Among the many phrases that give us anxiety about winter — like daylight savings, gift shopping and blizzard forecast — winter weight is definitely one of the worst. Carrying with it all of the negative repercussions of in-the-moment seasonal pleasures, the pudge many of us put on during the holidays isn’t just a short-term buzzkill — it can also be a longer-term health concern. According to research recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, average American weights begin rising in November, peak in December and January and can take up to five months to lose.
The study involved almost 3,000 participants in the U.S., Germany and Japan, and found that during a 12-month period, weight patterns spiked during national holidays. In all three countries, weights rose within 10 days after Christmas Day and surged during individual cultural celebrations like American Thanksgiving, Japan’s Golden Week and Easter in Germany. While the weight gain itself may not be shocking — after all, we’re tempted by tasty party snacks and cold-weather comfort food all season — it’s how long it takes people to rebound that was a red flag to researchers.
Although most participants lost some winter weight — up to half of what they’d gained — in the five months after the holidays, the rest of those surplus pounds hung on through summer and later. By that point, it’s fall again, and we’re about to start a new season of holiday weight gain. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard on your body (not to mention your wardrobe).
The implication: It’s smarter and easier to stave off those pounds in the first place than do the hard work of losing them later, says researcher Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Cornell Food and Brand lab director. “Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution, make an October resolution,” he suggests. “It’s easier to avoid holiday pounds altogether than to lose them after they happen.” And if you’re worried that willpower alone isn’t enough to compel you to skip that cheese platter, here are some free workouts you can do in your living room — because let’s be real. No one’s going to slog to the gym when it’s 20 degrees and snowing.
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