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By Robin Allen MSPH, RDN, LDN

Halloween but for some people the scariest time of the year is “The Holidays”, especially if you are struggling with obesity, diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  Cocktail parties, office parties, dinners, entertaining, and “forbidden” foods are everywhere!  The temptation is sometimes too much to overcome.  Holidays can be wonderful or can be a time of great anxiety for people because it is so focused on food.

People often do gain weight during the holidays, but how much weight? In 2000, a study of 195 adults showed an average holiday weight gain of between .75 pounds (lb.) and 1 lb.  However, 14% of those studied gained 5 lb. or more! In this study, those who were overweight or obese gained more holiday pounds than those who were normal weight.  Another study indicated the average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is between .4-1.5 kg (.8 lb. to 3.3 lb.).  Some people reported gaining up to 4.1 Kg (9.02 lb.).  The range of weight gain was large and increased in adults who are already overweight or obese.  Compounding this seasonal weight gain is the tendency not to lose the weight despite those New Year’s resolutions.  Holiday weight gain is one factor contributing to the obesity epidemic.

There are many resources that give tips for facing the holidays.  I have gathered some of my favorites that I have used with patients and clients over the years and added some other interesting ones I found.  Maybe these tips will help you in your practice or with your own family.

  • Keep exercising. A study indicated that those people who participated in 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise were less likely to gain fat mass. Lack of physical activity is one reason that people have problems managing diabetes and weight during the holidays. Off from work or school? Use this extra time to do some physical activity.
  • Treat all evening events as your Dinner. Don’t plan on going out to eat later.  No matter what your good intentions are you will always eat more calories than you intended according to Brian Wansink.
  • Don’t go starving to a party. Have a protein rich snack before a party that keeps you feeling full, more satisfied and in control.
  • Scan the buffet before you begin. Only choose your favorites.  You do not have to sample one of everything, especially if you can get it any time of year.
  • Use smaller plates. Research has shown that the bigger the plate, the more food you will eat.  You can reduce your intake by 15%-45% by using smaller plates or even just a napkin.
  • Fill your plate with veggies, skip the dip, but enjoy the low-calorie salsa.
  • Don’t hover around the buffet. Enjoy the conversation, not the food.
  • Go easy on the beverages especially the ones containing alcohol. Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating. Eggnog contains an average of 340+ calories per cup and even more with alcohol. Alternate alcohol with water.
  • Bring sugar-free mints, gum or your toothbrush. Clean, fresh breath can slow down or stop those food cravings.
  • Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering.
  • Go for the passed Hors d ‘Oeuvres. People tend to eat more from buffets than from passed trays, and the best food is usually passed.
  • Choose lower-calorie and healthy festive foods. Go for crudités, lean deli meats, chicken kebabs, boiled shrimp (22 calories for four large shrimp), and vegetables.
  • Try healthier versions of your favorite holiday foods. Many times the casserole will taste just as good with fat-free or light sour cream instead of regular? Can you steam green beans instead of sautéing in butter?

What are your tips for navigating the holidays?  What tips do you give to your patients?


Wansink, B. Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N.Y. 2013

Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutr Rev. 2000;58:378-379. Accessed November 16, 2015.

Nutrition 411 Accessed November 16, 2015

Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating by Greta Macaire R.D.  Accessed November 16, 2015 Accessed November 16, 2015 Accessed November 16, 2015 Accessed November 16, 2015 Accessed November 16, 2015

This post was written by Robin Allen, a member of OneOp (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Day 359 The strawberry Santa Army Dec. 25, 2013