Avoiding seasonal weight gain

Changing your holiday eating habits isn
Changing your holiday eating habits isn't as hard as trying to burn off excess calories.
— image credit: iStock photo


It’s the season of comfort and joy – and all that seasonal comfort food can result in an acute lack of joy at the weight scale in the New Year.

By the end of December many of us feel we’ve accumulated a few extra pounds. To make things worse, some gyms and community centres take a break — meaning we can’t keep up with our usual exercise routines.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that even though people thought they had gained five to 10 pounds over the holidays, on average, they had actually gained just over a pound. While that was good news, researchers believed people failed to lose the extra weight, and over the years the pounds accumulated as did the associated health risks. They advised us to develop strategies to avoid even minor seasonal weight gain.

With just a few simple strategies, you can cut calories without putting a damper on your holiday cheer:

Step away from the food table. Stationed within arms’ reach of the goodies, it’s easy to graze on a few extra chips, or fill up on a few more sweets. Circulating around the room will allow you to touch base with more people and distract you from all the tempting goodies.

Avoid those things that you don’t absolutely love. If you’re not crazy about the cheeseball someone brought to the potluck, allow yourself to say a guilt-free “no thank you.”

Play mind games. When we were children, many of us would search the plate of cookies and choose the largest square. If you’re still in the habit of doing this, try it in reverse: choose the smallest portion on the plate instead.

Be aware of liquid calories.  Holiday drinks can be surprisingly laden with calories. For example, 1 cup (about 240 ml) of regular eggnog contains 343 calories; a 150 ml glass of red wine contains about 125 calories, and a 320 ml glass of beer contains about 105.  Again, don’t deprive yourself of foods that you absolutely love – just limit the quantity.

Get physical. Just when you need them most, many  fitness classes and regularly scheduled activities take a break over the holidays. It’s an opportunity to vary your exercise routine to work off those extra calories. Local mountains are open on statutory holidays, though with shorter hours, for downhill and cross country skiing as well as snowshoeing. Rain, sleet or snow, the sea wall offers a great walk. As many dog owners have discovered, once you’re bundled in the proper rain gear, it’s quite enjoyable to venture outside. Swimming pools often schedule extra public swims, with at least one lane reserved for swimming lengths.

Shed a few pounds in advance. It’s not too late to cut down now in anticipation of the upcoming gauntlet of holiday goodies. Skip a few lattes; refrain from baked goods for a couple of weeks, and  snack on fruits and veggies.

Sometimes just keeping track of what you eat in a day is enough to help you avoid extra calories. Start a food diary or sign up for a free online food tracker such as It takes about 15 minutes a day to fill out, but it may help you keep a balance between rich and low-cal foods.

One word of caution: always check with your physician before starting a new diet or any new and physically challenging activity.

Indulge and enjoy. Everyone looks forward to their traditional favourite foods and there’s no need to miss out on all the feasting. Help yourself to Aunt Mary’s fabulous almond rocha, pour yourself a glass of your spouse’s amazing homemade eggnog. Depriving yourself may cause a rebound excess at a later date.  Enjoy one serving – but skip the seconds.

The holiday season offers us a bit of a distraction from the cold and dark winter. It gives us an opportunity to enjoy the company of friends, and food is central to that enjoyment. Giving ourselves permission to indulge, within reason, in some of the foods we love may be one of the best gifts we can get.


—Josie Padro is a writer/researcher for North Shore Community Resources,

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