A woman and man enjoy a winter fat bike ride in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
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Winter weight gain: keeping healthy during holidays

December 6, 2023
4 minutes
In the News

When winter hits, so does the holiday season. This brings many challenges if you’re focused on healthy living. From shorter days and colder weather that make it harder to get your exercise in, to the many treats and extra alcohol consumption common around the holidays, you’ll face many challenges to your healthy living goals during this time of year.

If you’re wondering, “Why do I gain weight during the winter?” know that you’re in good company. On average, people will gain between 1 and 3 pounds during the holiday season. There are many reasons for this. The stress of the holidays, extra food available, less motivation to get outdoors and be active, and increased cravings for comfort food are all contributing factors to winter weight gain.

So, what can you do if you want to avoid coming out of the winter with a few extra pounds? There are some simple yet effective strategies you can use to prevent holiday weight gain. With the right plan in place, you can enjoy some holiday festivities and still achieve your health goals during this season.

1. Be active and socialize

A key factor of a healthy lifestyle is exercise, but many people lose motivation to be active when the days get shorter and the temperature colder. The holiday season is about friends and family. While many events do focus on food and treats, they can also be about the people you’re spending time with. Focus on the social aspect of the event and look for ways to be active. Can you get together with family for a hike through the winter woods, or play a game of basketball in the driveway after a holiday meal? Being active and social may help counter any extra treats you enjoy over the season.

2. Mindful eating and portion control

Having one holiday cookie isn’t going to derail all of your healthy eating goals. Having two holiday cookies every day between Christmas and New Year's may be more than your body needs.

One key to balancing your desire to maintain a healthy weight with the extra treats of the holiday season is to practice mindful eating and portion control. Eat what’s available when you’re hungry, even if it’s not the healthiest option possible, but stop when you’re full. Take a half portion, too, and evaluate if you’re sufficiently full before returning for seconds. These small steps can make a big difference in the total number of calories you consume.

3. Smart snacking and healthy choices

When you want a snack during the holidays, it’s tempting to reach for another treat. Instead, grab some fresh fruit, or keep some cut-up veggies in the fridge. If you can focus on smart snacking and save the treats for an occasional after-meal dessert, you may find that you’re consuming fewer empty calories. Also, fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which can help you feel full longer. They’re also packed with vitamins that can help boost your immune system throughout the winter months.

4. Manage stress and sleep

There’s no denying the holiday season can feel stressful. There are concerts, programs, parties, and events to attend nearly every weekend. Over time, you can start to develop significant stress as you work to manage this busy schedule. Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which triggers the body’s natural fat storage tendencies. When you have high cortisol levels, it can be harder to lose weight. Also, high cortisol levels can make you want to indulge in sugary or salty treats, which can add to your weight gain.

Add to the schedule the expectations this time of year to have the perfect, Pinterest-ready holiday, and you can see why it’s a recipe for high levels of stress. Find ways to weave in some relaxation throughout the winter as you manage your emotional wellness during this season. Curl up with a favorite book or holiday movie to unwind, or draw yourself a warm bath to add some relaxation. Maybe relax by listening to your favorite holiday music or attending a peaceful religious service. What feels relaxing is going to be highly personal to you, but find some ways to unwind.

Getting enough sleep is also essential during the winter. Sleep keeps your immune system functioning properly while also lowering your stress levels.

5. Mindful indulgence and alcohol consumption

It’s probably not reasonable to say you need to avoid all treats during the holidays, but as with your mindful eating, be mindful of your indulgence. Take small portions of the holiday treats that are so prevalent this time of year. Avoid taking seconds. This will help you consume less of these tasty but potentially unhealthy items.

Similarly, be considerate of how much alcohol you consume. Whether it’s wine, beer, or something else, alcohol contains calories, and too many calories can lead to weight gain. Have alcohol on occasion if you want it, but don’t overdo it.

6. Planning and self-compassion

The best way to protect against winter weight gain is with a plan. Find tools you can use to track your health, such as Evidation, and know how you will approach parties and treats brought to work. Give yourself some grace to enjoy some of these items, but have a plan in place to say “no” in a gracious way when needed.

In addition, practice self-compassion. You may gain some weight in the winter. For some, it’s the nature of the season and all of the celebrations it brings. If you do gain some weight and want to try to get back to your baseline after the holidays, you can easily do so. A little bit of extra winter weight, especially over the holidays, doesn’t need to derail the work you’ve put in throughout the year.

Are you looking for additional insights that can help you fight winter weight gain? Check out these 23 surprising health facts, or our guide to healthy eating during the holidays.

If you want a tool to help you prevent winter weight gain, consider Evidation. By rewarding you for your efforts, Evidation can make it easier to focus on healthy choices throughout the holidays. Start tracking your health with Evidation today.

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