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Why Do We Overeat on Christmas?

By Jiří Kaloč

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, relaxation, and fun with the family, but they usually come with a dose of stress for those trying to eat healthy. Unfortunately, most of the popular advice you’ll come across is the same old list of recycled tips: don’t show up hungry to a party, choose your indulgences wisely, and be aware that alcohol has calories! If this was all you needed to know, holiday weight gain wouldn’t be a thing!

Holiday weight gain is not such a big deal, unless…

Popular articles often scare us with big numbers like 4,5 kg (10 pounds) of weight gain. If you look at an actual study, the story goes differently. When scientists compared people’s perceived and actual weight gain, they found out on average people thought that they gained 1,5 kg (3,5 pounds), whereas the actual average weight gain was under 0,5 kg (1 pound). Overall, holiday weight gain is not such a big deal as popular media make us believe, as long as you’re not overweight!

The same study shows that 20% of obese subjects and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than 2,2 kg (5 pounds), compared to only 5% of healthy-weight people. Another study has bad news also for people who used to be overweight. Despite working harder to maintain their weight, 39% of people who lost weight gained at least 1 kg (2.2 pounds) over the holidays, compared to only 17% of the healthy-weight group.

Holidays = cue to overeat

Most people are well aware of the overeating risk factor that holidays are. A lot of them even make an effort to change that. Why do so many still fail? There’s one thing that’s special about holidays for all people, fit and obese, holiday season is full of cues to overeat! If you’re not consciously aware of them and don’t deliberately respond in a different way, you’ll end up following the cues and overeating. What are they?

Social pressure

Studies show that people eating with a group change their food intake to be closer to the “average”. So, holidays being the time of abundance, indulgence, and not exactly caring about your health, everyone will feel a psychological cue to overeat at every meal, even if nobody is saying it out loud.


Let’s face it, holidays are stressful time for most of us. And stress is a powerful cue for eating. Plus cortisol, the stress hormone, promotes weight gain.


Broken routines

People have time off work during the holidays, they travel, and stop cycling regularly. This much change can erase the cues for healthy eating associated with your normal schedule.

Emotional associations

Food made to be eaten in excess is hyper available during the holidays. That alone creates a lot of visual cues to eat. All those treats are often made by your loved ones too, which makes it even harder to resist them.