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Weight Gain Over the Holidays Linked to More Food, Not Less Exercise

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A new study suggests that more food, not less exercise, increases weight gain over the holidays.
weight gain over the holidays

weight gain over the holidays

A new study of adults with obesity suggests the amount of food consumed during the winter holidays is a greater contributing factor to weight gain during the holidays than lack of exercise. Findings from this study were published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Food — Not Lack of Exercise — Contributes to Weight Gain Over the Holidays

Approximately half of annual weight gain in the United States occurs during the winter holiday season. While increased food intake and reduced physical activity can both contribute to weight gain, objective studies have yet to evaluate whether either food intake or lack of exercise are more important factors associated with holiday weight gain.

Study findings

Nutritional science and psychology researchers from the United States and United Kingdom compared body weight change between the pre-holiday period (ie, September to mid-November) and the winter holiday season (ie, Thanksgiving to early January) in 23 adults with obesity.

Total energy expenditure and levels of appetite-regulating hormones were measured during each time period. Additionally, the researchers evaluated the frequency of eating away from home.

Compared to the pre-holiday period, body weight change was significantly higher during the holidays (−0.86 ± 0.42 kg vs 0.41 ± 0.42 kg, respectively; p=0.02). There was no change in total energy expenditure during both studied time points. This finding suggested that there was no significant role of energy expenditure via lack of exercise on weight gain over the holidays.

From the pre-holiday duration to the winter holiday season, there was an increase in the number of participants who reported they ate at sit-down restaurants. During the holiday period, changing eating behaviors were associated with a non-significant increase in energy intake of approximately 80 more calories per day (p=0.07).


The study included only a small number of participants with obesity, indicating that the findings may not generalize across the non-obese population. These findings do not necessarily discount the value of exercise, as healthy eating goes hand in hand. Food, however, is perhaps more predominant in one’s day-to-day life and can be more easily altered than starting a rigorous exercise program.

Also, self-deprivation of certain foods may lead to overeating and even more weight gain in the long run, making moderation important and irrespective of whether or not it’s a holiday. 


Bhutani S, Wells N, Finlayson G, Schoeller DA. Change in eating pattern as a contributor to energy intake and weight gain during the winter holiday period in obese adultsInt J Obes (Lond). 2020 Mar 13.

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