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    Weight gain over holiday season – tips to manage calories at parties

If you have noticed you've packed on pounds over the last 10 or 20 years, and wondered how that weight gain happened, here's one idea that might make you consider setting down that extra plate of cookies or latkes during this holiday season.

"Studies have shown that, from mid-November until mid-January, people averaged a weight gain in the population of about three quarters of a pound or so. It doesn't sound like much, but it stays on," says Dr. Donald Hensrud, a Mayo Clinic physician specializing in nutrition and editor of "The Mayo Clinic Diet." "We only gain a little over a pound the entire year, so most of it is during the holiday season and it's cumulative."

That means, over 20 years, it's 20 pounds, for instance. 

Dr. Hensrud says studies also show that people who weigh more to begin with, may also gain more weight during the holiday season. It's no wonder. The holidays are food-centric. Eating is the basis for many social and family gatherings, often starting with Thanksgiving.

He says people have various attitudes about the holidays ranging from trying to resist temptations, which everyone knows is challenging, to ignoring and going all in and gaining weight.

Watch: Dr. Donald Hensrud talks about weight gain over holidays and tips on how to manage weight at parties.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video is available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network. Name super/CG: Donald Hensrud, M.D./Internal Medicine/Mayo Clinic.

Tips to manage calories over the holidays


Managing weight is complex, says Dr. Hensrud, but it comes down to calories in and calories out. 

"There are many strategies people can use heading into the holidays, where they can still enjoy them and not throw in the towel and gain a lot of weight," says Dr. Hensrud. "For example, keep physical activity as a priority. You may not have time to go to the gym every day, or maybe you don't like doing that. But you could try to get a walk in in the morning before your day starts or before a big celebration occurs."


A strategy that can help people make better food choices is planning.

"One thing is to eat something healthy before you go to a party so you're not famished. Have some fruit, have a little bit of nuts and don't stand by the snack table all night," he says. "Decide ahead of time what you're going to eat. Try to stick with that. And if you still want more, move over to healthier food."


Beer, wine, and alcoholic drinks can add calories and also make you hungrier.

"Alternating an alcoholic drink with some carbonated water with a little flavoring or something else with few calories," Dr. Hensrud says.

Be kind to yourself

Most important, maintaining your weight and health during the holidays isn't impossible and shouldn't make you unhappy. Dr. Hensrud says the first thing is to be kind to yourself, and don't give up.

"Don't throw in the towel. You can still have fun, and you can still manage weight with just a little bit of effort during this time," he says.

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