It Starts with One Pound: 5 Proven Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT

October 31 and January 1 are like the start and finish lines of a celebration marathon. And it’s easy to lose sight of healthful habits during the holidays.  

One pound is the average weight increase, which doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that measly pound can accumulate to significant weight gain, leading to chronic conditions and diseases. (1,2)

Keep Stress in Check.

No doubt, the holidays are a high-stress time, and that is no good for our waistlines. When the body is in a constant state of “fight or flight,” hormones go haywire, particularly cortisol (our “stress hormone”), and can lead to weight gain. (3)

Find time to press the pause button, and continue (or start!) self-care practices. Need some ideas? Everyone’s different, but some stress-busters include meditation, journaling, time in nature, yoga and other forms of exercise (Aim for at least 30 minutes, five days a week). (4,5)

Eat Superfoods.

Nutrient-rich foods should be most of your diet, regardless of the season. Make half your plate veggies. Choose foods high in fiber, protein and good fat, which can help with weight maintenance because they help us feel fuller longer. Every day, include plant-based protein like peanuts and peanut butter, lean poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. (6,7)

When you’re on the party circuit, it’s easier to make sure you eat nourishing foods if you bring your own.Try Peanut Butter-Glazed Squash or Garlic and White Bean Dip.

Catch Zzz’s.

In the midst of the holiday hustle, it’s easy to skimp on sleep. But sleep deprivation can throw appetite hormones out of whack, and lead to increased food intake. (8)

Shoot for 7-8 hours a night. Before bed, try limiting screen time, drink herbal tea, or do gentle stretches to ensure a restful sleep. (9)

Be Mindful & Merry.

Whether it’s mom’s mashed potatoes or a coworker’s homemade cookies, delicious food is everywhere. And while food is fuel, it also serves to bring people together and carry on cultural traditions.Additionally, restricting food can lead to overeating, disordered eating and social isolation.

So, have your holiday treats, but practice mindful eating -- sit down, slow down, listen to your body and savor your food. Practicing mindful eating can help with weight maintenance. Try taking a moment to pause and breathe between bites, and then decide if the third cookie still has the same appeal. (10)

And don’t show up to the party ravenous – recipe for disaster. Try a fiber and protein rich snack an hour beforehand. An apple with a spoonful of peanut butter will work. (11)

Lay off the Booze.

Taking in excessive calories at the bar can lead to weight gain. Plus, it makes it harder to continue ‘mind’ful eating when the mind is saturated with alcohol.

Nurse your drink and take sips of water in between. Ladies, stick to one drink per day, and men, aim for two drinks per day. That’s 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of vodka for each serving, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Bonus: You’ll feel like a million bucks the next morning. (12, 13)


1.  Weight Control: MedlinePlus. Weight Control: MedlinePlus. Accessed October 13, 2016.

2.  Yanovski, J, Yanovski S, Sovik K, Nguyen T, O'Neil P, Sebring N. A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain. 2000;342:861-867. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200003233421206.

3.  Wardle J, Chida Y, Gibson EL, Whitaker KL, Steptoe A. Stress and adiposity: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011;19(4):771-8.

4.  Learn to manage stress: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Learn to manage stress: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed October 13, 2016.

5. Recommendations for Physical Activity - NHLBI, NIH. U.S National Library of Medicine. Accessed October 13, 2016.

6.  Fiber: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Fiber: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed October 13, 2016.

7.  Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lemmens SG, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012;108(S2). doi:10.1017/s0007114512002589.

8. Shlisky J, Hartman T, Kris-Etherton P. Partial Sleep Deprivation and Energy Balance in Adults: An Emerging Issue for Consideration by Dietetics Practitioners. 2012;112(11):1785-1797. doi:

9. How Much Sleep Is Enough? - NHLBI, NIH. U.S National Library of Medicine. Accessed October 13, 2016.

10, Mathieu J. What Should You Know About Mindful and Intuitive Eating? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009:109(12):1982-1987. doi:

11. Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Guo J, Story M, Haines J, Eisenberg M. Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106(4):559-568. doi:

12, Alcohol use and safe drinking: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Alcohol use and safe drinking: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed October 13, 2016.

13. Appendix 9. Alcohol. Home of the Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Accessed October 13, 2016.

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