December 25, 2018
by Patricia Tomasi
A new study published in the British Medical Journal found that it is possible to reduce the amount of weight gained during the Christmas season with the help of some behavioral interventions.
The study, a randomized controlled trial titled, Effectiveness of a brief behavioural intervention to prevent weight gain over the Christmas holiday period, is the first trial ever to test whether weight gain can be prevented during the Christmas period specifically.
"We chose this topic as many members of the public gain weight over Christmas that they do not subsequently lose which could adversely impact their health over time," Dr Amanda Farley, lecturer in public health and epidemiology at the University of Birmingham told us. "This is the first study in the world to test an intervention to prevent weight gain at Christmas in the general public."
An earlier study out of Cornell University found that people in the United States typically begin gaining their Christmas weight in October, that the weight gain peaks ten days after Christmas with revellers gaining an average of 1.3 pounds which doesn't come off until spring.
The goal of the current study was to have participants gain no more than 1.1 pounds. Participants had to agree to weigh themselves twice weekly regularly throughout the Christmas period and were provided with weight management strategies and diagrams showing the calorie count of popular Christmas food and drinks.
"Christmas is typically a time when the public let their hair down and have a good time and this usually involves consuming more food and drinks and being less physically active, so we were really unsure how well the public would respond to the idea of controlling their food and drink intake over Christmas or how they would feel about weighing themselves at least twice per week, ideally every day," Dr. Farley told us. "But we were really surprised at how motivated participants were, with 85 per cent weighing themselves at least twice per week over the course of the study. This shows us that the public can be really responsive to simple strategies to help them control their weight during holidays."
Researchers hypothesized that the intervention would work by encouraging people to restrain their eating and drinking during a period of six to eight weeks during the 2016-2017 Christmas season in Birmingham, United Kingdom. A total of 272 adults aged 18 years or more with a body mass index of 20 or more participated in the study. Half were randomized to a brief behavioural intervention and the other half received a wellness brochure.
Participants in the intervention group were asked to weigh themselves regularly and think about the calories in festive foods and drinks and their corresponding energy expenditure in minutes of running and walking. The comparator group received general healthy lifestyle advice. The weight of all participants was measured pre and post Christmas, six to eight weeks later.
At the end of the study, on average, participants in the intervention group weighed 1.08 pounds less than the comparator group. On average, the comparator group gained some weight whereas the intervention group did not.
"It is possible to prevent weight gain by self weighing regularly and being aware of the number of calories contained in popular Christmas food and drinks and how many minutes of physical activity it takes to burn off these foods," Dr. Farley told us. "But it is also important to highlight that it is possible to demonstrate some restraint of eating and drinking, whilst still enjoying the festive season."
Researchers hope the results of the research will be used in public health campaigns to prevent the public from gaining weight over Christmas to protect their health. Dr. Farley says people should be mindful that many gain weight over Christmas but that it is not inevitable.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com