7 Tips to Avoid Weight Gain Over The Holidays

Avoid Weight Gain Over The Holidays

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By Rod Navajas

Bottom line is: most of us will end up consuming more food, more alcohol and moving less over the holidays. The result? The inevitable weight loss New Year’s resolution mantra. It’s not a coincidence that in January and February most fitness centers get a big influx of new members ready to leave all their holiday’s weight gain frustrations behind. 

Although body composition changes are expected during this time, it does not need to lead to a fat gain catastrophe. Implementing some simple practices can help immensely and make the New Year’s resolution much more achievable. 

Go on, read it, plan it and implement it! 

1. Stay hydrated

This is probably one of the most underrated practices when it comes to weight management. Increasing water intake will not only displace other beverages which contribute to excess energy consumption [1] but has also been shown to suppress hunger [2] and increase metabolism [3]. 

A good strategy is consuming water right before a big meal. Consuming 2 glasses of water right before a meal has been shown to increase fullness and decrease hunger leading to less calories to be consumed [2]. 

2. Move. Constantly! 

The contribution of physical activity for weight control is indisputable. The less you move, the easier it will be for the excess consumed energy to be stored in your adipose tissue. 

The amount of physical activity one needs to engage to avoid fat gain is highly dependable upon one’s baseline physical activity levels. The more active you are, the more you need to move. If you usually move as much as Michael Phelps during a Olympic Games training season, taking the dog for a walk during the holidays won’t cut it. 

A good way to measure your activity level is using a pedometer to measure your daily steps. You can use your smartphone, a fitness tracker watch or a cheap pedometer. Measure your baseline step count and ensure you are not falling behind during the festive season. 

3. Start every meal with salad and vegetables

Similar to the strategy of drinking water before meals, eating salad before the main course will lead to increased fullness and reduced total meal energy intake [4]. Making sure you have a salad as your entrée can do the trick. Be mindful to choose salads rich in plants and leaves over salads full of extras such as bacon, sauces and cheese. 

4. Get plenty of sleep

Having inadequate sleep has been shown to increase hunger [5], disrupt metabolism [6] and lead to reduced physical activity participation [7]. The shorter your sleep window is, the more the body will need to consume energy to stay awake. This usually leads to excessive hunger levels and overconsumption of calories. 

A solid sleep routine can go a long way. Avoid consuming big meals close to bedtime, limit exposure to digital screens at least 1 hour before bed and make sure your bedroom look like a Batcave. 

5. Avoid having 2 big meals back to back

Arguably this will be the hardest tip to be followed but perhaps the most important. Having 2 big meals back to back with no physical activity between them, will simply overflow your energy utilization capacity and overflow your muscle-liver storage compartments. Imagine a bucket being filled with water. The faster and heavier the water flow, the quicker the bucket will fill up. Poking a temporary hole in the bucket will delay the process. In this analogy, the bucket is your energy storage compartments, the water is your energy consumption and the hole is the physical activity. Whenever the bucket is full, the water spillover (or excess energy) will be stored in the adipose tissue. Avoid keeping the bucket full, and poke constant holes on it! 

6. Alcohol has calories too – choose your battles wisely

Excessive alcohol intake has been shown in multiple studies to be a risk factor for weight gain [8,9]. One simple aspect, already mentioned in this article, is the compound effect of consuming calories from different sources. Funny enough, this tends to have a gender interdependence. Men tend to add alcohol to their food intake while women tend to substitute food for alcohol [10]. Choosing alcoholic beverages that are less energy dense and usually are consumed in smaller quantities are your best bet. The worst: cocktails, beer and wine. The best: gin, vodka and tequila. Avoid mixing alcohol with soft drinks for a less calorie-dense option. 

7. Enough protein at each meal

Protein is a magic macronutrient when it comes to weight management. It increases satiety and thermogenesis (energy required for food digestion) more than fat and carbohydrate comparatively [11]. Furthermore, when a greater proportion of the energy is consumed as protein, better body composition changes are observed: greater gain of muscles mass and greater loss of body fat [12]. Make sure you cover a significant portion of your plate with protein: animal or non-animal sources.

Have fun and enjoy it – moderately! 


[1] Madjd, A., Taylor, M. A., Delavari, A., Malekzadeh, R., Macdonald, I. A., & Farshchi, H. R. (2015). Effects on weight loss in adults of replacing diet beverages with water during a hypoenergetic diet: a randomized, 24-wk clinical trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition102(6), 1305-1312.

[2] Corney, R. A., Sunderland, C., & James, L. J. (2016). Immediate pre-meal water ingestion decreases voluntary food intake in lean young males. European journal of nutrition55(2), 815-819.

[3] Vij, V. A., & Joshi, A. S. (2013). Effect of ‘water induced thermogenesis’ on body weight, body mass index and body composition of overweight subjects. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR7(9), 1894.

[4] Rolls, B. J., Roe, L. S., & Meengs, J. S. (2004). Salad and satiety: energy density and portion size of a first-course salad affect energy intake at lunch. Journal of the American Dietetic Association104(10), 1570-1576.

[5] Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Penev, P., & Cauter, E. V. (2004). Brief communication: sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Annals of internal medicine141(11), 846-850.

[6] Depner, C. M., Stothard, E. R., & Wright, K. P. (2014). Metabolic consequences of sleep and circadian disorders. Current diabetes reports14(7), 1-9.

[7] Kline, C. E. (2014). The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. American journal of lifestyle medicine8(6), 375-379.

[8] Wannamethee, S. G., Shaper, A. G., & Whincup, P. H. (2005). Alcohol and adiposity: effects of quantity and type of drink and time relation with meals. International Journal of Obesity29(12), 1436-1444.

[9] Shelton, N. J., & Knott, C. S. (2014). Association between alcohol calorie intake and overweight and obesity in English adults. American journal of public health104(4), 629-631.

[10] Wang, L., Lee, I. M., Manson, J. E., Buring, J. E., & Sesso, H. D. (2010). Alcohol consumption, weight gain, and risk of becoming overweight in middle-aged and older women. Archives of internal medicine170(5), 453-461.

[11] Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American journal of clinical nutrition87(5), 1558S-1561S.

[12] Longland, T. M., Oikawa, S. Y., Mitchell, C. J., Devries, M. C., & Phillips, S. M. (2016). Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition103(3), 738-746.

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