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Weight gain from holiday alcohol

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According to one reported study, fewer than 10 percent of 195 subjects studied during the winter holiday gained more than 5 pounds and 85% of those in the study ended up being 1.4 lbs. heavier a year after the study. Approximately 1.05 pounds came from the holidays and 0.35 pounds from additional annual weight gain. Susan Z. Yanovski, M.D., Executive Director of NIDDK's National Task Force on the Treatment and Prevention of Obesity, and co-author of the study at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK); concluded that "Weight gained over the winter holidays isn't lost during the rest of the year!"

However, added Dr. Yanovski, “overweight and obese volunteers were more likely to gain five pounds than were those who were not overweight, which suggests that the holiday season may present special risks for those who are already overweight.”

A mere 1.4 lb gain per year may not seem like much to someone who is not struggling with their weight, until it accumulates up to 14 pounds in a decade. Even at the 1.05 pounds of seasonal weight we carry this weight over, year after year, plus continue to gain each year; so over 2 decades, we can easily have accumulated 20 pounds of "holiday cheer" around your middle. For those already struggling with weight loss, the potential of an average 5 lb gain annually, reported in the study, can be both frustrating and unhealthy.

For many, the holiday season means parties, dining out with family and friends, and alcoholic beverages are often part of the celebration. Calories from alcoholic beverages be a major contributor to unwanted body weight and an increased waist line, “especially for those who are already overweight.”

According to Bonnie Roill, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, adult weight management specialist and owner of Scottsdale based Aspire 2 Wellness , “if you are planning on consuming an alcoholic beverage, before celebrating, develop alcoholic beverage strategies (similar strategies can also be used to control food intake). Bonnie also added, “Alcoholic is not one of the 4 food groups. It is nutritionally void of any essential nutrients that contribute to our health; there is no health problem or disease state resulting from not consuming it.”


  1. “Awareness of your drinking patterns during the holiday season is the first strategy to outsmarting holiday weight gain. Don't "wing it" - make a plan for how you can avoid ANY holiday weight gain including that from alcoholic beverages. Before you leave home or invite guests over, think about your "triggers." Do you find once you open a bottle of wine you just must try it; put someone else in charge of opening the bottle if you are trying to avoid that extra taste. Is having an open bottle of wine in the fridge making it difficult for you to stay on your healthier eating plan? Do you tell yourself "I may as well finish it's” or “I can start my good eating habits tomorrow?; change your story; put a discouraging note on the bottle; plan to have it with a meal and take into account the calories or if you do not want waste it, use it in cooking ... heat burns off the alcohol."
  2. If you planning on drinking alcohol, limit yourself to 1 drink if you are watching your calories.
  3. Avoid the high calorie mixers like eggnog, margarita mix, or frozen drinks made with sugary flavored mixes.
  4. Are you tempted by the holiday alcoholic beverage displays in the local market to make a purchase avoid impulse buying. If alcohol is not on your shopping list – don’t buy it! Do not go food shopping hungry, it will increase your chances of impulse buying.
  5. “Develop a plan to become "party savvy." Know how to handle the hostess that keeps encouraging you to drink. One way to do this is to "always keep a glass in your hand with something in it." When a hostess sees a guest with an empty glass that is their trigger to say; “ready for another" or "I will get you another.” A glass with some beverage (even non alcoholic) sends the message "I'm not done yet; still enjoying my drink."
  6. Alternate an alcoholic beverage with a non alcoholic beverage like soda or water which helps hydration.
  7. If you must have that glass of white wine, consider extending it by turning it into a spritzer by adding sparkling soda and ice and if you have a mixed drink made to order ask for a half portion of alcohol.
  8. “Choose a non alcoholic beverage, but don't drown yourself in non alcoholic liquid calories. Holiday seasonal beverages - everything from Eggnog to Gingerbread Latte's are addictive due to their high sugar and often high fat content. You can dial down the calories by selecting the non-fat versions of Eggnog, order your Latte's "skinny" (i.e. with non-fat milk) plus ask for sugar-free version (this alone can save you 100 calories). Hold the endless swirls of whipped cream and ask for just a "dollup."

Calories from alcohol yield about 7 calories per gram and are processed "differently" in the body as compared to the other three major macro nutrients (carbohydrates at 4 calories/gram; protein at 4 calories per gram; and fats at 9 calories per gram) resulting in the body treating alcohol more like fat. Bonnie adds, “The caloric costs of approximately 5 ounces of red wine is about 125 calories; from 2 beers approx 150 calories plus the collateral damage of alcohol-based drinks is that they lower our inhibitions making it more likely we forget about healthier eating and portion control.” In addition alcohol reduces the body’ ability to burn fat and alters the normal digestive processes ... result ... a slower metabolism. An additional 150 calories every day in excess of calorie needs equates to an annual weight gain of approximately 15 pounds.

This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical/nutritional/fitness advice. Information presented is subject to change as additional discoveries are made or additional research is published.

For additional information: Click here to visit, Holiday Drinking; Keep it Safe, Heavy drinking at the holidays can be dangerous, Plan On Drinking Over The Holidays? Use Common Sense!




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