The Sad Truth About Holiday Weight Gain

I hosted 46 people for Thanksgiving, and about half of my family stayed overnight. Last night, I just about finished the sheets, got all the stuffing off the floor, put away the last of the orange candles and threw away the leftover dessert. Yet, when I opened my eyes this morning, I wasn’t relieved about being done. Instead, I woke up to two anxiety-provoking thoughts … Christmas and weight loss. Stressmas requires no explanation.

What about weight loss? It is the holiday season. Can’t I just eat, drink and be merry and deal with the repercussions in the new year? Sadly, no. Despite what the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry will have you believe, weight loss is hard and the majority of people who attempt it, ultimately fail.

It is not a matter of willpower. It is a matter of science.

Our bodies want to hold on to extra pounds, even in the unhealthy range. The reasons are biologically complicated, but to simplify things, from an evolutionary standpoint, we haven’t caught up to an environment where food is always an arm’s reach away. We want to hold on to weight because our bodies are hardwired to act as if more nutrition may be miles, and a few close encounters with a lion, away.

When we gain weight, our metabolism resets to a new normal. The body essentially sends out signals saying “Loss of Fat Stores! Switch to energy saving mode!” Hormones are triggered to get the body back to what it considers to be its previous safe weight. The muscles become more efficient, requiring less calories to perform their functions. So, a 150 lb person who used to be 170 lbs may require 400 less calories just to maintain their new weight than a person who was always 150 lbs.

Additionally, the brain ramps up the food reward response, increasing our appetite and making us feel we need more food to be full. It all seems remarkably unfair. You decide you want to be healthier, you work hard to lose weight and your body, the very thing you are trying to improve, is sabotaging you. Unfortunately, it wants to defend its fat stores. On top of this, we live in a world where the messages to eat and drink abound. Our biology and our environment are both working against us.

Why am I telling you this on a Monday morning? It is NOT because I am a sadist. I don’t want to ruin your holiday season, but I do want to share what the evidence is saying right now. It is not as easy as Marie Osmond tells us it is. Weight loss is hard, and it is much easier to not gain in the first place. During this time of busy-ness and take out, socializing and drinking, stress and overeating, gaining a few extra pounds is considered normal. But, holiday weight gain isn’t magical like Frosty’s Christmas snow. It behaves just like regular weight gain, and will be just as frustrating to lose.

Disclaimer because I can already anticipate the comments: Weight loss is POSSIBLE and people do it all the time, it can just be really difficult.

How To Have a Healthier Holiday Season

The Holiday Hustle Workout

Avoid Holiday Stress


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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.