wise, over breaks, but I know that this is something that stresses out many. Your conclusion that people typically only may gain a pound or two during the holidays seems reasonable, but it would be good to see more observational studies done to make sure the file-drawer problem isn’t affecting the outcome here. Also, if typical weight gain is only a pound or two, I would consider that pretty insignificant considering that body weight can fluctuate a lot on an average day. Water retention and depletion can easily change your weight by a few pounds on any given day, so in my mind, there’s no need to stress over the exact number on your scale.

  5. Julia Hall

    This post relevant to pretty much everyone on the planet. People always make sure a big deal about packing on “the holiday weight.” Seems like, based on what you said in your blog, that you have to try to gain weight over break. I like how you posted a link to help avoid adding extra weight while on break. I also really like how you included research from a group of normal people and then college students. Overall, great post!

  6. Mia Rose Del Nunzio

    Your post is extremely relevant to what ever college student is experiencing as they return back to school from Thanksgiving break. I was in fact one of the people that you explained, over exaggerating the amount of food that I ate and coming back to schools saying that I “gained 7 pounds over break.” I know for me, when I went home and got to have 7, not 5, not 4 but 7 home cooked meals, I took full advantage. Over-indulging over break is normal and in my eyes inevitable. I think the real problem lies in late night snacking in college. That is where many students struggle. Here is a link to stop hunger late at night: Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed your post!

Comments are closed.