Usual and Unusual Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

by Charles Platkin, PhD

It boils down to this: If you overeat during the five week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, you are likely to gain an extra two to five pounds. I know it’s a lot, and the unfortunate part is, it doesn’t just magically disappear after January 1.

Think about it. You have to consume an extra 3,500 calories (beyond what your body is burning already) to make up a pound of fat. So if you eat an extra 350 calories per day (which is not hard — just a couple of those gourmet chocolates or holiday cookies from your co-worker’s desk), you will gain 3.5 pounds by the end of the year (an additional 2,450 calories per week multiplied by five, and divided by 3,500).

So what can you do? Not to worry — here are a few tips ranging from the practical to the very unusual.

It may sound absurd, but if you are going to a holiday party, eat ahead of time. I know plenty of people who starve themselves before going to a party so they can have “room” for all the great food. Then they arrive at the party — stomachs rumbling — and make a beeline for the most high-calorie and high-fat appetizers and finger foods, easily eating more than a day’s worth of calories. Instead, if you eat normally throughout the day, there’s a good chance you will not overeat at the party. I always make sure that I go to an event with a full stomach.

If you are only going to a couple parties over the next few weeks, just relax, enjoy yourself, and eat what you want. The holidays can become problematic if you decide to indulge every day. Watch the little things you eat each day, because that’s what will make the difference.

There are a lot of food choices during the holidays — foods you wouldn’t normally eat become more appealing (especially with a “you only live once” attitude). Be selective. “Eat the things you really love — maybe a small serving of mashed sweet potatoes, a thin sliver of pecan pie — and ignore the not-so-thrilling stuff,” advises Cathy Nonas, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., director of diabetes and obesity programs at North General Hospital in New York.

Since there is already excitement in the air, it’s a great time to boost your metabolism with some new types of exercise. “Ditch that boring treadmill and try a ballroom, tap, jazz or belly dancing class instead. A new routine will rev up your engine and keep you coming back for more,” says Judy Gruen, author of “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout.”

Most people miss the physical cues signaling that they have eaten enough. Instead of waiting until you’re bursting out of your clothes, try eating whatever you want, but stop once you are full. How will you know you’re full? Think about it BEFORE the party. Go to the event with this idea on the “back burner of your mind” and you will eat less throughout the night. “Wait 15 to 20 minutes after a meal before requesting seconds or dessert. By delaying, you may find that your appetite for a second helping decreases,” says Shira Isenberg, R.D., a New York City Nutritionist.

Host a holiday event or party yourself. Believe me, with all that constant moving, planning, cooking, and preparing — you are bound to lose weight (as long as you give away the leftovers). If you don’t want to be the host, try helping out. If you’re constantly on your feet, setting up, serving, and cleaning, all the food will be gone before you have a chance to eat.

The holidays are a time to enjoy family and friends. The more you’re talking, the less you are likely to eat (unless you talk with your mouth full, and that’s an entirely different problem).


  • Be the Table Referee. Sit at the kids’ table so you have to break up fights and cut up food — you won’t have time to eat.
  • Lose Your Appetite. Sit next to your most ill-mannered relative and you will lose your appetite in a jiffy.
  • Pay a Visit to Your Third Cousin. Of all the numerous holiday invites, choose the host who is the worst cook — you will end up eating a lot less.
  • Pick a Family Fight. Push everyone’s buttons (you know what they are) and you will become so involved in the chaos, you will either forget to eat or lose your appetite completely.
  • Put Yourself to Sleep. Eat a lot of turkey so the tryptophan will set in before dessert-time — you’ll be asleep on the couch instead of eating too much pie.

All kidding aside, you can have a wonderful holiday season, but keep in mind that what you eat does matter if you’re concerned about your waistline.

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