Managing Weight During Holidays: Can a Daily Weigh In Help?

Holidays and special occasions tend to focus on food—more often than not, including less than ideal choices for those watching their weight. A new study has found that daily self‐weighing (DSW) using visual graphical feedback (GF) could help reduce weight gain associated with holiday eating.

The study authors noted that over 35 percent of adults in the United States are obese, with an increasing trend in obesity degree. And while average annual weight gain is between 0.4 kg and 1.0 kg, short periods of overeating significantly contribute to weight gain—including the holiday season (mid-November to January).

“The holiday season has repeatedly been associated with weight gain ranging from 0.4 to 1.5 kg in adults, with an average of 0.5 kg of weight gain across all studies,” the researchers wrote. “This weight gain also persists after the holidays, potentially contributing to annual weight gain. Moreover, individuals with overweight or obesity (OW/OB) are vulnerable to gaining the most weight.”

The researchers therefore tested the efficacy of DSW with GF.

The study enrolled 111 participants from the University of Georgia aged 18 to 65 years with body mass index (BMI) ≥ 18.5 kg/m2. Participants were excluded if they had a current or past eating disorder, were involved in a weight loss or exercise program, were pregnant or nursing, and were taking medications or had chronic diseases that affected metabolism or body weight. The participants were blinded to the intention of the study and were told its goal was to assess “how the holidays affect health.” They were asked to attend three testing visits: a preholiday visit (v1), a postholiday visit (v2), and a 14‐week follow‐up visit (v3); they received $10 for each visit they attended.

Of the 111 initial participants (control, 55; DSW + GF, 56), 104 (control, 53; DSW + GF, 51) attended all three visits. Participants included college-aged students (31.5%); graduate students (24.3%); and faculty, staff, university retirees, and out-of-university adults (42%).

Weigh-ins Keep the Pounds at Bay

Participants in the control group gained weight during the holidays, while weight did not change in the DSW + GF group. In the control group, male participants lost weight during the follow-up period, but female participants did not.

Outcomes were also evaluated based on BMI. Control participants with normal weight (NW) and those with OW/OB gained similar amounts of holiday weight 2.62 ± 0.43 vs. 2.71 ± 0.47 kg for v1 vs. v2, respectively).

“Although both the participants with NW and the participants with OW/OB gained weight throughout the entire study (v1 to v3), weight gain in those with OW/OB was greater compared with those with NW (2.99 ± 0.80 vs. 0.87 ± 0.41 kg, respectively; P = 0.02). This was due to the weight loss in those with NW, but not in those with OW/OB, in the follow‐up period (−1.72 ± 0.50 vs. 0.25 ± 0.75 kg for NW vs. OW/OB, respectively; P = 0.04),” the study authors wrote. In the DSW + GF group, patients with OW/OB lost weight during the study.

The study authors concluded, “Because holiday weight gain may be a major contributor to annual weight gain, and therefore to the increasing prevalence of obesity, the feasibility and effectiveness of this intervention could have significant clinical implications for public health recommendations. The association between DSW + GF and weight maintenance reported in this manuscript is specific to the settings and the sample we studied. Future research is needed to isolate the impact of DSW + GF with and without target weight instructions, investigating a larger and more inclusive population as well as understanding the role of research personnel oversight for individuals performing the DSW.”