It’s the festive season & I’m about to tell you how to sleigh your nutrition.

I love Christmas, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. You don’t need scientific investigations to tell you this can be a challenging time to manage your nutrition; but I am going to cite them anyway and tell you how to navigate your nutrition and avoid unwanted weight gain this Christmas.

It’s well-documented that this can be a time for unwanted weight gain (Rolando et al, 2017) which can contribute to overall annual weight gain (Schoeller et al 2014). This weight gain has been shown to not be lost in subsequent months by a high percentage of people (Yanovski et al, 2000).

Realistically though, it’s not JUST Christmas itself, that is one day. It’s from early December to after the new year, “Sure it’s Christmas” is the tagline almost all of us have used.

We move less (Ma et al 2006 & Rich et al 2012), eat more, drink more and are presented with the opportunities to do so recurringly until the festive season is over.

These social gatherings/events bring about more people for meals (DeCastro et al 1991), greater food variety (Rolls et al, 1981) and bigger portions (Rolls et al, 2002) all of which have been shown to increase kcal intake.

It can be challenging, especially when unprepared, to not be like an uncaged ravenous beast when faced with a stacked tower of profiteroles and other highly palatable kcal-dense foods (i.e. Roses, snowballs, Taytos etc). In particular, if you have a very restricted diet to begin with but that is another day’s discussion.

I’m not here to rain on your parade, it’s more of a gentle reminder to bring an umbrella should you wish.

Align your actions with your expectations and adjust accordingly to avoid unwarranted frustrations.

Unlike us all being judged on our behaviour into naughty or nice categories; the binary view of dieting, “on”/“off” or “good” / “bad” has been shown to potentially have adverse effects on restraint eating behaviour leading to possible issues with long term weight-loss, aka successful dieting (Palascha et al, 2015).

We strive to hit a balance, to be flexible yet account for our intake of food, aligned with our expectations and goals.

At a high level, there are calorie-dense foods and nutrient-dense foods (there are also some foods that are categorised as both), all of which are choices and have a time & place in a well-balanced diet.

Calorie-dense foods are tasty, typically ultra-processed, small in volume, low on satiety (feeling of fullness) and high in calories type foods we spoke of earlier (i.e. confectionary, baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages etc).

Essentially, highly palatable delicious foods that typically do not pakck much of a punch on the nutrient profile.

Nutritionally dense foods are typically what is perceived as the opposite of the above; Fruits and vegetables packed with micronutrients; Cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc. The stuff you’ve had a Mexican-style stand-off with your parent(s) at the dinner table as a kid.

Nobody ever went over their kcals significantly on broccoli “Overate by 750kcals on two occasions, we baked the broccoli brah!”, that’s about 2.2kg of broccoli just FYI but on the flipside, it’s a reason you rarely find yourself arguing with a family member about who gets the last serving of it. Whereas we’re all willing to have a royal rumble in the kitchen for a chocolate Kimberly (100kcals per “biscuit” may I add – solid tastebud investment!)

A study conducted by Hall et al (2019) showed that when presented with ultra-processed and unprocessed (minimally processed) foods (Matched in calories accessible throughout a day) with free reign over consumption people over-ate processed foods as they’re eaten faster, less filling and suppress appetite less.

Avoid weight gain this Christmas with these 3 tips:

  1. Prioritise nutrient-dense food.
  2. Plan ahead (i.e, for parties/events;be mindful of what your scope for consumption is with calories (be realistically flexible).
  3. keep your weekly calories in check (non-linear approach)

To wrap this up you’ve got options; I’m not saying be in your deficit on Christmas day, in fact, the opposite go and enjoy your day without thinking about calories but don’t go wild all month and then whinge about a weight increase over the coming weeks if you decided to neglect CICO. Plan ahead, borrow kcals from other days, whatever your tactics, keep your OVERALL nutrition aligned with your goal(s). Weekly net kcals still can be in check and you can still enjoy the festivities.

Alternatively, just ignore this advice; Either way, Happy Christmas folks.


  • B. J. Rolls, E. A. Rowe, E. T. Rolls, B. Kingston, A. Megson, and R. Gunary, 1981 “Variety in a meal enhances food intake in man,” Physiology and Behavior, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 215–221.
  • B. J. Rolls, E. L. Morris, and L. S. Roe, 2002. “Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 76, no. 6, pp. 1207–1213.
  • C. Rich, L. J. Griffiths, and C. Dezateux, 2012. “Seasonal variation in accelerometer-determined sedentary behaviour and physical activity in children: a review,” International Journal of Behavioral
  • Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol. 9, article 49.
  • Hall, K., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K., Chung, S., Costa, E., Courville, A., Darcey, V., Fletcher, L., Forde, C., Gharib, A., Guo, J., Howard, R., Joseph, P., McGehee, S., Ouwerkerk, R., Raisinger, K., Rozga, I., Stagliano, M., Walter, M., Walter, P., Yang, S. and Zhou, M. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metabolism 30, 67–77
  • J. A. Yanovski, S. Z. Yanovski, K. N. Sovik, T. T. Nguyen, P. M. O’Neil, and N. G. Sebring, 2000. “A prospective study of holiday weight gain,”The New England Journal ofMedicine, vol. 342, no.12, pp. 861–867.
  • J. M. deCastro and E.M. Brewer, “The amount eaten in meals by humans is a power function of the number of people present,” Physiology and Behavior, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 121–125, 1992.
  • Palascha A, e. (2015). How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain? – Journal of health psychology.
  • Rolando G. Díaz-Zavala, María F. Castro-Cantú, Mauro E. Valencia, Gerardo Álvarez-Hernández, Michelle M. Haby, and Julián Esparza-Romero, “Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review,” Journal of Obesity, vol. 2017, Article ID 2085136, 13 pages, 2017.
  • Schoeller DA, 2014 The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight, Physiol Behav (2014)
  • Y. Ma, B. C. Olendzki, W. Li et al., 2006“Seasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in a predominantly overweight population,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 519–528.