How to avoid holiday weight gain

Fresh research has identified the Christmas and New Year period as a high-risk time for weight gain – but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Here’s how to manage the holiday season and stay on track with your goals.
Published 19 November 2023 | Updated 1 July 2024

The holiday season is a time of celebration for many of us—and with celebrations often comes celebratory food. And sometimes, a lot of it. If that’s making you wonder how or whether you’ll be able to keep your weight-loss and health goals on track, don’t panic.

While the results of an Australian study published in 2023 do suggest that the holiday season that bridges the end of one year and the start of another is more likely to lead to weight gain than at other times of the year, it (definitely!) doesn’t have to.

Here are 10 tactics that will help you have fun this holiday season while keeping your weight health goals on track at the same time.

1. Make some meals for the bank.

Every time you’re cooking a healthy meal in the leadup to Christmas and New Year’s, make more and stash the extras in the freezer. That way, when life gets ‘holiday hectic’, instead of ordering takeaway, creating a delicious, nutritious meal is as simple as doing some defrosting—think chilli con carne, zucchini slice or meatballs.

2. Stock up on ZeroPoint foods.

There are more than 200 ZeroPoint foods at WeightWatchers®, including classic festive choices, like skinless turkey breast and fresh seafood. Having them on hand delivers at least three benefits in and around the holiday season…

  • There’s no need to track them when you eat them (strike something off your to-do list!)
  • They can help you create rollover Points to use at some other stage during the week (hello work Christmas party!)
  • And you’ll always be able to create a nutritious meal, even when your Points Budget is running low.

3. Save your rollovers for a special occasion.

It might be a special meal out with friends, Christmas lunch or a New Year’s Eve party—having more weeklies to lean on thanks to your rollover Points can make navigating the festive season and staying on track at the same time, easier than ever. How to make rollovers from your meals? Take advantage of zero and low Point recipe collections that you’ll find in the app.

4. Be mindful of the ‘distraction’ effect.

Research shows we tend to eat more when we’re distracted—for example chatting at a party with a never-ending supply of circulating finger food. Research also shows that ‘distracted eating’ blurs food memory, making it more likely that you’ll eat more than you need at your next meal, too. While simply being aware of the first effect can help you counter it in the moment, tracking your food in the app can help counteract the second one.

5. Resist the urge to ‘people please’.

Research suggests people who strive for social harmony will eat more than planned purely to avoid rocking the boat or to make others feel comfortable. So while it might feel a bit awkward to turn down a second—or third!—helping of someone’s special Christmas trifle when you’re at the dinner table on the 25th or in the lead up to it, don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ if you genuinely don’t want another serve.

6. Make your Christmas classics healthier.

There are loads (and we mean loads!) of ways to make healthier versions of your favourite festive dishes if you want to. For inspiration check out the Christmas favourites recipe collection on the app.

7. Avoid showing up to a party hungry.

When you know that the festive food on offer is likely to be the less healthy variety, make a concerted effort to eat before you go. Feeling overly hungry can make those less healthy foods seem more attractive than ever, but with something already in your stomach, you’ll be more likely to stick to a few canapes or crisps rather than eating a whole lot of them.

8. Shift your focus from ‘loss’ to ‘maintenance’.

Given research does suggest that gaining a bit of weight over the holiday season isn’t uncommon, you might find it less stressful and more realistic to shift your goal from weight loss to weight maintenance at this time of year.

9. Be smart about alcohol.

Nothing’s off limits at WeightWatchers so if you enjoy having a festive drink, feel free! It does pay though, to be aware of how alcohol can affect everything from your hunger levels to your attraction to salty and greasy foods. Plus, not only are some alcoholic drinks a ‘better’ choice than others if you’re trying to lose weight, there are also other things you can do to minimise the impact alcohol might have on your weight-loss efforts. You can read more about that, here.

10. Plate up a healthy option first.

When you’re at a function and there’s the opportunity to serve yourself, make a beeline for foods or dishes that are the healthier, more nutritious options—looking for ZeroPoint foods can help guide you here. The reason this is a good strategy? Research suggests the food you choose to put on your plate first influences what you take next. In fact, making a healthier choice to begin with means you’re likely to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with similarly healthy choices.