The study by the Universities of Birmingham and Loughborough advises 10 golden rules

In the UK, obesity is an ongoing issue. The NHS reports that 29% of UK adults are classified as obese, a rise from 26% from 2016. What’s more, in the last year there have been 10,660 hospital admissions in the UK for which obesity was a directly attributable factor.[1]

However, despite being a concern all year round, it seems that weight gain is particularly prevalent during the festive season. One study concluded that weight gain occurs more frequently in November and December. They cited several reasons for this, including denser foods, bigger portions, social gatherings and less physical activity during the winter.[2]

But one study claims to have established the necessary steps to help prevent weight loss over the festive season. Let’s take a closer look at this research, as well as its findings.

The study

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University were supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to carry out a ‘Winter Weight Watch Study’. This was designed as a trial to help participants avoid gaining weight over the festive season.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal, and was carried out in 2016 and 2017. 272 participants were split into two groups: an intervention group who were given tips on diet and exercise over Christmas, and a comparison group who weren’t.

The results show that, on average, participants in the comparison group gained weight over Christmas while those in the intervention group did not. In fact, by the end of the study the intervention group weighed an average of 0.49kg less than the comparison group.[3]

10 top tips for avoiding festive weight gain

As part of the study, the intervention group were provided with 10 top tips for avoiding weight gain. These were adapted from Lally et al’s 2008 tips, published in the International Journal of Obesity.[4]

These are the tips they were given:

1. Stick to your meal routine: Try to eat at roughly the same times every day.

2. Choose reduced fat: Choose low fat spreads, dressings and condiments.

3. Walk off the weight: Aim for 10,000 steps every day.

4. Pack a healthy snack: Choose fruit or low-calorie yoghurts as a snack.

5. Learn the labels: Check the fat and sugar on food labels while shopping.

6. Be cautious with portions: Think twice before second helpings.

7. Get on your feet: stand for at least 10 minutes every hour.

8. Think about your drinks: Check the sugar content of drinks and limit your alcohol intake.

9. Slow down while eating: Eat at the table and actively enjoy your food.

10. Don’t forget your 5 a day: Aim for five pieces of fruit and veg a day.

Controlling your weight over the festive season

Many of these tips revolve around one thing: moderation. By watching your diet and engaging in regular exercise throughout the festive season, you can avoid the regular trap of gaining weight over Christmas.

And this can lead to more benefits than just helping with weight loss. Bupa reports that exercise can help to stimulate muscles, bones and joints, keep organs healthy and improve symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.[5]

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[1] NHS UK. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2019

[2] Díaz-Zavala, RG. et al. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity. 2017

[3] Mason et al. Effectiveness of a brief behavioural intervention to prevent weight gain over the Christmas holiday period: randomised controlled trial. The British Medical Journal. 2018

[4] Lally, P. et al. Healthy habits: efficacy of simple advice on weight control based on a habit-formation model. International Journal of Obesity. 2008

[5] Bupa. Benefits of Exercise. 2019