Every year, most people put on a little weight; it’s only a small amount, but it soon starts to add up. January’s road may be paved with good intentions, but typically people do not lose these holiday pounds. Year after year, holiday weight-gain adds up. We look here at how to enjoy your holiday and how to avoid that dreaded holiday weight-gain.
Our shopping baskets tell a story: during the Christmas holiday, we increase the percentage of processed and unhealthy food that we buy, and the increased spending on these foods remains elevated throughout the year. Oops! Our shopping trolleys show that we just can’t resist the lure of the sugar sirens. Highly addictive processed foods do not allow us to let go, we keep buying them and eating them.
There are lots of tricks that will make all the difference and help you to avoid that all too common holiday weight gain. You don’t have to lose your friends. You don’t have to miss that party, and you can have some treats. If you make intelligent choices, you will reap the benefits. Let’s look at what is proven to work…..
Top Ten Tips to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain
1. No nibbles. And plan ahead.
During any holiday season its easy to abandon your routines and deprioritise your health. So, plan your strategy for your four holiday pitfalls: parties, meals, sleep and exercise. Remember, you can eat or drink anything, but not everything! Formalising your goals is a proven way to have a successful holiday season.
Your pre-formed strategy makes meeting the challenge much easier. We have a simple rule: avoid canapes, nibbles nor snacks. When we are offered a snack, we don’t have any decisions to make, we know that it is off limits, and we don’t have to argue with ourselves.
2. Weigh and record your weight every day
Weighing yourself daily is one way of helping with your weight. It is a highly motivational and powerful tool, which helps to prevent your weight creeping up. Whether recording your weight on a graph, spread sheet or in a notepad, it is a powerful tool and will help you to stick to your plans.
Invest in a good set of weighing scales and place them on a hard floor. Make sure that you weigh yourself naked, at the same time every day, ideally first thing in the morning. This makes your measurements more accurate and repeatable.
3. Prevent blood sugar spikes
Figure 1. Two blood sugar curves, over the course of 24 hours, in a metabolically healthy person, without diabetes, showing the blood sugar response to different foods. The curve on the left shows the blood sugar response to two healthy meals; the highest blood sugar is 6.2mmol/L. This is an optimal, healthy blood sugar response to a balanced meal, of vegetables and meat, with no additional sugar. The curve on the right shows the response to three sugary meals. Post prandial blood sugar peaks at 11.2mmol/L, regarded by many as a diabetic reading. This is what eating sugar can do to a healthy person. It could be you!
High blood sugar causes inflammation, insulin release, fat storage and two hours later is followed by a sudden drop in your blood sugar. This low blood sugar—a hypo, or hypoglycaemia—can make you ‘hangry’ and is a big driver to eat again. Avoiding blood sugar spikes—and the accompanying insulin spike—is one of the keys to avoiding weight gain. How to AVOID these spikes—
Eat some fibre first: fibre reduces the speed of digestion, and therefore the speed that sugar reaches your blood. Fibre protects you from blood sugar spikes. The more fiber in food, the smaller the effect on your blood sugar. If you eat high-fibre food before sugary food, you will reduce the blood sugar spike from the sugary food. Use the power of fibre, by eating it first, to mitigate the effect of the sugary food. For example, eat a salad as a starter, then eat your meal. Or eat your vegetables first, followed by the sugary cranberry sauce. Both hacks will lessen any blood sugar spike, caused by the sugary cranberries!
Apple cider vinegar: vinegar slows the absorption of sugar. Apple cider vinegar helps to blunt blood sugar spikes, following sugary meals. Take one or two tablespoons (15-30ml) of apple cider vinegar before a large meal. You may add the vinegar to water, but be wary of drinking it neat, as the acidity can erode your tooth enamel.
Move after you eat: There is conclusive evidence that moving after a meal reduces blood sugar spikes. When you move, the sugar in your blood moves into your muscles, which reduces your blood sugar spike. Even a 10 minute of stroll, will help after a large meal. So, get out there and move a little after your holiday feast.
4. There are no healthy snacks
Most people believe that they don’t snack, but the evidence suggests otherwise. A mobile phone app tracked people and their eating habits. Over half the people snacked and they continued to eat for a period exceeding 15 hours! In other words, they were eating and snacking from dawn until dusk. Yet, the same people in the study reported that they ate within a 12-hour window.
A recent study looked at overeating and the effect of snacking on weight gain. Two groups were analysed, those who snacked and those who ate three proper meals a day. The total food consumed was the same in both groups. Those who snacked gained more weight gain than those who did not snack. Snacking leads to weight gain.
Our gut can’t differentiate between nibbles, snacks or a meal! Snacking is a meal, and it stimulates insulin release. Once insulin enters your circulation, fat burning ceases, and fat storage begins, and you lay down fat. And yes, it’s the sugar that gets turned into fat, and is laid down as fat!
If you snack every two hours throughout the day, your body will be in fat storage mode for all your waking hours!!!! Enjoy your meals, but don’t snack, even at Christmas, or during your holiday.
5. Don’t eat the appetizers, the finger food—the canapes
Most canapes are high in sugar, laced with omega 6s, and are pro-inflammatory, processed foods. Once you eat one canape, that’s it; you eat another and five can disappear easily. You may find you’ve eaten as much as you normally eat in a whole regular meal, before you’ve even sat down to eat!
Eating canapes — the opposite of mindful eating — is driven by the addictive properties of processed food, with a dopamine release in your brain’s reward centre. Food scientists spend a lot of time identifying this bliss point — a perfect mix of sugar, salt and fats. When they hit your receptors, you get that feel-good factor. And then you want more. And so, the cycle goes on!
The first sugary treat gives you a dopamine hit and then once you’ve had one hit, your body brain tells you that you want another — and another. That’s how come it’s so hard to stop eating processed food once you’ve started. You will struggle to keep track of how much you have eaten, because your mind is entirely focussed—on getting yet another dopamine hit!
Don’t start your meal with the canapes, however healthy they may appear to be. Instead, start your meal at the right time — when you sit down to eat. When you’re chatting and distracted, you simply cannot regulate your food intake.
6. Shorten your EatSpan to under 8 hours
Figure 2. EatSpan is the amount of time between your first meal of the day, to your last meal
Your gut functions optimally for under 10 hours. If you eat outside this 10-hour window, you stress your gut and your digestive system.
This stress leads to disturbances of your circadian rhythm. A good circadian rhythm is essential to mental and physical health, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. We know that by simply compressing your EatSpan, even with the same food intake, will result in weight loss.
Your EatSpan should be in harmony with your body clock and ideally be under 8 hours—at worst under 10 hours. During your FastSpan — fasting window — drinking anything other than water or black or green tea and black coffee, makes your body think it is eating, as drinks need to be digested, absorbed, and processed too!
If you’re already accustomed to eating just two meals a day and your EatSpan is under 8 hours—and a FastSpan of over 16 hours—try to maintain this over the holidays. If you normally eat two meals a day, carry on that healthy practice. If you normally eat all day, plan for a Diet Whisperer: 12-Week Reset Plan, for after the holidays. You will learn how to avoid grazing on food all day and discover a newfound freedom!
7. Make healthy food choices
Figure 3. Mushrooms are a true superfood, with unique healthy micronutrients
There is absolutely no need to be a wet blanket and spoil anyone’s fun during your Christmas feast. Your aim is to enjoy yourself, eat healthy food in normal amounts, and avoid sugary and/or processed foods.
When you sit down to eat—think low sugar, lots of fiber and healthy fats. If you are thinking of second helpings, remember that it takes 20 minutes for your hormones to tell you you’re full. So, wait and ask yourself “are you really still hungry?”
When eating your holiday feast, pile your plate with green vegetables, gravy and turkey or whatever meat is served. Try to serve yourself, as you will have more control over what you eat. Choose smoked salmon without the bread, skip the Yorkshire puddings, the cranberry sauce and avoid the sugary treats. If you must eat potatoes, eat small and few—or preferably just the skins. And why not make cheese your pudding? Eat your cheeses like the French do, without the cheese biscuits, and with a knife and fork. Choose fresh berries and cream, over Christmas pudding.
Better still, if you are the chef, serve give your guests the option of a healthy meal. They will thank you in the long run. Make your starter a superfood: flat mushrooms topped with cheese and herbs or baked with just butter and herbs. Have gravy rather than the bread sauce, and offer mint sauce and mustard, as alternatives to cranberry sauce. Substitute cheese biscuits with celery and apple and offer berries with delicious cream for pudding.
8. Avoid late-night eating
During the holiday, there is a real chance of disturbing your circadian rhythm. You stay up later, and you get up later. Thus, your body clocks go out of sync. Effectively you develop a form of jet lag—called social jet lag. Just doing this alone, means you gain weight.
We are rhythmical beings, and our metabolism adjusts to the light-dark cycle created by the sun, moon and rotation of the earth. As night approaches, our metabolism switches to rest and repair, and our brain expects sleep. Our digestion enters rest mode, and there is no expectation or preparedness for that late-night seasonal snack.
Your gut processing factory has shut down and gone into cleaning mode. But that unexpected delivery arrives at 10.00 pm, after the workers—the daytime microbiome— have long since clocked off and left the building. Processing in your gut now takes longer—mistakes are made and chaos reigns! Your body is not primed for late-night eating and there are consequences. We know from many studies that late-night eating results in weight gain, compared with eating an identical meal earlier in the day.
For a healthier metabolism and to avoid weight gain, ensure that you finish eating 3-4 hours before bedtime.
9. Maintain a healthy sleep routine
Sleep is the elixir of life—it keeps you healthy. Sleep is a free drug, and we should learn to use it well. When you are asleep, there is repair, consolidation of memory and regeneration of your tissues. It’s no surprise that the holiday season puts a big strain on your sleep routine, and this will make you gain weight.
The ideal amount of sleep is between 7 and 9 hours, every night. Short sleep means a short life — harsh but true. Both the quantity of sleep and the quality of sleep are important. Disturbed sleep is poor quality sleep, and your metabolism suffers. And when your metabolism suffers, you gain weight, develop inflammation and risk myriad chronic diseases, ranging from cardiovascular disease, through diabetes to cancer and dementia.
Good regenerative, restorative sleep means having a sleep routine and maintaining it over the holiday period. Try to maintain your healthy sleep routine during the holiday. If you never had a good routine, then use the holiday to chat to family, regroup and set you sights on a healthy new year.
10. To Err is Human
The problem with holiday weight gain is that research shows us we never lose this weight. If you have struggled to follow good habits during your holidays and you have gained four pounds, all is not lost. Dust yourself off and change your habits for the better.
If you are already fasting fit and fat adapted, you have the tools to correct temporary dietary excesses. You can shift any excess holiday pounds in a twinkle, one or two 24 to 48 hour fasts, will soon torch that excess fat and restore a healthy metabolism.
If you are not fasting fit, follow the Diet Whisperer 12-Week Reset Plan and you will learn how to gently reteach your body to fat adapt. Once you can fast, you will torch your fat stores and lose weight. You will reset your metabolism lose weight and regain your health. Fat adaptation is one of the best investments that we made in our own health!
- No nibbles and plan ahead
- Weigh yourself every day
- Prevent blood sugar spikes
- There are no healthy snacks
- Don’t eat the appetizers, the finger food or the canapes
- Keep your EatSpan to under 8 hours
- Make healthy food choices
- Avoid late night eating
- Maintain a healthy sleep routine
- To err is human-correct with the Whisperer Plan if you need to!
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