Holidays Are Not The Only Contributor | 3 Ways To Avoid Annual Weight Gain


Katie Rose Hejtmanek, PhD Anthropologist

CrossFit Level 1 Trainer

It is that time of year again, the time when the average American claims to gain 5 pounds thanks to the holiday festivities. Recently, research scientists have begun to investigate this claim: Do Americans really gain that much weight over the holidays and what happens to that added weight?

According to two studies, American participants gain less than 2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (Yanovski et. al. 2000; Schoeller 2014). In their study with 195 adults, Yanovski and colleagues found that participants gained, on average, 0.37 kilograms or about 0.8 of a pound. This is the good news, what feels like 5 pounds is really only about a pound. The bad news, however, is that participants did not lose this weight. Yanovksi followed-up with participants in March and September. In March these participants had, on average, gained 0.48 kilograms or about a pound.

The final follow-up in September revealed that individuals still had not shed the holiday weight. Just in time for the cycle of holiday weight gain to begin again. Schoeller’s (2014) research supports these conclusions and claims that holiday weight gain is a major contributor to annual weight gain for American adults. Each year, the research suggests the average American gains about a pound during the winter holidays and never lose it.

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beach vacationThe other major contributor to annual weight gain is weight gained during vacation (Cooper and Tokar 2016). Vacation is a time for relaxation, letting loose, and indulging. Cooper and Tokar (2016) found that vacationers gained about 0.32kg or 0.7 pounds while on vacation. During a 6-week follow-up, as with holiday weight gain, vacation weight gain remained. Therefore, Cooper and Tokar suggest that vacation weight gain is also a major contributor to annual weight gain.

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What happens when we holiday (vacation and/or travel) and celebrate the winter holidays all at the same time? Is holiday weight gain a given? Not necessarily but it takes some due diligence.

Researchers investigate strategies to control holiday (Phelan et. al 2008) and vacation (Strauss-Blasche et. al 2005) weight gain. Phelan and colleagues argue that while it takes discipline and attention, people can manage weight gain during the winter holidays. Strauss-Blasche and colleagues in Austria investigated how to get the most restoration out of vacation or holidays. To do so one must practice self-care, including exercise. In both (albeit very different) studies maintaining an exercise regimen during holidays is critical not only to ward-off weight gain but also to take care of oneself.

Keep watch on your fitness gains (or an eye on weight gains) with this great tracker:

Functional Fitness Inspiration!

holiday-bodyWhile it can be difficult to maintain an active training or exercise schedule during holiday travel, CrossFit for the holidays is one of the most effective ways to ward off the unwanted weight gain. As an anthropologist who studies functional fitness and strength sports, and a Level 1 CrossFit coach, I want to offer a few strategies for maintaining an active regimen during holiday travel.


First, there is a wide range of body weight exercises that can be done anywhere. These include push-ups, burpees, lunges, mountain climbers, sit-ups, air squats, and pull-ups. During travel days, pick two lower body exercise and one upper body exercise and combine them for an effective and short workout.

For example, Day 1 choose mountain climbers, air squats, and push-ups. Using a CrossFit inspired workout called an EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute), do 20 mountain climbers, 20 air squats, and 10 push-ups for 12 minutes. That means the first minute do 20 mountain climbers and then rest until the clock hits 1:00, at which time do 20 air squats and then rest. At the 2:00 mark do 10 push-ups (you can conduct the push up against the wall, onto a countertop, on the floor from the knees, or from the feet, see this website for mastering the push-up).

Perform this workout for 12 minutes, or each exercise 4 times (increase or decrease the number of reps or minutes according to your needs). Focus on the quality of each rep performed rather than on racing through the workout. This short 12-minute workout will feel good and keep you on the right track for the holiday travel season. If you have one, bring a jump rope along and include jumping rope for 30 seconds to your list of body weight exercises.

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Related Article: Does A Carb Restricted Diet Change HIIT Boost Health Benefits?


Second, many of us like to go to gyms even while we are traveling. Often hotels provide their own fitness spaces. However, even if you don’t have access to a hotel gym, many gyms offer free week passes. I have recently traveled to New Mexico, Illinois, and Tennessee and have visited various gyms using complimentary week passes. Just conduct a Google search of gyms in the area you are visiting to see which offer the complimentary passes. It usually only takes a quick email exchange to secure the pass. Having done the leg-work to find a local gym and requesting the pass will set you up for success when you finally arrive in your holiday travel destination. If you need suggestions on what equipment to use, go to and choose a workout that looks fun and invigorating (here you will also find tips for how to scale the workout to fit your needs)!


Third, CrossFit boxes are located everywhere! One of the wonderful community benefits of CrossFit training is the welcoming of “drop-ins” or those travelers who want to join others for the Workout of the Day! If you have experience doing CrossFit, just check out the CrossFit affiliate map and find a local box that will help you keep on track during your holiday travels.

Related Article: CrossFit For All Ages

CrossFit for the Holidays:

While the research shows we only gain about 1 pound over the winter holidays, it also finds that we keep that weight on throughout the year, adding to it each season. In an effort to stop this cycle, incorporate a body weight EMOM at your home-away-from-home, a functional fitness inspired workout at a local gym that offers complimentary fitness, or find a local CrossFit affiliate and join them! You can even travel with a suspension system like those from TRX. However you can manage it, try CrossFit for your Holiday Travels!

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Cooper, Jamie A. and Theresa Tokar. 2016. Travel and Weight Gain. Physiology & Behavior 156, 43-47.

Phelan S, Wing RR, Raynor HA, Dibello J, Nedeau K, Peng W. 2008. Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal weight individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 76(3):442-448.

Schoeller, Dale A. 2014. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiology & Behavior, 134: 66-69.

Strauss-Blasche, Gerhard, Barbara Reithofer, Wolfgang Schobersberger, Cem Ekmekcioglu, and Wolfgang Marktl. 2005. Effect of Vacation on Health: Moderating Factors of Vacation Outcome. Journal of Travel Medicine 12(2): 94-101.

Yanovski, Jack A., Susan Z. Yanovski, Kara N. SovikTuc T. Nguyen, Patrick M. O’Neil, and Nancy G. Sebring. 2000. A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain. New England Journal of Medicine 342(12): 861-867.

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