Here comes Christmas, and everybody on TV is suspiciously merry, wishing us a holiday cheer, while reminding us not to go overboard by eating or drinking too much. It seems like every year, at least one major TV station cautions us that the average person gains between 7 and 10 pounds during the holiday season and as such we should all be careful. Self-report studies show that people believe they’ve gained at least 5 pounds over the holiday season. It’s a huge amount by all accounts, no matter how gluttonous people think of themselves. Travis Saunders, an Assistant Professor in Applied Human Science, thought this was fishy and decided to investigate the matter. He reports in the PLOS ONE blog how he eventually tracked down a reliable study that quantified weight gain over the holiday season. What he found is that weight gain over the holidays in only one pound on average, which puts TV estimates and popular perception on thin ice.
The study, published way back in 2000 in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed weight gain in 195 men and women over the course of the year. Between mid-November (Thanks Giving) to mid-January (past the New Year) the authors report an average weight gain of less than one pound. Less than 10% of the participants gained five pounds, a hefty amount but that doesn’t mean we should put everyone under the same roof.
There’s one worrying finding the study makes: the weight gain doesn’t get lost over the rest of the year. Does this mean that over 20 years, people gain on average 20 pounds just from the holiday season alone? If you ask me, I find that unlikely. Of course, people were followed for only one year. If they had been followed for five years, the study might have found the same net weight gain, but a different period of assimilation for all the excess weight.
Anyway, the takeaway is that the five pounds holiday weight gain is a myth blown out of proportion. Despite this, don’t get cocky and be careful with how much and, most important, what you eat.