The best way to keep holiday weight off has nothing to do with exercise

Cookies baking in oven christmasoakleyoriginals/FlickrChristmas cookies are hard to resist.

After a summer of exploring, swimming, and otherwise staying fit, our bodies are in a good spot.

But this is it, folks. It’s not going to get any better than this. That is, according to The New York Times‘ Well blog, highlighting a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Anything that happens in these next 10 weeks, on average, takes about five months to come off,” Brian Wansink, one of the letter’s authors and a professor at Cornell University, told The Times.

That is, the time leading up to the end of December will be full of opportunities to gain weight — and that isn’t an easy thing to fix.

To reach this conclusion, Wansink and co-authors looked at owners of Withings wireless scales (a Withings employee was also one of the authors on the study). Using the scales, they were able to monitor the daily weigh-ins of about 3,000 people in the US, Japan, and Germany for a year. About 600 people in that group were considered obese.

They found that most people’s weight tended to rise leading up to major holidays, in particular Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, as well as Easter in Germany and the Golden Week in Japan.

The researchers pointed to an increased intake of favourite foods” as the thing all these holidays have in common. Other factors could also be at play: perhaps the spike leading into colder months could have something to do with people exercising less (it’s harder to go out for an evening jog when it starts to get dark around 6 p.m., for instance).

But excessive eating — say, at holiday parties filled with irresistible treats or cookie baking sessions where a fair amount of cookie dough doesn’t end up getting baked — does seem to fit the timeline of weight gain leading up to the holiday. In the long term, having a healthy diet and exercising are both integral to weight loss.

Philip Stanforth, a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas and the executive director of the Fitness Institute of Texas explained it well to Business Insider in 2015:

“Thinking practically, keep in mind you’d have to walk 35 miles to burn 3,500 calories. That’s a lot of walking. But if you look at eating, a Snickers bar might have, say, 500 calories. It’s going to be a lot easier to cut the Snickers bar than to do 5 miles of walking every day.”

So perhaps, instead of trying to compensate for that third or fourth gingerbread cookie with an extra workout, it may make more sense to scale back on just how many treats you snack on over the course of the season.

And, as Wansink suggests, it may be time to enact an “October 1” proactive resolution, rather than the traditional New Year’s resolution.

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