Courtesy of Prof. Brian Wansink

October 18, 2016

Cornell Researcher: Weight Hits Annual Low in October, Climbs During Holidays

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People generally experience their lowest weight on Oct. 1 and their highest weight around mid-winter, after celebrating the holiday season, according to a September study by Prof. Brian Wansink, marketing.

While the start of the school year often means more hectic schedules and less healthy eating patterns, the most significant factor of weight gain during the fall is the start of the holiday season, Wansink said.

“October is the beginning of the overeating season, starting with Halloween and going onto Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” Wansick explained. “Those four holidays predictably increase everyone’s weight, even people who are super vigilant.”

Fortunately, there are ways that people can successfully limit their holiday season intake, according to Wansink. He recommended limiting the amount of food consumed before and after any holiday celebration.

“Weight gain actually starts ramping up right before the holiday, and it’s what you do 10 days before and two days afterwards that have the biggest effect,” he said. “That’s the leftover effect, which begins to peak two or three days after when you don’t want to throw out all the leftover turkey, cake and sweet rolls.”

Those who host holiday dinners, and so naturally have the most leftovers, seem to have the hardest time with trying to get rid of extra food, Wansink said.

Richard Greenbaum ’20 agreed with this diagnosis, saying that whenever his family hosts Thanksgiving dinner, he is able to enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing for “days later, easily.”

Wansink, an expert in eating behavior, cited portion control as another tactic to in limit holiday weight gain. He said the key to reducing portions can be controlling the setting to make sure people are not aware that less food is being served.

“Nobody wants to be engaged in portion control,” he said. “It’s a whole lot easier to set up an environment that people naturally take and serve less.”

Wansink described simple setup changes which can help people consume less food. For example, he said placing food on a side table — instead of having a huge spread on the main table — can reduce the amount of food consumed by 19 percent, and using smaller serving spoons can reduce the amount of food consumed by 14 percent.

“People tend to count the number of spoonfuls rather than the quantity itself,” he said. “So having smaller serving spoons for your sweet potatoes is much better than a big shovel.”

Instead of making a new year’s resolution to lose weight, Wansink suggested people make a resolution now “to not gain weight in the first place.”