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Can tracking your weight over Christmas help you avoid the January blues?

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

There is much dispute between health professionals about whether weighing yourself is a useful tool in weight-management and those who think it's the highway to hell.

Personally I do use scales to keep track of my weight because I know it helps me stay accountable to myself. Of course, there are many factors that drive weight loss or gain, and food intake is only one of them, but there is evidence that if you are trying to keep yourself from overindulging in the short term, the scales may be useful.

On Christmas Day alone an individual might consume 6,000 calories - three times the recommended daily allowance.

Simple advice makes a big difference

The ‘Winter Weight Watch Study’ - a study by Loughborough University and the University of Birmingham aimed to prevent participants from gaining weight over the festive season by arming them with tips and techniques to avoid overindulging. They concluded:

Weight gained during holiday periods often is not subsequently lost and, although these gains are small, over 10 years they would lead to a significant increase in body weight.

272 volunteers were being randomly placed into either an ‘intervention’ or a ‘comparison’ group. Those in the intervention group were asked to weigh themselves at least twice per week, but ideally every day, and record their weight on a record card to help them monitor their food and drink intake.

They were also given 10 top tips for weight management and a list of how much physical activity would be needed to burn off calories found in popular food and drinks consumed at Christmas. For example, it takes 21 minutes of running to burn the calories in a mince pie and 33 minutes of walking to expend the calories found in a small glass of mulled wine.

In contrast, the comparison group received only a brief information leaflet about leading a healthy lifestyle, which did not include dietary advice.

Those following the advice did not put on weight

The study, published in The BMJ, was carried out in 2016 and 2017, with participants weighed and measured in November and December each year and then follow-up measurements taken in January and February 2017 and 2018.

The results showed that on average, participants in the comparison group gained some weight over Christmas but those in the intervention group did not. They were assessed to be more able to restrain their eating and drinking to help control their body weight and ended the study weighing on average 0.49kg less than those in the comparison group.

A brief behavioural intervention involving regular self weighing, weight management advice, and information about the amount of physical activity required to expend the calories in festive foods and drinks prevented weight gain over the Christmas holiday period.

Interesting, huh? Will you be tipping the scales this year?


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