Holiday Weight Gain and Cancer Risk

The holidays are all about savoring delicious foods and drinks with loved ones. Between office parties, family dinners, and a constant stream of sweets, it’s no wonder many people gain weight over the holidays. All that unhealthy eating and excess pounds you put on could increase your cancer risk. Sure, enjoying some extra cookies or an additional glass of wine won’t lead to cancer overnight, but overindulging during the holidays and beyond may put you on that path.


Your Health and Holiday Overindulgence

When you overeat, your body stores surplus calories as fat. Carrying too much weight, especially in your stomach area, leads to higher insulin levels and inflammation in your body, both of which can stimulate tumor growth. Excess fat tissue also produces estrogen. In high levels, estrogen may cause breast cancer.

Eating too much red meat and processed foods, common during the holidays, may lead to colon cancer development. Too much alcohol, another holiday favorite, damages DNA and increases the risk of several cancers.


Weight Gain and Cancer Risk

If you keep gaining weight during the holidays and never shed it, the pounds will add up and lead to excessive weight or obesity. Maintaining an unhealthy BMI throughout adulthood increases the risk of:

  • Mouth, pharyngeal, and laryngeal cancers
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Endometrial cancer


Most Unhealthy Holiday Foods and Beverages

Many festive favorites are some of the unhealthiest options that contribute to weight gain. Here are some of the worst holiday eats and drinks to limit:

  • Alcohol: Many American adults drink eggnog, wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages throughout the holiday season. However, intoxicating drinks are high in calories and offer little to no nutritional value. In fact, a half-cup serving of traditional eggnog spiked with bourbon already contains 265 calories and 18 grams of added sugars. Plus, alcohol can directly cause cancer.
  • Sugar: 1 in 6 Americans eat dessert every day, meaning most of us have a sweet tooth! All the gingerbread cookies, candy canes, peppermint bark, yule logs, and other holiday treats make eating in moderation a struggle. Unfortunately, these desserts are often high in fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, which can increase body fat percentage if consumed in excess.
  • Fried foods: Fried turkey, latkes, spring rolls, and other fried dishes may be tasty, but they are high in calories, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and acrylamide. The excess fat, cholesterol, and other substance build-up can also clog your arteries over time.


Tips for Avoiding Weight Gain This Holiday Season

Between the parties, family dinners, and endless trays of cookies, it’s easy for healthy habits to slip during the holidays. Before you know it, you’ve gained a few pounds. The good news is that you can still enjoy the season without the undesirable consequences.

1. Watch your portion sizes

Minding your portions is one way to manage your calorie intake and avoid gaining unwanted weight. Some tips include:

  • When eating appetizers, limit yourself to 2 to 3 pieces instead of grazing the entire tray. 
  • During dinner, fill half your plate with veggies and the other half with lean proteins and whole grains. Avoid second helpings.
  • Only take a small slice of grandma’s homemade pie or one cookie from the snack table.


2. Snack wisely

Snacks can be festive, healthy, and delicious. Instead of sugary dried fruits and high-sodium potato chips, choose assorted fruit skewers, sweet potato chips, pomegranate dark chocolate bites, or the classic ants on a log.


3. Be the person who brings healthy options

Opt for baked chicken, fish, or veggie dishes over high-fat, high-carb fare. Make a salad or veggie tray to bring to gatherings so you’re sure there’s at least one healthy option. Don’t feel pressured into overindulging or eating calorie-dense dishes to be polite. Your health matters, especially if you have underlying health conditions like diabetes or hypertension.


4. Manage stress

Stress prompts your body to produce more cortisol, which can lead to stress eating or emotional eating in response to negative feelings.

To keep your stress levels at bay, get plenty of sleep, make time for your hobbies and interests, and say “no” politely to events that overextend you. You can also try relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or a warm bath with essential oils. Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up. One high-calorie meal or extra treat won’t derail your health goals.


5. Don’t wait until January to exercise

The holidays can be exhaustingly hectic. There are parties to plan and attend, gifts to buy and wrap, and recipes to finalize, cook, and serve. It’s so easy to forget about your well-being amid the chaos, but try to make a conscious effort to prioritize health and fitness. Even taking a 30-minute walk can help clear your mind, lower stress, and keep excess weight off. You can also invite the whole family for some fun seasonal activities like sledding, ice skating, or skiing.


6. Plan ahead

Try to map out your meals, dinner menus, shopping lists, and entire schedule in advance. Decide which events you want to host and attend to avoid being overwhelmed with social obligations. Planning and pacing yourself will help you start the new year feeling recharged and recommitted to your health goals instead of being burned out, overweight, and at higher risk of disease.

With some planning and willpower, you can have a happy, healthy holiday season without stressing over the added pounds in the New Year.


A Final Word

The holidays may be a joyful time filled with friends, family, and delectable food, but they also present health risks. Your healthy lifestyle can easily take a back seat between overindulging, drinking, and general merrymaking. Don’t let the weight creep on and raise your cancer risk this season. Make a plan to avoid overindulgence, exercise, limit alcohol and processed foods, and choose healthier options when you can. The holidays only come once a year, so enjoy them, but do it in moderation. Staying healthy is the gift that keeps on giving.