How to Avoid Weight Gain Over the Holiday Season

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I don’t know about you, but I can’t even see my twenties in the rear-view mirror anymore. They’re a couple of cities back. Chillin’ with my beer pong solo cups. Plaid shirts. Natty Light. Keg stands.

I can’t even split a bottle of wine anymore without the aftertaste of a hangover.

“Yes, yes,” I drawl, emulating my finest Sean Connery. Takes a throaty sniff.

“This Chateau Margaux 1787 is quite fine. It pleases me. On the nose it is quite apparent these were meticulously aged in a fine French Oak.” Swirls before taking a measured sip. Chews the wine slowly.

“As expected, the èlevage process really accents the dry oaky finish, accentuates the tones of cherry and its cousin the current, and the aromas crescendo into an symphony of full-bodied fruitiness.” Downs glass. Quick swig from the bottle.

“Hey! Pass the Doritos. That’s for everyone, eh?” returning to my normal Canadian dialect.

My taste may have matured slightly, but I’m not perfect.

wine hangover

Mickey Rourke – Barfly

Staying Fit Through The Holidays

What are your goals for this coming year?

I’m sure you’re excited to have a fresh start, set some new goals, make 2021 your best year ever, new year new me sort of stuff. That’s great.

Maybe you can slack off on your diet for a couple weeks over the holidays. Rest up your body and let those achy joints take a much needed sabbatical. Socialize with friends and family (while keeping a close eye on how many people are allowed to be together at each gathering. Is it 5 people today? 10 people? Or are you allowed 5 indoors, 12 outside, and grandma out in the car washing dishes?) Either way, seems like a good excuse to have a couple beverages.

Honestly, does a week or two off really make that much of a difference? What about slowing down your training early December, going into a full two week shutdown starting around your late December Christmas shopping blitz to a couple days after New Year’s?

Let’s Talk Weight Fluctuations

Your weight naturally fluctuates during the day. This is primarily due to dehydration over night and food intake during the day. This does not suggest weight gain, just that you are rehydrating and it takes hours for your body to utilize or excrete what you’ve eaten during the day.

Your weight also fluctuates from day to day. One of the largest contributors for women is their menstrual cycle. Other reasons include sodium intake, exercise, illness, alcohol intake, and more.

More important, your body weight also fluctuates through the year. Alex Leaf wrote a comprehensive article on the subject for referencing a whopping 54 different scientific papers on how to minimize fat gain when you binge. I will not be reviewing his paper in this article, rather using a couple of his graphs and findings before presenting my solutions on how to stay shredded while crushing food and drink.

Welcome to the Mountains of Fluctuating Fatness

Yearly Weight Change in Germany, Japan, and the U.S.

image credit:

What a pretty graph.

See all those peaks and valleys?

I’m a big hiker. I’ve hiked some pretty wicked mountains in my day.

From summiting Mount Batur in Bali above the clouds as the sun was rising. Or tackling some of the biggest trails Hawaii has to offer like the Lanikai Pill Box Trail or the Koko Crater Stairs. To finally exploring some of the opposite coast of my own Country hiking the Bee Hive in Banff, Alberta.

THESE are some nice peaks and valleys.

John Schwenker Mountains

Backward bucket, classic Canadian

johnny schwenker ontario

We cute, I know.

John Schwenker fitness

Always hydrate.

Those in the graph are not.

You’ll notice, whoever put together this lovely little flow chart, highlighted some of the tracked countries main holidays using the broken vertical lines. Unsurprisingly, the largest peak on the graph, by far, is the holiday season from Christmas to New Year’s showing a steady decline after the holiday season. Germany may have kicked the seasonably larger butts of the Americans over Christmas, but it is still the biggest weight gain by far.

With a quick glance at this chart, your conclusion may be that although there is a sharp incline in bodyweight over the holiday season, it steadily declines. No harm, no foul, right?


The issue is that although there is a decline in total body weight, most people that gain the holiday weight, never fully lose the total amount they gained.

That bolded black line in the middle of the graph (the baseline weight through the year) will slowly but surely move up over the years. The authors of some of the papers theorized this could be a main contributing factor to the common trend of peoples bodyweight going up over their lifetime.

If you look closely, the peak doesn’t end on Christmas day. Or New Year’s day for that matter.

It seems to fully peak a couple days later.

This leads me to believe that it’s not the single Christmas dinner you ate that made you gain all the extra weight.

It wasn’t that alcohol binge you had on New Year’s Eve.

It seems like it was a cumulation of multiple meals we overindulged. A couple dozen extra cocktails and eggnogs over the season. A couple workouts missed due to gatherings and the graces we’ve allowed ourselves because we just work so damn hard all the time. And at the end of the day, 2021 is going to be our year anyway, right? We’ll lose it all then.

A Typical Holiday Season of Eating

Of course, the work Christmas party is going to be a couple weeks before Christmas (always nice to get the hell away from work during the actual Christmas season). So let’s say it’s two weeks before Christmas. The boss is paying, and they’ve made you suffer all year. This is of course the perfect time to get them back. “You know what, I’ll upgrade that to sweet potato fries. You know what, give me a side of onion rings too.” Diabolical.

Whoever decided Christmas should be right before the end of Q4 really messed up.

Now you have all the stress of year end crap. Your managers are going crazy. Inventory checks or budget balancing is in full swing. Customers have not only forgot to be in the holiday spirit but have swung the other way into full Grinch mode (prior to his heart growing three sizes). That means an extra beverage or two a night to unwind.

Depending on where you live, snow and abysmal weather may play a factor. You hate driving behind slow winter drivers. The cold embrace of Winter is beginning to grasp her icy hands around your neck, reminding you that your friend the Sun won’t be visiting you for another few months. Your emotions start to get the better of you and you come to the conclusion that summer is still half a year away so if you slack now, you still have lots of time get your body back. You decide not to brave the roads for the gym, and you order in a bit more takeout to comfort you inside your toasty home.

And then come the parties.

Oh, the parties.

They may take most of the blame, but they are only part of the problem.

Another image I loved from the article included the average amount of calories people ingested during a typical thanksgiving meal. The study found that thanksgiving meals could range from an average of 3,000 to 4,500 calories.

That’s crazy, considering the normal recommended calorie intake for a day is generally 2000-2500.

Let’s keep in mind, that’s not counting for the calories ingested the rest of the day. So you can see how you will easily be over double your daily caloric load.

And now let’s multiply that by you going to your family’s Christmas party, then your spouses, maybe going over for leftovers on boxing day.

Then when Christmas is finally done, we decide to celebrate the start of a new year by drinking ourselves into oblivion!

All of these things combined are more than enough to add a couple of pounds to the scale. It’s more than enough to make a noticeable difference in how our clothes fit and how we feel.

calories in thanksgiving dinner


Your Typical Day of Eating with an Evening Party

8am – 3 egg omelette with onion, tomato, cheddar cheese. Coffee with milk. 16oz water.

Noon – Chicken wrap with veggies, mozzarella cheese and multigrain wrap. 16oz water.

2pm – Post workout shake with whey, banana, peanut butter, 2% milk. 16oz water.

5pm to 6pm – Beer, plate full of appetizers including: Bacon wrapped scallops, bruschetta, sausage rolls, potato skins, shot of whisky with uncle Bob, another beer.

6:30pm – Turkey, mountain of potatoes, stuffing, beans, candied sweet potato, 2 dinner rolls, beer.

7:30pm – Round 2 before food gets put away (similar to above.)

8:00pm – eggnog, second eggnog because it’s your favorite and it only comes once a year.

8:30pm – cherry pie, apple pie, vanilla ice cream, peanut brittle, beer.

9:00pm – couple beers to cap the night.

This menu may not fit your palate perfectly, but wow is my mouth watering. I definitely look forward to having a couple of those meals soon.

After quickly crunching the numbers above for the entire day of eating, the total caloric load is approximately 1 million calories (not really, but it’s a lot).

Flatten the Curve.

The fatness curve, that is.

If we don’t gain those couple extra pounds that are almost entirely fat, we will be much better off the rest of the year. When we start our goals in the New Year, we will actually be ahead of the game, instead of starting behind.

To flatter the curve, utilize this 3 step process.

Coach John’s Trident of Eternal Leanness

Coach John Schwenker's Trident of Eternal Leanness

I could have simply called this “The 3 steps to maintaining your bodyweight over the holidays,” but instead I decided to put my face on a God to illustrate my point.

You’re welcome.

Trident Prong 1: Start Your Day Off Right

Make a point to get a workout in, or a good amount of activity before the party. Burning extra calories in the morning or afternoon will help offset a portion of what you will be ingesting the rest of the day.

More importantly, make sure you have a good breakfast and lunch.

A common idea to reduce your total calories during a holiday is to fast.

Fasting absolutely has its applications, but for people that don’t do it often and then put themselves into a situation of unlimited food and drink makes it a recipe for disaster. These people don’t eat all day, and then break their fast with alcohol and a ton of processed carbs and fats. Insulin levels rise off the charts, signaling the body to store fat. You also haven’t eaten all day, so the alcohol you drink will significantly inhibit your body to tolerate alcohol (more on that below using the great Roman’s methods.)

Instead, focus heavily on lean protein, vegetables, and get some complex carbs in there so you are ready for that alcohol.

Meal options like the standard chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato are perfect in these situations for lunch. For breakfast something like an egg white omelette, tons of veggies, and toss it in a whole grain tortilla. In both meals, you are getting a big dose of protein, fibrous veggies to fill you up, some complex carbohydrates, and keeping the fat low to reduce total caloric load.

Trident Prong 2: Focus on Protein and Water

Mindfully load protein during eating and drink water between alcohol-based beverages.

If you refer to my section above showing the typical day of eating, you will notice that the example person had 16oz of water, 3 times during the day. All of this was when they were still concerned with staying hydrated and generally going about their day. As soon as the food and booze started flowing, all mindfulness was gone.

And truthfully, that’s what it all comes down to.

Being mindful of your actions.

Instead of making things up on the spot, I like establishing rules. It leaves no grey areas. In this case, I will use a simple formula. “Every time I do X, I will first do Y.”

X = have an alcohol-based beverage

Y= have 8oz of water

Sounds simple enough, but this will have a huge impact on both food and alcohol consumption. In reality, 8oz of water is a couple of big mouthfuls. It’s half a standard bottle of water. But if you do this before every alcoholic beverage it will go a long way in preventing a hangover in the morning, fill up your stomach allowing you to eat less food, and slow down your drinking a bit. I’m all for drinking, I just like to prevent hangovers!

As far as eating goes, go nuts. Just load up the protein to start.

Protein is filling, has the highest TEF (thermic effect of food) meaning it takes the most energy to metabolize, and also aids in helping you recover from the workout you did that morning.

Instead of heading straight to the highly processed food loaded with sugar and fats, maybe hit up the deviled eggs. Some of the sushi. Anything protein-based. Use some of that yogurt-based dip with veggies. And then eat all of your favorites. Don’t deprive yourself. Enjoy everything you like. Just be strategic.

Want to take it a step farther? Toss a scoop of protein in water and chug that immediately before you get to your party. Start off super hydrated, with a good hit of protein.

Trident Prong 3: Diet Before The Holiday Season

If you start employing a couple of extra healthy habits a few weeks before the holiday season, you will be ahead of the curve. Check out this wicked article (also shameless self-plug) on how to develop your habits like a boss.

Let’s do a quick hypothetical to illustrate my point. We are going to be following the curve for figure 1.

Over the holiday season, the average participant in the study gained 2lbs of almost PURE FAT, and then never lost all the weight. As mentioned above, this is one of the biggest determinants for long-term fat gain. Over 5 years, that could be around 10lbs of extra fat. 

Let’s call our hypothetical person Thor. Thor is super lean, works out hard, eats fairly clean, but decides to relax a bit this holiday season. He adds 2lbs of fat to his lean frame. Not a big deal, right?

Well, the issue is, Thor goes back to his diet and exercise plan when the holiday season is over. But now, he has some extra fat, his insulin sensitivity has dropped slightly, maybe he lost half a pound of muscle, and he’s now used to more alcohol or treats in his diet. All of these things combined transfer into making it harder to not only lose this fat, but make progress moving forward. All these changes amount to an extra two pounds of fat that stay for the rest of the year. 

That’s one of Thor’s destinies.

What if Thor decides to “be his best self” before the magical ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

Thor decides to tighten up his diet 2 weeks before Christmas. He does some extra meal prep, gets in a bit of extra cardio or throws in extra walks with his dogs.

He drops 4 pounds over 2 weeks. 

Our boy Thor didn’t take the whole holiday season off. Instead, he just took off from roughly Christmas Eve to New Years. 

Now, instead of gaining that 4 pounds over the season, he only gained 1 pound.

BUT, before that, he lost 4 pounds, with a net weight LOSS of 3 pounds.

Damn do I love simple math.

Thor goes into 2021 down 3 pounds, with a couple of new POSITIVE habits, and is all fired up to start off the New Year right because of his week off.

Which sounds like a better reality?

Choose your reality.


The Matrix's Red Pill Is the Internet's Delusional Drug

Morpheus – The Matrix

And Now, We Drink

 I’m going to keep this section short and sweet because RFS has covered it here and here.

If you follow Prong 2 of the Trident, you will be able to drink all the eggnog and cocktails you want without getting black-out drunk, reducing your hangover in the morning, or singing your own rendition of “Girls just want to have fun.” 

The man himself, John Romaniello has already provided us with how to enter “God Mode” while partying. 

His strategy aligns with my personal strategy, but he is exponentially more fun to watch while learning how to quite literally drink-your-face-off. To be wildly entertained and learn how to enter this God-like state, check out his quick YouTube video

Show Me the Summary

Friends, being super lean and sexy isn’t easy, but it truly is simple. Follow the Trident of Eternal Leanness (copyright pending,) and you will not only keep off the holiday weight, but you will start the New Year off ahead of the curve

There are two strategies you can use on your party days, and a strategy to employ immediately. 

  1. Start your day off right. Day of, do a quick workout. Eat lots of protein, veggies, fiber. 
  2. Mindfully load protein during eating and drink water between alcoholic beverages. During the party, drink 8oz or a couple of big gulps of water before your alcohol. Eat all your favorite foods, but front load with a bunch of protein. 
  3. Drop a couple of pounds before the holiday season. Tighten up your diet, add in a healthy habit, then enjoy a week or so off, guilt-free.

Never miss an opportunity to enjoy life with friends and family because you are trying to be super strict. 

Eat, drink and be merry.

Sans hangover.

~Coach John Schwenker

About the Author

John is a firefighter, model, and personal trainer. When not fighting fires or posing for calendars, he spends his days working with online clients ( looking to lose fat or gain muscle through long-term habit change. He lives in Niagara Falls, Canada.

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