Get Ready for the Christmas Calorie Blitz

Christmas food

One thing that humans do is, we fool ourselves into thinking that after some arbitrary and magical date — January 1, for instance — everything will change and we will do things differently. As parents, we convince ourselves to believe that after the holidays, the new year will bring a clean slate and we will write something entirely different on it. “Let the kids have their fun for the holidays,” we tell ourselves, “and then we’ll make a fresh start.”

Don’t count on it. Carnegie Weight Management did a study that showed how the average Christmas Day food intake in America can go up as high as 6,000 calories. That’s four times as much as a 5-year-old should consume in a day. Even a strapping adolescent boy between the ages of 15 and 18 should max out his intake at 2,775 calories per day. The scary part is, the researchers found that “the weight gained by children over the festive season may take weeks or months to lose — with some never shifting the extra pounds.”

No child, especially a child who is already conscious of being overweight, and who might be struggling and suffering real anguish, needs to start off the year with that kind of burden. It is to be hoped that parents and other family members realize this, and do whatever is possible to make things easier. Of course, the same study also determined that 40% of parents of overweight children don’t even recognize that their kids are overweight.

A fascinating addition to this article is the list of how many calories lurk in each holiday specialty. Perhaps we do not all indulge in roast parsnips, but if we did, they would represent 102 calories per serving.


At Christmas, my grandma liked to give me a box of round, pastel-colored, perfectly textured mint patties, each one decorated with a rosebud made of icing. Or a box of leaf-shaped maple sugar candies. Or sometimes both. Would I have loved her less without the candy? Would I be the person I am today? For instance, would I still think of candy canes as the booby prize? These are questions worth pondering. Does your family have a tradition of giving a certain kind of sweet? Would it be possible, after inventing another more health-conducive one instead, to ease that old tradition out the door?

And they’re giving stuff away everyplace. You have to take your kid into the bank with you, and there’s a courtesy table of cookies and peppermint sticks. This is not the time to consider larger philosophical questions, like whether a person should always accept something just because it’s free. A reader once mentioned how she joked for years that free food has no calories, only it wasn’t totally a joke. On some level, she believed it and acted accordingly. So you don’t want your child to get weird ideas like that. How do you handle the kid-in-the-bank situation? We don’t know either, but this is a good time to think about it.

As parents, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that everything will be different after the new year. That probably won’t pan out. There really is no time like the present, and if these questions are worth figuring out, they are worth figuring out now.

You might also enjoy:

Holidays and Childhood Obesity
Visions of Sugarplums

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Children eat four times the recommended calories on Christmas Day,”, 12/16/09
Image by regan 76


2 Responses

  1. Now that I am a grandparent, I have to remind myself that spoiling them with food items are perhaps not the best thing. Thanks for the reminder!

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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