While the November/December holidays are still a few months away, research shows that we should start planning for them now. The thought that overeating and physical inactivity for a month or two can be reversed by a New Year's Resolution and few months of dieting and working out at the gym may not be true.
Swedish researchers recently published results from a study that placed 18 normal-weight healthy participants (averaging 26 years of age) on a restricted physical activity regimen of no more than 5,000 steps per day and eating plan with about 70 percent more calories than usual, including at least two fast food meals per day, for four weeks. These intervention subjects (feasting group) were compared to a control group that did not change their physical activity and eating habits. Results showed that the feasting group gained an average of 14 pounds by the end of the month, with increases in both fat free mass and fat mass. At a 6-month follow-up the feasting group had lost body weight, but not to baseline (before the study) values. At a 12-month follow-up the feasting group still did not return to their baseline body weight and had an average 3 pound weight increase from before the study. In addition, at 12 months the feasting group had an unchanged fat free mass compared to baseline but higher fat mass. At 2 1/2 years the feasting group averaged around 7 pounds more than before the study while the control group had no changes in weight compared to baseline.
So what does all of this say? Well, that if you eat and lay around too much this holiday season 1) you will likely gain weight and 2) you will likely have a hard time losing all of the weight you gained. The researchers concluded that a brief period of excessive overeating coupled with little physical activity many change body composition and lead to a significant boost in body fat levels, which may endure despite a return to healthier behaviors. However, the sample studied here was small and fairly young so it's hard to know if the same results would be seen in older adults.
Either way, it wouldn't hurt to think about whether a few months of overindulgence is worth years with a few extra pounds along your waistline. Take another look at these previous blogs if you need some guidance on preparing for a healthy holiday season:
Ernersson, A. (2010). Long-term increase of fat mass after a four week intervention with fast food based hyper-alimentation and limitation of physical activity. Nutrition and Metabolism, 7.