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How to Lose Weight After the Holidays? Diets and Fasting Are Not the Answer


The holidays are over and people are already starting to plan their resolutions on how to start fighting the extra weight, hoping that this year will finally be the year when they start living healthy. Some may actually have gained weight over Christmas. Others just might be motivated to start the changes they were thinking about before the holidays. Whichever group you belong to, it would be a shame for your plans to fail, as it happens, already at the end of January. To avoid this, it is necessary not only to have a good plan, but also to have realistic expectations. How to properly approach the post-Christmas form transformation, and how long will it take? You’ll find out in today’s article.

After the holidays, the number on the scale is higher than it was before. What does it mean?

Many people fear stepping on the scale when a new year starts. And often that fear is justified. It often represents failure and regrets that a whole year of efforts for a healthy lifestyle or body shaping got wasted. However, it is good to stop here and realize that there are many factors that can affect the number shown on the scale. A few extra pounds doesn’t always mean the same thing as a few pounds of fat.

  • Your weight may be higher due to the higher water content in the muscles.
  • After a rich carbohydrate meal, carbohydrates are stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen, which binds water (up to 3 g of water per 1 g of glycogen).
  • Alcohol consumption also affects the water retention.
  • The content of your digestive tract also contributes to higher weight. Simply put, the fuller the intestines, the heavier you are.
  • Insufficient sleep or, for example, the phase of the menstrual cycle also contributes to higher water retention. [3,6]

Anything from the mentioned factors can be the reason for the extra pounds. Therefore, it wouldn’t be reasonable worrying about the number that appears on the scale right now (ideally you shouldn’t weigh yourself at all). Wait for the figure that appears on the scale in the following days.

You can learn more about what can be hidden behind the number on the scale in the article Why the Scale Shows You a Higher Number? It’s Not Fat.

Of course, it’s not that uncommon to actually gain some body fat during the holidays. According to studies, the average weight gain is 0.5–1 kg of body fat. However, it is significantly smaller value than most people would expect. [1]

What usually happens with the Christmas body fat gain?

An increase of 0.5–⁠1 kg of fat is a relatively small amount, which can easily be removed by slightly adjusting your diet and exercise routine. With the right approach, you can be at our original weight in a month. However, according to studies, many people actually keep the weight they have gained. Over the course of many years, this can add up and contribute to gradual weight gain.

There was research including 195 people which focused on a period of 6 weeks between the end of November and the beginning of the new year. The average increase in weight during this period was 0.37 kg. Even though the increase in weight was higher for some participants, more than half of the people didn’t gain more than 1 kg. What is interesting, though, the scientists followed some of them during the whole following year. These people gained an average of 0.32 kg during the monitored holiday period, and during the rest of the year their weight increased by an average of 0.62 kg. This means that not only did they not lose their Christmas weight, but the weight gain during this short period also made up the largest proportion of body fat gained in the entire year. [5,7]

In the long term, even a mere 0.5 kg can be a problem. Suppose someone regularly gains weight every year during the holidays and maintains this weight or even increases it a little more during the year. In a few years they may realize that the number on the scale is significantly higher than it used to be.

How much fat people usually gain around Christmas?

How to get rid of Christmas weight the right way?

If you gained not only water but also body fat over the holidays, you may want to return to your original weight. If you happen to be one of those who like to experiment, do your body a favour this year and don’t go on drastic diets that promise you to get in perfect shape in a few weeks. The most likely result of these is going to be the good old yo-yo effect. After extreme and excessively restrictive diets, it’s common for a person to gain back the lost kilograms and often add some extra fat to them. More than one study says that diets in which you restrict yourself excessively lead to consecutive weight gain. This can also happen if you lose your weight too fast[4]

The most effective, although certainly the least appealing, way to get rid of extra body fat is to gradually change your habits. By making small changes in your diet and exercise schedule and slowly getting used to them, you can achieve long-term and sustainable changes in your lifestyle.

You can read more detailed information about what is important when losing weight in our article A Simple Guide to Losing Weight After Christmas.

If you want more precise instructions on what changes to make and how to adjust your diet and exercise schedule, check out our articles 15 Tips on How to Lose Weight, Start Exercising and Eat Healthy or How to Lose Weight Even without Counting Calories.

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How fast can you lose weight in a healthy way?

What speed of weight loss is optimal for a person depends mainly on his starting position. There is a big difference between a man with 20% body fat and 40% body fat. What is a reasonable speed of weight loss for one person can be extreme and yo-yo effect-inducing for another. In general, however, we could say that the optimal rate of weight loss is 0.5–⁠1 kg per week. However, the appropriate diet set-up and speed of weight reduction is individual for each one of us. [4]

Any time you want to lose weight, it is necessary for your body to be in a calorie deficit. When your energy intake is lower than energy expenditure, the body can burn energy from its fat stores. However, the cornerstone of a successful reduction diet and long-lasting results is a correctly set calorie deficit. If it’s too small, the results either don’t come at all, or they come very slowly, and hand in hand with them comes demotivation. If, on the other hand, the deficit is too large, the risk is overly accelerated weight loss and subsequent weight gain. There is also a risk that if your body lacks too much energy, you simply wouldn’t be able to carry on with the reduction diet.

You can create a calorie deficit by reducing energy intake from the food you eat, increasing energy expenditure in the form of exercise, and combining a healthy diet and exercise.

If you want to know how to calculate your own energy and nutrient intake, read the article How to Calculate Energy and Macronutrient Intake for Weight Loss or Muscle Gain?

Let’s talk about how would using the mentioned changes affect the weight lost. As an example, we will use Lucy, a 35-year-old woman with a weight of 70 kg and a height of 165 cm, who would like to lose a few kilograms of fat.

How to lose weight after christmas?

How many kilograms can she lose in a week by limiting calorie intake?

For successful weight loss, it is important to receive a reduced amount of energy from the diet for a long time. It is considered optimal to reduce the maintenance energy intake (one at which you maintain a stable body weight) by 15–⁠20%. If you are interested in what your maintenance energy intake is, you can calculate it in our calculator.

Since Lucy has a sedentary job and doesn’t really engage in any physical activity even in her free time, her maintenance energy intake is around 1990 kcal. If she wanted to reduce her energy intake by 20%, she would have to consume 400 kcal less than before. Her daily energy intake would therefore be 1590 kcal. This way she would consume 2800 kcal (400 kcal x 7) less per week compared to the period when she wasn’t trying to lose weight. [9]

Since one kilogram of fat has 7700 kcal, she could lose 0.36 kg of body fat in a week just by limiting her energy intake. It would take less than 3 weeks to lose 1 kg of fat.

How to lose weight by being active?

How many kilograms can she lose just by adding some physical activity?

If Lucy, instead of changing her energy intake from the diet, tried to reduce her weight only by adding physical activity, the speed of weight loss would be different. However, it would of course depend largely on the type of activity, its duration, frequency, intensity, etc. Let’s try an example where she would increase the amount of walking she does and include some strength training.

During one hour of power walking at a speed of 5.6 km/h, she would burn approximately 300 kcal. During one hour of strength training, she could burn about 350 kcal. In a week, by adding three one-hour walks and three strength training sessions, she could burn 1950 kcal and thus lose approximately 0.25 kg of fat. Losing 1 kg of fat would take her approximately 4 weeks[8]

To find out about how long it takes to lose weight through various activities, read our article How to Lose a Kilogram of Fat and How Much Energy Is Actually Hidden in It.

How long would it take to lose 5 kg?

How many kilograms can she lose by reducing energy intake combined with being more active?

What would happen if she combined the energy deficit in her diet and the higher energy expenditure created by physical activity? By combining reduced energy intake from food, three hour-long walks and three strength training sessions a week, she could create an energy deficit of up to 4750 kcal in a week and get rid of 0.6 kg of fat[8,9]

How long would it take her to lose 5 kg of body fat?

Weight loss of 1 kg of fat Weight loss of 5 kg of fat
By reducing energy consumption by 20% 20 days 100 days (approx. 3.5 months)
By increasing physical activity – 3 weekly walks (1 hour), 3 weekly strength trainings (1 hour) 28 days 140 days (5 months)
By combining reduced energy intake and increased physical activity 11 days 55 days (approx. 2 months)

The listed rates of weight loss are indicative, and the result always depends on many factors.

Which way is the best?

As you can see, you can lose weight in several ways. If you have some movement restrictions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that losing weight is unrealistic. And if you’re someone who
doesn’t want to restrict himself in eating, you can lose weight with the help of increased physical activity.

Nevertheless, the truth is that it’s ideal to combine both ways. And not only because of faster weight loss. In addition to weight loss, the goal of any weight loss routine should also be to adjust your eating routine and shift to a more varied and high-quality diet. The good news is that if you focus on these changes, they will contribute to a reduction in energy intake. Moreover, it will lead to better health, and you will be able to maintain a lower weight more easily.

The same goes for regular exercise. Your goal should not be the weight loss by itself. Physical activity is important for the proper functioning of the heart, immune system, digestive tract, brain, etc. Similarly to eating routine, it affects your overall health. [2,10]

If you want to compare the advantages and disadvantages of losing weight by exercising or changing eating habits, read the article Diet, Cardio or Strength Training. What Is Best for Weight Loss?

What is best for weight loss?

What should you remember?

Whether you gained weight over Christmas or not, the start of the new year encourages trying new miracle diets. Maybe it’s time to ditch that New Year’s habit and take a more suitable route instead. You don’t need magic to lose weight. All you need is a caloric deficit. This can be achieved by changing your diet, increasing exercise or a combination of both. In the end, it depends on you which of the ways you choose. However, you have to bear in mind that the speed of weight loss will depend on it. Therefore, if you want to lose weight, think carefully about a suitable strategy and adjust your expectations accordingly.


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