10 ways to avoid Christmas weight gain (and still have fun)
It is normal to want to indulge over Christmas, but the number of people joining diet clubs and gyms in January speaks volumes about how many regret their festive binges. It’s easy to slip into a ‘one more won’t hurt’ mindset – just one of the many reasons you might have piled on the pounds during the festive period in the past.
When working with clients on weight loss programmes, I always like to get clear on what has held them back in the past. These are a few of the things that often come up:
Portion control – have you ever felt you’ve waited all year for Christmas, so you’re not about the holdback? The extra roasties or chocolates don’t seem to matter.
Social life – family commitments, work lunches and endless parties mean that you are literally overloaded with temptation, sometimes on a daily basis. And hangovers add to the urge to eat junk food and veg out on the sofa.
Sedentary lifestyle – a busy social life means exercise routines get put on the back burner.
Mental ‘hall pass’ – willpower goes out the window at this time of year. It’s almost as if you tell yourself that it’s fine to binge on everything in sight as you’ll lose it all when you go on a January diet/detox.
But the fact is, you can still enjoy the festive season and not gain weight. For most people ‘Christmas’ is actually just a handful of days – Christmas Eve, the Day itself, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and maybe a party or two along the way, so actually, not too difficult to navigate if you have a plan. The trick is to integrate treat foods into the context of an overall healthy diet. So yes to mince pies, but one, not four, in one afternoon. And as long as you have some strategies in place before the festive season, there’s no reason why you can’t start the New Year looking and feeling fantastic. As a qualified nutritional therapist, I work with clients to take control of their relationship with food and plan how to get through times when over-indulgence might feel hard to resist. Here are my 10 tips for how to avoid gaining weight over Christmas, and still have fun:
1 SET A FESTIVE FOOD GOAL and KEEP EXERCISING It’s unrealistic to try and avoid all temptation over Christmas, but by setting a specific goal – say, limiting yourself to one treat a day, or scheduling in a quick workout to offset your increased calorie intake – will help you stay on track. If you don't have time to go to the gym you can still have a wonderful yoga class in the comfort of your home. Youtube is awash with videos of quick or long yoga sessions, sweaty routines or stretchy relaxing ones. Yoga with Kassandra (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithkassandra) and Yoga with Adriene (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene)
are my go to when I don't have the time to hit the gym. And if you've never tried yoga before this is definitely a good time of the year to learn a slowing and grounding practice that will keep you anchored to your goals. Both Kassandra and Adriene have wonderful beginner yoga classes.
2 EAT SMART and USE A BIT OF WILLPOWER (just a tiny bit) If you don’t have a plan (for parties, going out, visiting friends, having family over and so on) you are setting yourself up to fail. Be clear in your mind what your healthy options are, and if you know you’re going somewhere you won’t be able to eat the right foods, do not abandon your plans altogether, do not throw your hands up and resign to self-sabotaging. It's ok to have the 'wrong' foods as long as you don't have too much of them (see next point). Also, a good idea is to fill up on some protein and fiber-rich foods like almonds or cashew, a slice of turkey, a piece of salmon, hummus with vegs, a boiled egg, an avocado before the party. Protein and fiber will stabilise your blood sugar levels helping you keep junk food cravings at bay.
3 PORTION CONTROL Eating from a smaller dish causes you to eat less because the food itself looks more substantial. If you transfer food from a 12-inch plate to a 9-inch plate, it looks like more food. I appreciate you cannot choose the plate size when you are the guest, but you can always take smaller bites and chew for longer (see point 7) which apart from making you feel more satisfied will help your digestion enormously (no bloating afterwards!)
4 KNOW YOUR HORMONES, LIMIT HIGH-FAT FOODS Christmas excess can lead to hangovers, and hangovers often lead to poor food choices, especially a tendency to seek out sugar and starchy carbs. Research reveals that fat from certain foods, including ice cream and roast potatoes, goes straight to the brain and tells you to eat more! It triggers messages that are sent to the body’s cells, warning them to ignore appetite-suppressing hormones that regulate our weight. The effect can last for a few days, sabotaging efforts to get back to a healthy diet afterwards. Dr Deborah Clegg, who conducted the research, explains: “Normally our body is primed to say when we’ve had enough, but that doesn’t always happen. When you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids and you become resistant to insulin (which regulates blood sugar levels) and leptin (the hormone that suppresses hunger). Since you are not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”
5 OUT OF SIGHT If you want a Quality Street chocolate and all you have to do is reach to the tin and help yourself, chances are you’ll end up eating 3 or 4. But if you have to get your shoes on, walk to the shop in the cold to buy some chocolate, you probably wouldn’t bother. Ever heard yourself say “take this away from me, so I stop eating?” With food directly in front of you, it’s easy to overindulge. Once it’s removed, you realise you aren’t even hungry – you were just eating because it was there. So keep unhealthy foods out of sight in cupboards or better still, don’t buy them. If you know they’re in the house, you might not be able to resist.
6 REMEMBER FRUIT AND VEGETABLES Veggies don’t need to be doused in oil and roasted to within an inch of their lives to taste good. The frying pan is one of your best ally if you want to preserve the nutrients. A sprinkle of oregano and salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a little swishing around are enough to turn a punnet of sweet cherry tomatoes in a delicious accompaniment for beef or fish dishes. Thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, flash-fried with garlic, pine nuts and a dash of white wine are a very festive side dish. Shiitake mushrooms, pan-fried with garlic for 10 minutes make the creamiest, tastiest veg side.
A trick to eating more vegetables during the festive season (but actually always) is not only to keep some in the house (the opposite as with chocolate!) but to have the right kind. Buy the vegetables you know you fancy not the ones that are good for you but you'll never cook. A friend of mine is crazy for raw cauliflower with mayonnaise as a snack and I say yes! Limit the mayo but definitely go for it!
Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare and you can bite on when you're too hungry or tired to contemplate cooking: celery, cucumber, hummus, cherry tomatoes, avocados, salad onions, carrots, clementines, grapes, apples, pears bananas, Brazilian nuts, walnuts and dried apricots are always in my fridge.
7 SLOW DOWN It takes around 20 minutes for your body to tell your brain that you’re full. If you eat quickly, you’re more likely to eat more. Slowing down gives you time to recognise and assess how hungry you really are. One trick I use is counting chews (it’s tedious but, believe me, it works). If you chew a bite 10 times, you’ll eat slower. I also found myself enjoying food more, as there’s more time to actually taste what I’m eating. Eventually, it becomes second nature to chew more. Pacing your eating will get you to eat more slowly without getting in your head about the specific amount that you eat.
8 CIRCLE OF SUPPORT Emotional support is crucial when it comes to dieting. Research shows that people who felt supported by their friends and family were 50% more likely to stick to a healthy eating plan. So ask your loved ones to help you avoid temptation by not to offering you sugary treats. Buddy up with a family member who is also trying to lose or maintain their weight. Having that moral support will boost your chances of success
9 BE KIND TO YOURSELF It is the season of goodwill, after all. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up or see it as an excuse to write off the rest of the day and eat everything in sight. Just chalk it up as one bad decision and move on. You can get back on track tomorrow.
Nothing teaches you better to be kind with yourself than meditation.
I always thought meditating was difficult, a kind of task, a duty, an effort boring but necessary like going to the gym or brushing my teeth, but it is nothing like that. It is easy, pleasant, calming, empowering and so relaxing that after trying once you won't be able to go a day without it. Maybe my enthusiasm depends on the app I use to guide my meditation. I love Calm, (2017 App of the year) which has meditation sessions starting from 3 minutes so you choose the length to fit your schedule. Topics include calming anxiety, mindful eating, self-esteem, mindfulness at work, managing stress...
...And If you feel you need help, you can book a 20-minute FREE consultation with me to see what the options are. I can help you improve your diet to lose weight or get rid of bloating, tiredness and digestive problems.