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Tips to avoiding those extra holiday pounds

December 22, 2021 | UCI Health
It's easy to add extra pounds at holiday celebrations, but hard for many people to lose them when the New Year rolls around.

It's easy to add extra pounds at holiday celebrations, but hard for many people to lose them when the New Year rolls around. Katie Rankell, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program, offers strategies to balance enjoying the festivities with healthy eating.


The six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is the most dangerous time of the year for weight gains.

That’s when most Americans pack on half their extra pounds for the year.

“With high-calorie dishes and drinks during the holidays it’s easy to gain weight, but it’s hard to lose it,” says Katie Rankell, RD, CDE, director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. “Just to cover one extra alcoholic beverage requires an hour on the elliptical machine or treadmill.”

When New Year’s rolls around, losing weight tops most people’s list of resolutions. A better approach may be to avoid overindulging and thinking that you’ll take off any extra pounds in January.

Harder to lose

The trouble is that many people who struggle with their weight year after year can’t get rid of those holiday pounds.

Research shows average weight gains of a pound or less over the holidays among people with a normal weight for their age and build, Rankell says. “For those who are overweight or obese, it’s five pounds.”

People who have been actively trying to lose weight fare even worse. Factors include increased anxiety, depression and overeating.

“They’re also more likely to throw caution to the wind and seek comfort through food, postponing the consequences until after the holidays,” she says. “People in our program who fall off their regimen tend to gain 10 to 15 pounds during this time.”

Pandemic pounds

Then there are the pandemic pounds so many of us have gained over the last two years. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 42% of Americans have reported unwanted weight gains averaging 29 pounds since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The impulse to overindulge may well be heightened this season in reaction to COVID-19 protections that led many to skip gatherings with family, friends and co-workers last year.

“Missing out on the holidays last year created a lot of emotional turmoil for people,” Rankell says. “Now, differences over what COVID-19 protections to take among friends and family may cause conflicts that can also trigger emotional eating.”

Strive for balance

There is hope, Rankell says, by seeking a balance. Enjoy the holidays, partake in celebrations but also focus on your health.

Here are some effective strategies you can use this holiday season to keep that balance:

  • Don’t skip meals and snacks before attending a celebration. If you do, you’ll arrive hungry, which can lead to overeating.
  • Fit in a walk or other exercise before heading out to a holiday gathering.
  • Bring a healthy appetizer — a fruit platter or veggie tray — so there will be a low-calorie dish you can count on.
  • Stand away from the food and focus on people and conversations.
  • Get a plate for your appetizers rather than grabbing bites as they’re passed around. It’s easy to misjudge how much those nibbles add up.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes and limit high-calorie dishes.
  • Between celebrations, manage how you eat by choosing healthy foods and appropriate portion sizes.