• Gaining a few pounds of fat is a lot easier than losing them, so clearly you need to strike a balance between indulgence and eating sensibly while still enjoying yourself
• Check out the nine simple tips to help you to manage that balance this Christmas
The Christmas period offers a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family over food and drinks and is certainly a time be savoured and enjoyed. Sometimes however we take the indulgence of food and drinks a little too far and the unfortunate consequence is putting on some extra weight in the form of body fat. There are suggestions that some people can put on in excess of 5 lbs (~2 kg) of body weight over the festive period, which is not surprising given the estimates that on Christmas day alone people can consume between 5000 and 7000 calories i.e. two to three times the daily energy requirement for most adult males. This raises the first key point – when it comes to weight gain over Christmas, it really is a numbers game when it comes to calories in and calories out.
This is not in any way trying to take the fun out of Christmas, but the excessive food intake by some is simply unjustifiable. One day of overeating is probably acceptable, but the obvious trend for binges lasting from early Christmas Eve up until the inevitable recovery meal on December 27th is frankly ludicrous. People should be mindful of the consequences of overeating – it is often a lot easier to gain weight than to lose it. In fact, adding upwards of 5 lbs of fat over Christmas could take more than a month of eating well and exercisign regularly to lose. With all the negative metabolic and hormonal shifts that occur from excessive eating and drinking such as insulin resistance, increased triglyceride (fat in the blood) concentrations, higher cortisol (a stress hormone) concentrations and reduced growth hormone release, you may well want to think about the damaging effects on metabolism before you take it too far.
People should and can enjoy treats and desserts at Christmas, but with some level of control and responsibility to their body. Despite it being a numbers game as stated above, rather than focusing on calorie counting as a preventive tool, it is more practical to focus on making appropriate food choices and eating sensibly. Here are some practical suggestions on how you can limit the potential negative impact of excessive eating and drinking over the holidays.
- Have a large, protein-based breakfast
Eating a slow-digesting breakfast that is rich in protein has been shown reduce mid-morning snacking and to help limit total energy consumed over the day. Avoiding the sugary cereals, pastries, or toast and jam is a good approach to take over Christmas. Protein-rich foods, for example, a breakfast like poached eggs and smoked salmon are digested slowly and help to keep you fuller for longer, and can help you avoid dipping into that selection box before lunch.
- Hit the protein for snack and main meals
Protein is a good idea for more than just breakfast. In general, because protein has such a strong impact on curbing your appetite, they also reduce a type of brain activity that is responsible for controlling food cravings. There should be lots of turkey and ham about, so go for those over mince pies and desserts.
- Go fibre-rich at lunch and dinner
Consuming fibre-rich foods are a great way of controlling the total amount of food you eat on a daily basis. Fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds are great sources of fibre, which helps to fill you up and minimise overeating. These foods not only help to control your appetite, but they are also low in calories and rich in nutrients, so if you are eating fibre-rich foods you are much less likely to indulge elsewhere.
- Eat slowly and enjoy your food
There should be no rush to eat when you sit down to your meals over Christmas. Take your time and eat slowly. It takes time for your stomach and your brain to complete the communication exchange that tells you that you are full, so eating slowly (and really savouring the feast and the company) will help to limit your overall food intake.
- Stay active
It is very easy to vegetate on the couch watching all manner of movies and sport over Christmas, but this really only makes excess weight gain more likely. Don’t make the mistake of doing no exercise over Christmas – you need to keep the energy expenditure side of the equation ticking over. Having some desserts and other tasty treats is acceptable, as long as you do some activity when you know you have over-indulged. A brisk walk, a light jog or a quick gym circuit will go some way to compensate for overeating and is certainly better than lying on the couch all day. In fact, accumulating your exercise throughout the day in a few short bursts is just as effective as doing one bout of longer exercise. Just because it’s Christmas that doesn’t mean that you should abandon all of your good lifestyle habits.
- Go dark
Tasty treats can be healthy too. Dark chocolate should be the “go to” dessert during the festive period. Dark chocolate is a healthy alternative to milk chocolate, most sweets, cakes and pies. Cocoa which is the main ingredient in dark chocolate is an excellent source of flavanols and procyanidins (also known as epicatechin and catechin), which are potent antioxidants. These antioxidants offer numerous health benefits to the body including helping to protect the body’s cells from the damaging effects of inflammation and free radicals.
- Don’t mix sugar and alcohol
Not only can excessive alcohol consumption give you a bad hangover, it drastically increases the amount of calories that you consume (both at the time and often the next day), which ultimately promotes weight gain. Mixing sugary drinks with alcohol is a particularly bad idea as, along with the extra calories from alcohol, the sugar will lead to blood sugar fluctuations that will trigger hunger pangs. Aim to drink moderately but if you are drinking more than a few drinks, clear alcohols with soda water and fresh lime or lemon is a good low calorie option. This advice is not an endorsement of drinking or a strategy for getting away with drinking to excess.
- Meal timing
Space out your meals and maintain a healthy eating pattern which means eating three main meals and two snacks. Just because there is copious amounts of food available it doesn’t mean you should spend the day “grazing”. Eat because you are hungry, not because you are bored,or because the food looks appealing. Make sure to put all left-over food away after meals as when out of sight, this should at least make it a little more difficult to eat when you know that you shouldn’t be eating.
- Set a goal
Setting a goal doesn’t necessarily mean setting a weight goal, but it can mean any number of health-related goals that are personal to you. Perhaps set a specific number of days to allow yourself to enjoy some extra treats. Everything is relative, so it might be that not limiting dark chocolate, healthy desserts or having a few extra glasses of red wine is a real treat. Once you feel that you have had you few days of treating yourself, stop (requires willpower…) and move back into a normal pattern of eating.
Adopting some of these eating strategies can help you to make better food choices and control excess eating over the Christmas. Much of this is common sense but sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple things that we need to do to avoid taking eating and drinking a step too far. Don’t make the mistake of not treating yourself either – that’s not a sensible or an enjoyable approach. Trust us: you will be grateful that you took the sensible approach to eating come early January.