‘Tis the season for hot chocolate, eggnog, and cookies galore!
The holidays are a jolly time to reconnect with loved ones and enjoy delicious meals.
And while you may fear the dozen family dinners will instantly translate into a higher number on the scale, many factors are involved in holiday weight gain—including your hormones.
But don’t worry! Balancing your hormones can help you partake in the most wonderful time of the year without feeling like you’re sacrificing the fun or insulting your family’s cooking.
Why we gain weight over the holidays
The holidays often involve an increased intake of your favourite festive foods. Since childhood, you might associate this season with hearty dishes that may not be so prevalent the rest of the year, so you indulge more than you typically would.
Plus, colder weather lowers your body temperature, making you crave comfort meals to stay warm. These starchy and sugary foods spike your blood sugar and keep your appetite running.
Many also travel during this time (vacation resorts, anyone?), which might involve dining at restaurants with bigger portions and “all-you-can-eat” buffets.
Yet, holiday weight gain might be rooted in more than a food surplus. This season may cause hormone imbalances that contribute to those sneaky pounds.
How holidays affect hormone balance and weight gain (and tips to manage it)
1) Holidays may disturb your sleep
Winter days are darker and shorter, so you are exposed to less sunlight. Fewer daylight hours can destabilize your circadian rhythm, disrupting your sleep and the hormones that impact your weight.
Evidence suggests poor sleep may lead to metabolic problems and weight gain. Specifically, a lack of sleep may dysregulate the hormones that control hunger (ghrelin) and fullness (leptin), resulting in greater appetite and reduced feelings of satiety. Likewise, research associates sleep deprivation with increased consumption of foods rich in fat and carbs—so you may reach for butter tarts versus veggies if you don’t get enough shuteye.
Reduced sunlight exposure may also decrease your serotonin, the “happy hormone” that boosts your mood and regulates your appetite. Research shows that since eating carbs promotes serotonin, many people learn to overeat carbs to feel better, leading to possible weight gain. Low serotonin might alter your appetite and make ginger snaps more appealing than ever!
Serotonin is then needed to produce melatonin, the “sleep hormone” that manages your circadian rhythm and has potential weight loss benefits. Melatonin naturally rises in the dark, preparing your body for sleep and slowing down your metabolism—thus, late holiday dinners may be harder to digest. An imbalance of melatonin during winter may lead to sleep problems and consequent weight gain.
Tip #1: Give yourself shuteye and sun!
Avoid late meals and focus on getting enough quality sleep. Despite the many holiday parties, aim for a regular bedtime schedule and routine to support your hunger hormones and better food choices.
Go outside and soak up the sun! Plan for walks, holiday errands, and outdoor winter activities around daylight to stabilize your circadian rhythm and serotonin and melatonin levels. Morning light provides a stronger balancing effect than afternoon light, so get 30 minutes of sun if you can, or try light therapy in the morning to mimic sunlight.
2) Holidays may bring sugar overload and fatigue
Insulin is a pancreatic hormone that metabolizes food and manages blood sugar. It moves glucose from food into your cells to be utilized as energy or stored for later.
Overeating unhealthy, sugary, or processed meals (and insufficient sleep) during the holidays may contribute to insulin resistance, where your cells stop reacting to insulin. This condition results in high glucose levels in your bloodstream and elevated insulin production to compensate for the imbalance, leading to weight gain and raising the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Large holiday meals are also more likely to cause “itis” or “food comma,” making you feel exhausted. Consuming excess tryptophan (amino acid found in high-protein foods) with carb-rich meals may stimulate serotonin and melatonin secretion. No wonder you feel pleased, but oh, so sleepy after all that turkey and stuffing!
Tip #2: Control your portions + Balance your plates
Watch your portions and opt for more nourishing foods (veggies, fruits, healthy fats, lean proteins) and less sugar, processed carbs, or saturated fats. A high-protein diet may increase GIP and GLP-1 (satiety hormones) and reduce ghrelin (hunger hormone), so include protein in every meal.
Get creative with your recipes and make healthy swaps (hello, baked apples!). You don’t have to quit cookies altogether, but balancing your plates will keep your insulin and blood sugar in check and curb the dreaded “food comma.”
3 healthy holiday recipes to try this season!
3) Holidays may be stressful
All the cooking, hosting, and ornery relatives can make this an overwhelming time.
Cortisol is secreted under stress, flooding your system with glucose to raise your energy. Severe holiday stress may result in sustained elevated cortisol, promoting blood sugar spikes, overeating, and weight gain.
Plus, your body may release more insulin to transfer glucose and store the unused energy as fat, risking insulin imbalances.
Tip #3: Prioritize + Be mindful
Stop trying to do everything. Prioritize what you can and want to do and reach out to friends and family for support. Organize a holiday potluck versus cooking a full meal, delegate gift buying to your partner, or ask family members to host gatherings this year.
Mindfulness can also help you manage the pressure and appreciate the magic of this season. If you’re feeling stressed, do something soothing (e.g., meditation, exercise) instead of mindlessly eating for comfort. Avoid additional stressors (no working on vacation!), be present with your loved ones, and enjoy every minute of your dining experience.
4) Holidays may involve too much alcohol
Many of us reach for warm eggnog or spiced apple cider to celebrate and cope with stress, especially when it’s cold outside.
You may need a refill over dinner, but overdrinking can disrupt your sleep and wreak havoc on your hormones. It increases cortisol levels and inhibits leptin (the “I’m full” hormone), which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
When you drink alcohol, your body works hard to eliminate it first and puts the metabolism of glucose, lipids, and other nutrients on hold—so it stops burning fat. Alcohol consumption can also diminish blood sugar levels, triggering hunger and cravings.
Tip #4: Enjoy spirits in moderation
You can sip on a festive cocktail or two but do so in moderation, considering how it may affect you. Pace yourself, and drink water between boozy drinks to stay hydrated.
Be aware of your cocktail ingredients, and swap sugary mixers with sparkling water alternatives to avoid extra sugar. Even better—prepare mocktails to stay in a cheery mood without the alcohol implications.
Balance your hormones and enjoy the holiday season!
These tips can help you balance your hormones and get a head start on your New Years’ resolutions, feeling joyous and wholesome!
If you want to dive deeper, book a naturopathic assessment to closely examine your hormone balance and prepare a holistic plan that supports your weight goals this season.