The Do’s & Don’ts to avoiding holiday weight gain this season

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Between Halloween candy and holiday celebrations, it’s no secret that this time of year is when many people kick their everyday diet and exercise routines to the curb. 

In fact, statistics show that during the holiday season, adults’ eating and exercise habits in the United States begin to decrease monthly and plummet to the lowest levels for the year every December.

We’ve all been there; helping ourselves to all the pies and cookies, putting the gym off because we are too busy, forgoing sleep for late-night parties, and stress-eating from all the planning and commitments the holidays bring- no wonder the holidays are one of the most significant contributors to annual weight gain. 

There are ways to avoid packing on the pounds while enjoying the most wonderful time of the year. Here are my do’s and don’ts this holiday season. 

Do prioritize sleep

From cooking, shopping, traveling, wrapping presents, and going from one party to the next, sleep takes a back seat for many people during the holidays. As a result, lack of sleep is one of the leading causes of weight gain during the holidays. 

Research shows poor sleep is a stressor on the body that can adversely affect your health by:

  • Increasing cortisol 
  • Decreasing glucose tolerance
  • Impairing insulin sensitivity
  • Dysregulated levels of hormones that control appetite (ghrelin and leptin)

Some studies, like one published by Annals of Behavior Medicines, found that even one night of inadequate sleep can increase insulin resistance. 

In addition, when we don’t get enough sleep, we tend to make less-than-stellar food choices. That’s because our body sends us hunger cues that we need something to give us energy and fast, usually leading to a carb-heavy or sugar-packed option. 

The holidays may bring about some challenges to your sleep hygiene. However, planning ahead, managing stress, limiting alcohol intake, and setting some boundaries, can all help ensure you enjoy the holidays without losing any important zzz’s. 

Looking for proven sleep techniques to improve your sleep? Download my Sleep Well Strategies e-book!

Don’t just focus on food

Gingerbread, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, casseroles-no one can deny that food is a significant part of the holidays. 

However, if you go to a party being food focused, you are more than likely going to eat more than you should. 

Instead, try shifting your mindset to focus on the overall holiday experience. Maybe it’s the hunt for the perfect gift, decorating the tree, looking at Christmas lights around town, or building a fire while listening to holiday music. 

Remind yourself there’s more to the holidays than eating. 

Do control stress levels

As exciting and magical as the holidays are, keeping up with their demands can be stressful. A recent American Psychiatric Association (APA) poll found that over 30% of Americans expect to be more stressed this holiday season than last year. 

Stress has a huge impact on the body, as it causes an increase in cortisol, which raises blood sugar by releasing stored glucose into the blood. High cortisol levels urge the body to replenish its energy storage and store belly fat. 

Many people deal with stress in unhealthy ways, such as indulging in a pint of ice cream, drinking excessive alcohol, or skipping their fitness routines. 

Finding healthier ways to manage stress is key, not only during the holidays but all year long. A few ways to control stress levels include:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Taking daily walks

I also highly recommend reading 90 Seconds to a Life You Love by Dr. Joan Rosenberg. 

Don’t forget that beverages count 

The holidays are a time for celebration; undoubtedly, for some, that means consuming alcohol. One study by the American Addiction Centers found that Americans drink 27% more during the holiday season than the rest of the year. 

Drinking is a personal choice, but it’s important to remember that alcohol is tough if you are trying to manage a healthy weight and metabolism. Most alcoholic beverages are loaded with calories, but because they are liquid, it’s easy to forget. They also contain sugar that increases blood glucose which can lead to even more sugar cravings. 

The body recognizes alcohol as a toxin. Therefore, it prioritizes breaking down alcohol over other macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein). As a result, estrogen metabolism and blood sugar regulation are negatively affected. 

In addition, alcohol impairs sleep quality by reducing REM sleep and causing sleep disruptions. Research links alcohol to several sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea. 

If you choose to drink, you should ensure you consume it with a healthy protein meal and stay well hydrated. 

Be mindful of non-alcoholic drinks heavy in sugar around the holidays, such as eggnog, soda, hot chocolate, and cider. 

Do focus on protein

As mentioned earlier, meals around the holidays are pretty carb-heavy but often lack protein. 

However, healthy protein at each meal is valuable for avoiding weight gain during the holidays. It makes you feel full longer, reduces hunger, and increases the metabolism and levels of appetite-reducing hormones. 

Don’t save up calories for a party 

Whether intermittent fasting or not, it’s never a good idea to skip eating or starve yourself to “save up” for your holiday festivities. Doing so can lead to overeating. 

Instead, increase your protein AND water intake before the party. That way, you aren’t walking into the party hungry to the point of eating everything in sight. 

Be sure to read my tips on intermittent fasting during the holidays for more information!

Do enjoy your time with family and friends

Setting limits and saying no to foods and drinks that don’t align with your health goals is critical, especially during this time of year. However, overindulging from time to time during the holidays happens. 

Be easy on yourself, and don’t feel you need to abandon your healthy habits in the new year. Enjoy your time with loved ones and get back on track the next day. 

Managing stress, prioritizing sleep, cutting out alcohol, and increasing healthy protein can help you not only avoid excessive weight gain this holiday season but also lose weight by implementing them in your daily health routine. 

My passion is to help women make sustainable changes in their lives to impact their overall health and wellness significantly. Ready to get started on your intermittent fasting journey? Click here to find out more!

This blog shares the views and opinions of Cynthia Thurlow. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice nor intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical condition or disease. Please consult your healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern, diet changes, and adding or discontinuing a medication or supplement. 


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