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Health

WEIGHT FOR ME: Overcoming the season's trend of overeating

End-of-year holidays most common time for weight gain

Julie Barichello
Julie Barichello

If you're among the 45 percent of Americans who make annual New Year's resolutions to lose weight, you may want to make it a little earlier than usual this year.

By "a little earlier," I mean this week.

In 2016, Cornell University researchers found that the holiday season stretching from Halloween through New Year's Day typically leads to weight gain. No surprise there, really, given that Halloween revolves around candy and many Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions involve massive meals.

But that extra intake of calories takes an average of five months to shed, the research found.

"Although up to half of holiday weight gain is lost shortly after the holidays, half the weight gain appears to remain until the summer months or beyond," wrote researchers Elina E. Helander, Brian Wansink and Angela Chieh in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

The good news is the average weight gain was less than two pounds.

The holiday weight gain trend in the United States begins slowly after Halloween — probably from ridding the house of that leftover Halloween candy. Caloric excess spikes around Thanksgiving and again between Christmas and New Year's. From January onward, the average person's calorie intake reduces and levels out.

Watching weight over the holidays

Digging into Thanksgiving lunch at my parents' house and then reheating Round 2 for dinner is among my favorite traditions, and Christmastime for my side of the family overflows with baked goods. It's hard to sit on the sidelines when dieting over the holidays.

It's also hard to lose those extra pounds once they're there.

I got practice at balancing weight goals with holiday traditions last Christmas, when I was 12 days in to my new weight loss routine, and again during Easter dinner earlier this year. I managed to stick to a weight loss plan with the following methods:

Small portions. When there are 10 different dishes on the table and I want to sample all of them, I still do — I just keep my scoops small. That lets me get a taste of everything but keeps the calories low. If I want more of a certain dish, I'll forgo adding another item on my plate.

Carryout containers. For the calorie-conscious holiday celebrant, I've learned Tupperware is my best friend. Eating tiny portions of a favorite holiday dish can be disappointing, especially if it's a food that's only on the table once or twice a year.

By taking a scoop or two home in a carryout container, I still get to enjoy the same amount I'd usually eat — it's just consumed over the course of a few days instead of in one sitting.

It's good etiquette to ask the host if it's OK to fill a carryout container. (Luckily, both my mom and mother-in-law push food at us to take home, so I can stock our fridge with two or three lunches' worth of holiday favorites.)

Appetite suppression. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book, but drinking extra water before meals can make a person feel fuller and less likely to overeat on the holidays. In the past, I've grabbed a bottle of water about an hour before the meal to drink, then have another one with my meal.

Dietitians also recommend not "drinking calories" — in other words, stick to water instead of beverages loaded with calories. When it comes to holidays, I usually still treat myself to a soda or a cup of my mom's classic holiday punch.

Extra calories, extra activity. If I'm going to load my plate with extra food for the holidays (which I pretty much always do), I add extra activity to my holiday week routine to burn the calorie excess.

Keep in mind that calorie surpluses/deficits are better measured in weekly increments rather than daily increments. So while I may not get much extra exercise on the holiday itself, I add 10 to 20 minutes extra daily activity the rest of the week.

And if you do end up gaining a few pounds between now and New Year's?

You won't be alone come Jan. 1 in setting a resolution to get rid of that weight again.

JULIE BARICHELLO is an assistant editor at The Times documenting her weight management and health improvement journey. To share your own weight management story, contact her at 815-431-4072 or jbarichello@shawmedia.com.

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