Holiday weight gain affects active people too

February 13, 2012 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Holiday weight gain affects active people too

Contrary to the belief that people who burn a lot of calories are less vulnerable to gaining weight, a new study finds they and slow burners alike tend to put on pounds during the sweets-filled holiday season.

The research team collected information on body size from 443 middle-aged, mostly overweight men and women in September or October of 1999, and again after the holidays in January or February of 2000.

At the beginning of the study, the group also measured the total amount of energy people used through a technique called "doubly labeled water," which involves drinking water that is tagged with oxygen and hydrogen atoms that are slightly different from the kinds usually found in drinking water.

The researchers measured over two weeks how much of the labeled hydrogen and oxygen was passed through urine, and then calculated how much of the remaining labeled oxygen had been used to burn calories.

Total energy includes everything a person burns up -- even while sleeping, watching TV, exercising and walking around. The measurements taken in the autumn also determined how often people were physically active.

At the end of the study, men had gained close to two pounds and women a little over a pound, which equalled about a one-percent gain in body weight.

People who burned the most calories in a day and those who were the most active were just as likely to put on weight as those who used fewer calories and those who were more sedentary.

Despite a higher physical activity level, it's possible the holiday parties, cookies, and religious feasts caught up with them. It could also be that people were less active during the holidays.

The researchers did not track how much people ate or how much they exercised during the season.

The researchers expected that the high energy users would have been less affected because they should have an easier time compensating for the extra calories through more exercise or eating less later on.

For instance, if a holiday dinner adds 500 calories to a person's daily energy needs, that's only a 17 percent increase for someone who burns up 3,000 calories a day, compared to a 25 percent increase for someone who uses only 2,000 calories. This extra 500-calorie meal would be a smaller part of their expenditure and therefore easier to compensate for than someone who burns fewer calories.

But these results show that's not the case. Extra calories appear to be problematic for everybody.

These findings confirm the importance of the holiday interval from (U.S.) Thanksgiving to Christmas for weight gain.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.