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The biggest cause of holiday weight gain isn't the food

The biggest cause of holiday weight gain isn't the food
(M_a_y_a / Getty Images)

If you're eating less in preparation for huge holiday meals, don't. You're setting yourself up for an absolute disaster once those dinners, holiday parties, and other food-related gatherings finally happen.

Weight loss diets come in all shapes and sizes, but they all look pretty much like this: less food, more hunger, less alcohol, and more exercise.

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You could assume that the less you eat and the more you work out, the healthier your body will get. Then, at the holidays you think you'll feel primed and ready, indulge in short bursts of unhealthy eating, and then effortlessly return to your new and thin-bodied habits.

You'd be wrong.

You'll shed some pounds maybe, feeling slim, slender, and triumphant once it's finally time for Christmas dinner. The average dieter loses less than 5 pounds in the course of their diet. Those 5 pounds might have you feeling more confident than ever. But that feeling won't last for very long.

And here's why: When your body gets less food and uses more energy, its metabolism starts to slow down. At first, you might drop some weight as your body adjusts to this new calorie intake. Many people (as you probably know from experience) don't lose any weight at all on their diet. They just feel hungry.

But whether you lose weight or not, your metabolism slows. You're eating less, fixating on food, dreaming of the day you can let it all go and scarf down platefuls of honey-baked ham. When that day comes, your body has likely entered a state of famine. It's holding on to all the calories it can get - and you're about to give it thousands.

After all, you've been deprived of luscious, sweet, fatty holiday foods for weeks leading up to the big event. Your body isn't the only thing in starvation mode - your brain is, too. It's expended tons of energy resisting temptation these past couple of weeks, and it's tired. Once the opportunity arises to give in and eat a slice of pie, your body is not going to want to stop at just one slice. Three slices later, you're feeling awful and guilty and bloated - not realizing that your diet is the reason you're this state in the first place.

Biologically, your body is just as thrilled to eat all that pie. The survival state kicks into gear and puts on all the weight you lost leading up to the holiday - you know, just in case another famine (i.e., diet) is coming. It could happen quickly or it could happen over the course of a month or so. But it will happen - unless you've somehow made it into the measly 3 percent of dieters who evade this frustrating fate.

Some dieters even gain back more weight than they lost. Why do you think people are so eager to jump on their weight loss goals come New Year's? If people's holiday diets worked, they wouldn't be so ready to try again after the season was over.

That means holiday weight gain isn't always caused by overeating or indulgent meals. Oftentimes, you're setting yourself up for holiday weight gain just by being on a diet.

So if not diet to prepare for the holidays, what should you do? It's simple: sit back, eat what you want, and enjoy all the wonderful reasons the holidays are the best time of year.

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