Newsweek today published my comments on new research showing that weight maintenance tips and knowledge of how much exercise you need to do to work off Christmas food and drink, could prevent Christmas weight gain. The results showed that on average, participants in the comparison group gained some weight over Christmas but participants in the intervention group did not. Those in the intervention group ended the study weighing on average 0.49kg less than those in the comparison group.
My 5 take-outs from this study
1. Why is this study significant? What does it tell us that is new?
This was a well conducted, double blinded randomised controlled trial. It appears to be the first study to look at weight gain over the holiday period.
Further, it was a short term study conducted during a specific timeframe – expecting people to make changes for a short period of time only has a better chance of being successful.
Those people who were in the intervention group were more likely to weigh themselves twice a week, and reflected on what caused any weight gain. This conscious awareness and action seems to have made a crucial difference. It suggests that you can give yourself a brief period of logging your weight, food and drink, and being more active, with significant results that could have important health implications for your long-term health.
2. What surprised me the most about the findings?
The fact that there was no weight gain – I would have still expected some.
Either this was a highly-motivated group, or the study design was impactful.
3. What are the limitations?
It would be important to assess how long people kept the weight off for, rather than just having Jan and Feb measurements.
4. What are the potential uses of this research in the future?
Prevention of weight gain is not easy, and most people gain, on average, about 1-2lbs a year, with faster gains during festivities like Christmas. It’s not easy to lose that extra weight in January, so the parties, alcohol and treats during the holiday season can mount up to significant weight gain as the years go by.
Losing the weight after the festive season can be really difficult, so prevention of excess weight gain in the first place is a more powerful way to go.
We know that keeping records, such as recording your weight, engages your brain and makes you more conscious of your habits. So, if you are more aware of your weight, and you know that you are monitoring your food and drink intake, you are more likely to be aware of what you’re eating – and hence, eat better if you choose to.
So, even if we don’t make any other changes except record our weight and food intake, it’s likely we will make better choices.
Christmas time offers a double hit: eating richer, more calorific food and drink, coupled with being less active. Most people recognise that they will gain unwanted weight over Christmas. Having the ability to manage that weight whilst still enjoying the festive season can be liberating. The key is to create feeling of enjoyment, and even healthy indulgence, as opposed to restriction and deprivation.
5. What should readers take away from the study in terms of their own habits and behaviours?
My top 5 tips:
- Write down what you eat and drink – log portion sizes, and remember that alcohol, weight for weight, has more calories than carbs
- Weigh yourself twice a week
- Be physically active
- Know how much activity you’ll need to do to work off that mince pie – knowledge is power (by the way, you need a 20-minute run)
- Find a way to create a plan that actively engages your conscious thinking: this could be recording your food through an app, writing down your weight and acting on any weight gain, planning your activity for the week by booking classes, or having short term goals that you can tick off once completed.