The Cost of 'Taking a Break' for the Holidays

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’m writing to you as a card-carrying SparkPeople member today!  I’m in my third year of maintenance so I’ve learned a few things about both losing and maintaining weight loss.  The year is drawing to a close and I think it’s appropriate now more than ever to discuss what it means to "take a break." 

The first few weeks of losing weight are exciting.  You are ready to get rid of the extra pounds that you carry and you are motivated.  Your reasons are personal and many of you may be motivated by extrinsic factors.  Counting calories, points, or whatever your system is easy and you are exercising with consistency.  The pounds are flying off (mostly in the form of water weight) and your clothes are starting to feel looser.  You may even start to get some compliments that provide even more fuel to keep going for yet another day.  But (I know you saw this coming), after some time that “new diet” feeling starts to wear off and you start to struggle.  Most people hit the first rough patch within the first two weeks.  It may take others a couple of months before they start to lose steam and start to wonder why they can’t go back to doing things the "old way." But, there comes a time when you will struggle to stay on track and the lure of returning to your old habits seems almost impossible to resist.  There is even some evidence that suggests your own body is sending out hormones to try to convince you to return to your old ways!

If you started your journey at SparkPeople, you are well-aware that what we are not proponents of diets.  Diets, as commonly defined, have a start date and an end date.  The end date of the diet signifies the day that you begin to return to your old habits thus also signifying the date you begin to regain the lost pounds.

But, let’s be realistic here.  It’s not possible to keep your motivation and willpower strong at all times.  There will be times, usually during stress, that you need to focus on more pressing matters.  There will be illnesses, job changes, relationship problems, financial problems, etc.  These stressors, in many cases, will erode your willpower and motivation and will make it more difficult to stay on track. 

What are your options during these difficult days? You can go with the “all or none” mentality and choose "all" to stay on track or you can choose "none" and go back to your old habits.  Alternately, you can choose a middle ground.  What I want to highlight today is the danger of choosing “none” and “taking a break” and to give some examples of what it’s like to choose somewhere in the middle. 

Giving up and “taking a break” is probably not the best choice to make.  I’ve heard many people say that they are “taking a break” and will resume living a healthy lifestyle after a certain date.  It’s not uncommon to hear someone say that they are going to start again “after the holidays.” 

So, let’s look the caloric toll and add up what might happen between November 1 and January 1 if you decide to “take a break.”

The numbers used here are simply estimates of calorie needs and expenditures.  Please do not get caught up on them because your body is not a calculator.  SparkPeople has wonderful trackers that enable you to figure out your personal caloric needs based on your level of activity.  However, I am using these generic numbers to illustrate the caloric differential of weight maintenance vs. losing vs. gaining.  The caloric differential of what your body needs vs. consumes is ultimately the key and the point of the following examples.

Our sample SparkPeople member is:
  • an extremely motivated obese female
  • actively losing 1-2 pounds a week
  • on 1,500-calorie per day plan
  • exercising five times per week burning 300 calories per session
Her (sedentary) basal metabolic rate: about 2,000 calories per day (the calories needed to maintain her current weight).  

Her deficit: about 5,000 calories per week
  • 500 a day from diet X 7 days = 3,500
  • 300 calories X 5 days a week from exercise = 1,500
  • That equals her about 1-2 pounds per week on average weight loss (3,500 calories=one pound lost but remember that your body is NOT a calculator)
Result:  If she continues her lifestyle change from November 1 through New Year’s she could lose about 12-13 pounds of fat and will be down a dress size for the new year!

Now, let's see what happens when she “takes a break” for the holidays. 
She is now:
  • eating an average of 2,500 calories per day (a surplus of 500 calories over her basal metabolic rate)
  • not exercising (she has lost the 1,500 calories per week she burned by working out) 
Result:  She is now gaining 1-2 pounds of fat per week as opposed to losing. 
January 1 rolls around and it is possible for her to have gained 12-13 pounds of fat. 

However, the scale might show she has gained about 15-20 pounds (she probably has 7-10 pounds of water along with the new stored fat).  That’s a 25 pound swing!
Happy New Year! 

Some people can do much worse than this.  I know I can--and I have!

What are some other potential scenarios?
She can:
  • keep her same exercise schedule (burning 300 calories 5 days a week)
  • still eat 2,500 calories per day. 
Result: She will save herself 3-4 pounds of weight gain. 

Alternatively, she can:
  • keep her exercise the same
  • eat an average of 2,000 calories a day
Result: Using this example, she will do more than maintain she will lose 3-4 pounds by the first of the year! She had her cake and ate it, too!

Why should you keep exercising even during break time?  As you can see, exercise can help you minimize the damage while you are getting back on track.  Exercise in and of itself relieves stress and can help you stay on track during those times when you feel like you need to take a break.  If you are feeling burned out by your current exercise routine, this is the perfect time to find a new way to stay active!

The bottom line:
  • Taking a break should not and does not have to be an all or none decision.  Minimizing any weight gain through exercise and practicing at least some moderation with your caloric intake will make a big difference and is worth the effort.  Understand that the “all or none” mentality does not work well in the real world, and there is no such thing as an "end date" for a true lifestyle change that leads to successful weight management. 

  • Resist the urge to take a break.  If you are tired or burned out, attempt to minimize the damage while you troubleshoot why you are having a hard time staying on plan.  Enlist the support of your family and/or join a SparkTeam!  My hope is that you take rethink the urge to throw caution to the wind and continue to work towards your goals year round.   
Pick yourself up after every fall and keep sparking everyone!
 What is your plan for this holiday season?

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PWILLOW1 12/30/2017
This is an excellent article. Really lets you know the damage you can do to your program in a short time. Plus it is so hard to get back on track after a couple of weeks off. Report
LESSOFMOORE 12/24/2017
Great advice! Report
SUSANBEAMON 12/21/2017
Be a little scare monster there, keep us on the straight and loosing path. Report
GIVEIT20WKS 12/10/2017
This article really spoke to me! It hit home the importance of maintaining my excercise as best as I can and that the little things I can do really will help! Report
1CRAZYDOG 12/10/2017
Taking a break is definitely not in my best interest for sure. Report
BESSHAILE 9/29/2017
My first thought after reading this was "taking a break from life?!?" because healthy choices really is my life now. But I can remember when I was in the impatient needing to lose weight phase and I felt like all the hard work of changing my lifestyle was more punishment than choice. Glad I never gave up. Love the math of this example. Thank you! Report
MSLOUIE3 6/1/2017
My friend who lostv150 lbs 30 years qgo and has maintained has a great plan. When she goes on vacation or for holidays, ahe makes sure she is on the lower end of her decade (10 # window for her wt. Maintenance) and she allows herself to eat things perhaps she normally would not. She still maintsins her exercise routine to the best of her ability. When she returns or the holiday is over, she may yave gained a little but usually not beyond her decade. I love this idea and try to use it. It has worked for a trip to Ireland and to Tennessee. Report
Thank you for this very timely article. I read it on October 31. I am motivated to keep exercising through the Winter Holidays. Report
Excellent article and it really helps to see it in this perspective. The holidays have always been a hard time for me. Thank you! Report
Take time eating. If it doesn't taste good don't eat it.
Sometimes one or two bites is enough to satisfy your taste for that item. Report
This really puts things into perspective. Report
Just found this in my email, wish I would have read it soooner Report
Instead of taking a long break I gave myself 1 'cheat day', Christmas day. I allowed myself to pretty much to eat whatever I wanted that day. I surprisingly managed to maintain. I was almost positive I'd have gained at least 1-2 pounds with all the treats and wine. I usually give myself 1 cheat day per month (not as extreme as christmas day). It seems to help me stay on track and not feel like I'm giving up everything for the rest of my life :) Report
Thanks for the data and alternatives. Compromise seems both possible and positive. Report
Awesome article and such a timely post. I'm fighting the urge to "take a break." Thanks for those great examples!!! Report
I know how it feels to gain weight during a "break" last year I was a couple of pounds heavier in comparison to my present weight… but then I had a really stressful couple of weeks and end up with constant binges for more than a month! (I gained 10 pounds). I felt so bad, and the problem continued for almost all 2013! Its been thanks to hard work and all the help of the spark people community that I have come down to where I'm now. So my tactics will be "somewhere in the middle" now: a lot of veggies (tons!), keep my work out and give myself that piece of cake that I really want (with moderato!).

Great blog! Report
I am one of the lucky people who come back from a holiday lighter than when I started. This is because I don't have the same opportunities to "graze" as I have at home. Report
Excellent clarification of this issue. Report
The only wobble in this report, is forgetting the "addiction" factor, that is why some/many of us have an all or nothing attitude. Same as an alcoholic, 12 is not enough, 1 is too many, etc. Our minds tell us what we should be doing, but something "somewhere" unknown causes us to over indulge..........REPEAT & REPENT. Wish more scientists would figure this out, look how many years of this has been going on!! There is more to it than "just eat less and move more". Report
Great article!! I posted in a message board about not tracking during the holidays and asked if others weren't going to track either. The comments led me to the realization that I should focus on healthy exercise since I am at maintenance, didn't have much to lose to begin with and am not an over-eater (especially of unhealthy foods). This article reinforces what I realized. WooHoo!!! Report
Great article. Last year during Thanksgiving and New Years I gained 17 lbs. I did not take a break and I did keep exercising or it probably would have been worse but what I did was to bake and bake and bake. I know myself and I know what happens when I have the baked goods, candy and cookies around. They are trigger foods to me and I just cannot have them around. It took me a whole year to get rid of that exta weight and I have vowed not to let it happen again. For Thanksgiving we made the whole meal for the family and didn't let anyone bring anything so we could be in a controlled environment. We will celebrate Christmas at my daughters and that day we will eat a meal have a dessert and not bring anything home. I know it sounds strange but that is the way it has to be for me. Report
I am going to do my best to stick to my calorie range i am having surgery so exercise wont be a option for me for at least 4 weeks. Report
The reality of the numbers really hit me in the face. My first thought was why am I sitting here reading when I should get up and move! Thanks for the post! I needed that. Gotta get up and at em! Report
Excellent article! Yes to moderation. Yes to exercise. And yes to picking yourself up after you have fallen. My plan is to focus on fruit and veggies while I'm at the holiday parties. And exercise at least five days per week. The month isn't over yet, there is still hope! Report
I really needed to read this! Thanks for putting the perfect article out at the right time. It is so easy to get caught up in the excuse of the holidays, the hectic (but fun) party schedule that inevitably means more food, more alcohol, and less time time and energy to workout.

However, like this article shows, the benefit of sticking to it when you can are real and can be the difference between getting through the holidays with little to no "damage" or starting over all over again when the new year rolls around. Report
What a timely and much needed blog! Thanks so much! I really needed this! Report
Thanks, I needed to hear this! Report
I am trying to still watch what I am eating but not to beat myself up if I do eat something I am not to or to much. Just still walking and doing my regular workouts Report
I didn't take a "holiday" break, I took a mental health one. One thing I had forgotten was how to stay away from sodium. I gained 18 pounds in 4 weeks and was considering quitting altogether. Then I started watching what I ate again and saw that sodium was taking over my life. And I had to learn to just say no to LITE ice cream too. Unfortunately, I am a night eater, so I need to chain the fridge shut at night and just leave fruit all over my room. Report
Great blog. I choose to stay on course, adapt whatever I eat to my 1700 cal/day plan. No remorse, no "going back," etc. I am a food addict and recognize the consequences of "well, only this ONE drink..." mentality. Merry Christmas to all!!!
Loved this entry! It's essentially what I am trying to do, but it makes me feel better seeing it like this laid out for me. I think it also inspires me to do the best I can during the holiday season with exercising and eating within my calorie range. I can still enjoy holiday food without eating so much I will gain or not lose weight! :) Report
I take "breaks" during the holidays but do so by trying to maintain rather than actively lose. I allow myself to indulge in whatever everyone else is eating, but I watch my portions and calories carefully. Doing so keeps me from feeling deprived and going on an all out binge that I can use as an excuse to completely give up for a few weeks. Report
My plan is to up my workouts so that it will counter the odd treat that I will have during holiday gatherings. I will continue to have healthy, well balanced meals during the week and will chose healthy snacks. Report
My plan continues to portion the food when I go out to family get together that way you look like you have more food on the plate then you really do. because I have done it in the past. and continue Report
Thank you so much - just what I needed to hear today! Report
Excellent article ... this should be required SPARKreading! Report
Thank you so much for this article!!!!! I am a complete numbers person, so it really helped. So my plan is to throw caution to the wind only on Christmas day. However, it is at my house, so I will be doing everything I can to make healthy dishes. I am already planing on supplying a relish tray with low fat dressing to be in the kitchen while we cook, and for breakfast we will have an oatmeal buffet. I have already revised my cookie/candy list to only 5--I normally do 15, and will be sending all the leftovers home with family; except of course for the turkey and ham, I will use those for lunch the rest of the week---one less meal I have to think about=) Report
Wonderful post! I usually live by the "all or none" mentality, and this is definitely to my detriment! I was at goal weight for about a year and have since gained back 2/3rds of my lost weight. Very frustrating! I need to 'kill' this all or none mentality once and for all!!! And, I need to get through December & the stresses of my life by enjoying the benefits of exercise & weight loss & not the temporary relief of eating junk food. Report
For Thanksgiving, I cheated and was miserable the next day. I snacked before and attempted to eat food that I normally would not.
I vow to not commit the same mistake this holiday. Report
Awesome info. As someone who decided to 'relax' a bit concerning my healthy lifestyle which in fact led to a long break that had incredible weight gain as the consequence (think 24-30 lbs in 3 months) I am a big proponent of skipping break taking. It's not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination. This is supposed to be a journey, journey's don't end so why should we step off the path just because the holiday season has arrived? Report
Thanks for the info. It's easier to see when its written out like that. Report
Great info, great blog. This was a prefect statement to share with SP at this time.

If your thinking of throwing caution to the wind then you are not on this journey to live a healthy lifestyle. Balance and moderation will get you through the rough times be it holidays or any situation you are around an abundance of food. Report
LOVE this article. I know "taking a break" is not acceptable for me but seeing the numers like that was still an eye opener. I could gain 10 pounds easily in the month of December but I refuse to do that.

I indulged a bit this weekend but I stayed active, did some intense ST so I'm keeping the holiday pound creep at bay! Normally after a weekend like I just had, the scale would be up three - five pounds but this morning I'm only up a half pound since Friday morning. I call that a win for me!

Thanks for the info! Report
This is the most informative article I've read in a while - so glad to have things set out this way. It's why I like Sparkpeople so much - they give you the information you need exactly when you need it. Thanks!!!

I will continue on my healthy eating path with just a treat or two over the holidays and keep to my exercise schedule as much as possible... it just makes sense! :)
This is a great article. A few years ago I decided to "take a break" during the holidays. I took a break all right. It was an extended one that lasted three years and resulted in a 60 pound weight gain. January came and the break continued for years. It is a slippery slope and I have learned to allow my self the occasional holiday treat but to be weary so that I don't get into the habit of constant indulgences. Report
Good Article, Thanks! Report
Great blog and very timely as I'm coming out of a slump right now. Report
I wish I had seen this *before* Thanksgiving. Back on track now! Report
Like the Sparks Article! About if you have a relaxed day too much more than 1. Boxing Day we are almost always in during the day at our home. Then night time we go to mum`s if she is not going out with sister`s boyfriend`s parents. So STRAIGHT BACK ON TRACK! ATMY HOME! Christmas Day could have a relaxed day. Report
Great to see this in time for the rush of December activities and food. Report
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