Researchers say that the number on your scale may start to go up very soon. We say it doesn't need to be that way.
As anyone who's ever stepped on a scale or slipped into a pair of skinny jeans knows, your weight tends to fluctuate throughout the year. (See: post-vacation versus post-"raw food kick.") But according to a new study from Cornell University, right now, you weigh the least you'll weigh all year, and your pants are about to start feeling tighter as you inch toward the holidays.
To determine when you're most likely to be at your lightest, researchers weighed more than 3,000 people in the U.S., Germany, and Japan over a period of 12 months. They found that the average person is at their lowest weight during this time of year, and you can blame that on the seasonal shift. Swimsuit season has officially come to a close for most people. And you're being slowly reeled into holiday munching with the onslaught of pumpkin spice treats, so it's not hard to see why the shift happens. (You can avoid the roller coaster that is holiday weight gain; follow these tips from trainers and nutritionists.) According to the findings, American scales get a 0.2 percent bump during Thanksgiving and another 0.4 percent hike at Christmas. That might not sound like a lot, but the study also found it takes a long time to shed those extra pounds—people didn't lose the extra holiday weight until May. That slim-down continues through November when we start the general cycle all over again.
The best way to break the pattern is by getting out in front of it. That means setting your health goals for the season while you're still ahead. Step one is committing to a doable fitness routine that will work for you even throughout the craziness of the holidays. "While exercise may be the first thing to go when you get busy, it's important to stick to your workout schedule," says Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Don't let the hurdles of cold weather and busy holiday schedules get the best of you. Here's how to outsmart your winter workout slump.)
"Schedule time into your calendar for working out, and be specific with what you're going to do. Instead of saying 'I'm going to work out this week,' try 'I'm going to work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and do a 30-minute workout each time.'" To make that plan easier to stick to, grab your gym buddy and sign up for a race in December or January. Not only will you have an excuse to keep up with your training, you'll also have someone keeping you accountable when you're tempted to skip your gym sesh for one of the dozens of holiday parties on your calendar.
Secondly, you should stick to regular meal habits, says Rumsey. It can be tempting to skip meals in preparation for (or while atoning for) holiday feasting, but that's not really doing your body any favors. "Skipping meals sets you up for fluctuating blood sugar levels, which can make the stress response even worse," she says. "Plus you are more likely to reach the point where you feel so hungry that you'll eat whatever is in front of you and it is harder to make smart choices."
Finally, you should treat yourself—just choose your indulgences wisely. "Instead of wasting calories on foods that you can have at any time of the year, pick items that are truly special and unique to the season, like your grandmother's homemade Christmas cookies," says Rumsey. Most importantly, you should pay attention to your own body. "Many people drink eggnog or eat multiple slices of pie because that's what they think they should do, not because they are actually enjoying it," she says. Pay attention to what you're actually craving and you can beat that holiday weight gain at its silly game. Remember, the easiest way to break the yearly cycle is to not get sucked into it in the first place.