Monday, March 4, 2024

Overeating at Christmas can cause weight gain, not necessarily for good

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The holidays are a time of indulgence, with most celebrations centred on having festive food and drinks. It’s no wonder then that most people expect to gain some weight over Christmas.
Indeed, plenty of research suggests that people can gain a couple of kilos over the festive period. But whether this weight gain is only temporary or not depends on many factors.
First, it’s important to note that our body weight varies quite a lot from day to day. One study of three European countries suggested that adults tend to be 0.35% heavier on a Monday than they were the previous Friday.
This might be due to people eating differently at weekends. Or it could be down to natural fluctuations in our weight with one study finding weight can change by an average of 1kg (2.2lb) in a single day thanks to activity levels, fluid retention and food intake.
But when it comes to the Christmas period, weight gain tends to fluctuate more. Research shows that at Christmas, people saw their weight increase by 1.35% on average (about 1.2kg or 3lb).
Research from Australia also shows that adults gain around 0.65% body weight over the Christmas period (which falls during their summer). This is particularly interesting, as the study found participants tended to weigh 0.23% less in the summer compared to the winter.
This suggests that Christmas weight gain may be solely down to overeating not because people are exercising less during the cold winter months.
But is this weight gain actually due to an increase in body fat? Or is it simply because of bloating, fluid retention and having more food in our stomachs?
Calorie count
When looking at how much people eat on Christmas day itself, there’s little in the way of rigorous research.
But if we look at American Thanksgiving a holiday similarly characterised by indulgence and overeating research shows people eat around 3,960 calories at Thanksgiving dinner alone. This translates to an approximately 0.5kg (1.1lb) weight increase at the end of the Thanksgiving period.
That’s nearly double the daily recommended calorie requirements for the average adult woman and almost one-and-a-half times the recommended requirements for an adult man.
But just because it’s double the amount of calories we need, this doesn’t mean we may necessarily gain weight.
For many years, it was believed that consuming an additional 3,500 calories or more over a week would result in 0.5kg (1lb) of weight gain. But research now suggests this might not necessarily be true for everyone. Many factors can affect how easily a person gains weight and how many additional calories per week it takes to do this.
For example, it seems that, in general, men gain weight less easily than women, linked to differences in body composition and where fat tends to be stored. Other factors including body size and weight as well as how much muscle you have, age and how physically active you are can also affect how easily you might gain weight.
Additionally, your genes and some health conditions (such as an underactive thyroid) can influence how easy it is to gain weight.

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