Holidays Nutrition

7 Ways to Battle the Holiday Bulge Before it Begins

Stacey Penney
Stacey Penney
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We've highlighted seven end-of-year client challenges and provided solutions to help keep them on track. Early planning and preparation can help you and your clients continue to succeed into the New Year.

Though the weight gain during the six weeks of the end-of-year holiday festivities isn’t as huge as once hyped, it still adds up, especially if it’s not lost each year. According to one study, the average holiday weight gain was just under a pound, but the cumulative effect can negatively impact health.

The holiday season is full of parties and social commitments, specialty foods, alcohol, stress, cold weather, lack of sleep, and a plethora of other distractions that can stand in the way of well-planned exercise and diet programs. How will you help your clients stick to these programs when excuses abound? Here are seven of the more common challenges and steps to help keep your clients on track.

Loss of motivation. Remind your clients of the goals they’ve attained, and what milestones might remain for the rest of the year. Celebrate their accomplishments and encourage their ongoing efforts. Keep them engaged by having them think of health and fitness goals for the New Year.

If clients are in the action phase of the stages of change model, it will be important to discuss barriers to exercise and to anticipate upcoming disruptions. Work with your clients to develop plans to overcome these holiday barriers and distractions, and be ready to redesign exercise programs if time or intensity is identified as a barrier (1).

Avoid the holiday bulge. A study by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) found that the amount of weight we gain during the holidays isn’t as bad as once thought. Typically, Americans gained less than one pound during the holidays.

Volunteers in the study were asked about multiple factors that could have influenced their weight gain. The two factors that stood out for those who did not gain weight were staying active and not going hungry (2). Encourage your clients to include fitness in their schedule and to eat a healthy snack before going to parties so they’re not overly hungry and overly indulging. At holiday gatherings, have your clients mentally note the food they’re consuming to avoid mindless eating. The simple task of logging food intake can keep them accountable at other times.

Baby, it’s cold outside. Can’t make it to the gym because of bad weather? Plan ahead with your clients and make sure they have exercise options if they can’t get out due to the weather. Have them pop in the latest Zumba®, Strong Nation, or yoga workout and warm it up inside. Online training is also a great option in expanding your services, and you will still be able to encourage your clients and help them reach their fitness goals.

Skip the buffet. Seriously, skip it if you can. Or at least try to keep to reasonable serving sizes and not taking multiple trips back to the line.

Is your waistline really going to appreciate getting the most food you can for your dollar? Portion control during the holidays is a must. 

Think before you drink. Holiday beverages can contain an obscenely excessive amount of calories–with or without the alcohol. A cup of eggnog can deliver 350 calories, a creamy White Russian has 260 calories, while a medium pumpkin spice latte will set you back 380 spicy calories.  

Lower calorie choices include a flute of champagne at 90 calories or wine spritzers–a diluted sparkling water and fruit mixture, even a “skinny” peppermint mocha comes in at 130 steaming calories. And as a reminder, alcohol can also interfere with muscle growth, proper nutrition, recuperative sleep, hydration levels, muscle recovery, stress hormone levels, and the immune system.

Snug in their beds. Sleep is important for adults, eight good hours a night is typically recommended. Getting enough sleep helps control weight, keeps the immune system functioning optimally, reduces feelings of stress and stress-related illnesses, and helps put you in a better mood (1).

Too stressed to exercise? Tell your clients to rethink this excuse. Exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing stress levels with immediate and long term results (1). Exercise improves mood and sleep, and also reduces depression and anxiety which can often be triggered during the holidays.

Add in motivational communications with tools like Facebook, Twitter, or texting, and you’ll be sure to keep your clients on track this holiday season and into the New Year. This could also be a time to remind them that you always appreciate a referral for those looking for help in making fitness a part of their resolution.

For more nutrition tips and tricks to share with your clients, check out the NASM Certification Course, which you can take 100% online.


  1. Clark MA, Lucett SC, McGill E, Montel I, Sutton B. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training 6th ed. Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2018.
  2. Holiday Weight Gain Slight, But May Last A Lifetime. National Institutes of Health. 22 Mar. 2000. Date accessed 29 Oct. 2012.

The Author

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney

Stacey Penney, MS, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, CNC, is the Content Strategist with NASM and AFAA. A 20+ year veteran of the fitness industry, she's worked with the top certification and continuing education groups. At NASM and AFAA she drives the content for American Fitness Magazine, blog and the social media platforms. Stacey received her degree in Athletic Training/PE from San Diego State University and an MS in Exercise Science from CalU, plus credentials in Health Promotion Management & Consulting (UCSD), Instructional Technology (SDSU), group fitness and yoga. Previous San Diego Fall Prevention Task Force Chair, she’s developed continuing education curriculum for fitness organizations in addition to personal training, writing, and co-coaching youth rec soccer.


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