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December 04, 2019

You don't gain as much weight during the holidays as you might think

A Jefferson Health dietitian explains why that is still be problematic

Healthy Eating Holidays
Holiday eating guide Miroslava/

Most people only gain a pound or two at the holidays.

It may feel like you’ve put on 10 pounds after indulging at holiday parties and dinners, so it might surprise you that the average weight gain is actually only one to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

My advice: Don't stress what you eat on these special occasions. What matters is what you do for the other 48 weeks. Those extra couple pounds likely will fall off your waistline when you return to your normal, day-to-day healthy lifestyle. 

However, if you’re not leading a healthy lifestyle, the weight could stay on, potentially resulting in a 10-to-20 pound weight gain over the course of 10 years.

RELATED STORY: A psychologist's guide to holiday eating

We make an average of 200 food decisions every day — which probably increases more around the holiday, when tempting goodies are everywhere you turn, from the office to your neighbor’s pot luck dinner, plus all those social media posts that keep you craving cake.

The average calories for a holiday dinner could be 2,700 to 3,000 calories … in one sitting. Keep in mind that 3,500 calories equals one pound. The trick here isn’t to try and diet during the holidays but stay mindful of your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues. 


Emily Rubin, R.D.

Mindful eating is a practice in which you pay attention to your cravings, meal experience and physical cues while eating. This will naturally help you portion control your meals without needing to carry measuring cups or tablespoons. You simply eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

Listening to your body’s hungry cues might sound easy, but it can be very difficult. Be sure to always plate your food and sit down to enjoy it at a table. Ask yourself questions like, why am I eating this? Am I truly hungry? Am I eating because of the time of the day? Why am I craving something sweet? 

Knowing the reason you are eating will allow you to make more mindful choices. Sometimes you might not be hungry but are still craving that cookie, so let yourself eat and savor a cookie and move on with the rest of your day. Depriving yourself will only make your cravings stronger!

Here are my top tips for maintaining a healthy mindset during the rest of the holiday season:

• Keep a food and behavior diary. Download an app or keep a journal to track your food choices, location and reason for eating.

• Don’t starve or fast all day. “Saving” your calories for dinner is the perfect way to overeat once you finally allow yourself to eat. Many people will eat two to three times the amount of calories than if they ate balanced meals and snacks throughout the day. Choose meals with protein and fiber, like hearty veggie salad with grilled chicken or hardboiled eggs, and fruit with low-fat cheese, nuts or Greek yogurt.

Healthy Sweet Potato PieCourtesy/Emily Rubin

Healthy sweet potato pie.

• Choose your favorite foods. Remember, it is the holidays so no one should be denying themselves. Eat smaller portions of your favorite high-calorie foods, like stuffing or sweet potato pie.

• Eat mindfully for 20 minutes. Take your time to eat slowly, savoring every bite of your food. It takes 20 minutes to feel full. Fill your plate with the foods you really want to eat and stop when you’re full, even if there’s still food left.

• Stay active. If exercising is a part of your daily routine, make the time to exercise during the day or invite your cousins you’ve been meaning to catch up with on a walk after dinner around the block (a great idea to help you digest your food comfortably)!

• Bring your own. Worried options for a healthy side dish or dessert will be limited? Bring your own! Toss together a colorful winter salad with hearty greens or try my healthier version of sweet potato pie. 

•   •   •


Servings: 8-10


• 1-1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes

• 2 tbsp. light butter (softened)

• 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar or 1/2 cup of Truvia brown sugar blend

• 1/2 cup skim milk or almond milk

• 2 large eggs

• 1 tsp ground pumpkin pie spice

• 1 tsp ground cinnamon

• 1 tsp vanilla extract

• 1 9-inch pre-made graham cracker crust*

*For gluten free, use a gluten free graham cracker crust


• Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 50 to 55 minutes, or until soft. Run cold water over the sweet potato and remove the skin. Blend potatoes in a blender for about one minute.

• Place sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add butter and mix well. Using an electric mixer, mix in sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into a graham cracker crust.

• Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Emily Rubin, R.D., has been a registered dietitian with Thomas Jefferson’s division of gastroenterology and hepatology for 18 years. She is the dietitian for its celiac center, Fatty Liver Center and Weight Management Center. She is also the public relations chair for the Philadelphia Dietetic Association. She will be writing occasionally on topics related to nutrition and dieting.

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