How to avoid Christmas Weight Gain and still indulge
11 December 2021
Monique Hope-Ross and Paul B Chell
Every year, most people put on weight; it’s only a small amount, but it soon starts to mount up.1 And for many people, the weight piles on, not during the year but during the holidays. Here’s the bad news; the road may be paved with good intentions, but we know that typically people do not lose those holiday pounds in January. This annual weight gain is making a big contribution to the obesity pandemic.
A study looked at the content of shopping baskets, over a one-year period. Food was divided into healthy and unhealthy food and the spend on each type of food was analysed. As the holidays approached, overall spending on food increased, and this was principally due to a rise in the percentage of ‘unhealthy foods’. After the holiday, spending remained at the elevated level for unhealthy foods.
Our shopping trolleys show that we just can’t resist the lure of the sugar sirens.23 We seem to adjust to the status quo of unhealthy food and the addictive qualities of these foods don’t allow us to let go.
We gain about 1.4% of our body weight at Christmas.4 For a 70kg (154lbs) man aged 20, that’s 0.98kg (2.16lbs). Doesn’t sound much, does it? But just by overeating at Christmas alone, and being stable the rest of the year, in ten years he will weigh 80kg (176lbs) and so on until at the age of 70, his weight will have doubled to 140kg! And that folks, is what your Christmas holidays can do to you.
The great news is, you can do lots to avoid those extra pounds during the holiday, whilst still having fun. Don’t lose your friends, don’t miss that party and do have some treats; but make intelligent choices and you will reap the benefits.
Here are our top tips to prevent holiday weight gain
1. Weigh yourself every day
Weighing yourself daily over the holidays is a sure-fire way of preventing weight gain.1,5,6 It is a highly motivational and powerful tool, which helps a lot in preventing those pounds creeping on. That pudding just won’t taste as good, after you’ve been on the scales. Recording your weight on a graph is an even more powerful tool and will stimulate to follow your plans.
Invest in a good set of weighing scales and place them on a hard floor, not a carpet. Make sure that you weigh yourself naked at the same time every day—we prefer on awakening. This makes your measurements more accurate and repeatable.
2. There are no Healthy Snacks
Most people believe that they don’t snack, but studies suggest otherwise. A mobile phone app tracked people and their eating habits. Over half the people snacked and ate for over 15 hours; they were eating from dawn until dusk, every two hours.7 Yet, the same people in the study reported that they ate within a 12-hour window. Snacking, is a modern way of eating, that leads to weight gain.
Our digestive systems can’t differentiate between nibbles and eating with a knife and fork! Snacking is simply a meal that causes insulin release. Once insulin enters your circulation, fat burning ceases. Not just is there no fat burning, the opposite occurs; the nutrients from your food are directed to the fat stores and you lay down fat. And yes, sugar gets turned into fat, and laid down as fat!
One study looked at overeating and the effect of snacking on weight gain. Two groups were analysed, those who snacked and those who ate three 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.8
If you snack every two hours throughout the day, your body will be in fat storage mode for all your waking hours! Snacking means weight gain. Enjoy your meals, but don’t snack, even at Christmas.
3. Perfect Planning
It’s much easier to avoid putting on weight compared to losing it, (even if you follow the Diet Whisperer 12-week reset plan) and we all intuitively know this. Planning your holiday strategy will reap dividends in preventing weight gain.
Decide how you are going to tackle the upcoming holiday scenarios. You will be able to enjoy yourself just as much by adopting various strategies which stop you putting on weight. You can have anything not everything. Think 80% sensible, 20% treats.
Plan for the office party, if there is a menu, choose the healthiest option you can find such as fish or meat with lots of green veggies and go light on the bread and carbs. Have cheese instead of pudding. Alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water (no-one will know that it’s not vodka or gin).
Out for a chat? Drink a green tea, instead of a cappuccino and don’t eat that biscuit, just because others are.
Plan for the big meals; if you love plum pudding and brandy butter more than anything, fine, have the pudding, but not the crisps, bread and potatoes as well. Choose your poison.
4. Don’t eat the appetizers, the finger food, the canapes
Most canapes are high in sugar, laced with omega 6s and are inflammatory, processed foods. Once you eat one canape, that’s it; you eat another and five can disappear easily. You may eat as much as you normally eat in one meal before you even sit down to eat!
Eating canapes, the opposite of mindful eating is driven by the addictive properties of processed food. Food scientists spend a lot of time identifying a bliss point; a toxic mix of sugar, salt and fats, which hit our receptors instantly and give us a feel-good factor. And then we want more.
The first sugary treat gives you a dopamine hit and then once you’ve had one hit, your body wants 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 yet another dopamine hit.
A great tip: start your meal when you sit down, don’t start your meal with the canapes, however healthy they may appear. When you’re chatting and distracted you cannot regulate your intake.
5. Shorten your EatSpan
Shortening your EatSpan, to under 8-10 hours will help you both to avoid weight gain, even if you eat the same amount of food compared to a longer eating period. Compressing your eating time into a shorter window is associated with less weight gain. Such eating also keeps your body clocks in harmony. Remember that drinking anything other than water or black or green tea and black coffee, is in fact eating, as drinks need to be digested, absorbed, and processed. Any other drinks means, you guessed it, insulin release.
If you’re already accustomed to eating two meals a day and your EatSpan is under 8 hours with 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.
6. Make healthy Food Choices
There is absolutely no need to be a wet blanket and spoil anyone’s fun during your Christmas feast. Your aim is to eat normal amounts and avoid added sugar and processed foods; of which 75% contain added sugar.
Pile your plate with green vegetables, high fat gravy and turkey. Avoid the sugary treats; the cranberry sauce, the honey glazed vegetables and make cheese your pudding. Eat your cheeses like the French without the biscuits. Choose smoked salmon without the bread, and choose fresh berries and cream over Christmas pudding.
When you sit down to eat; think low sugar food, lots of fiber and healthy fats. If you are thinking of second helpings, ask yourself are you really still hungry? Try to avoid doubling the amount that you eat during one meal.
Better still, if you are the chef, serve your guests a healthy, low-sugar meal.
7. Hara Hachi Bu
Confucius told people to practice hara hachi bu, meaning to eat until you’re 80% full. It is a mantra of the Japanese people of Okinawa, one of the Blue Zones of the world and is intoned before beginning a meal.9 Elderly Okinawans have maintained long, healthy lives, are lean and form a community which has one of the highest proportion of centenarians in the world.
It takes at least 20 minutes before our satiety hormone leptin signals to us that we have eaten enough. Surveys show that the average supper duration in the UK is just 21 minutes, just at the cut off for satiety. Ideally, 30 minutes should be the minimum amount time spent eating a meal, as this gives your brain an opportunity to catch up with your stomach. Slow down your eating, to eat less. You’ve got time over the holiday to make this the start of a good habit.
8. Avoid late Night Eating
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; our brain is expecting sleep, our digestion has gone into rest mode and there is no expectation of that late-night curry.
Your processing factory has already shut down to go into sweeping and cleaning mode. An unexpected delivery arriving at 10.00 pm, after everyone has left the building, takes longer, mistakes are made and chaos reigns! Because our bodies are not primed for late night digestion, there are consequences. We know from many studies that late-night eating results in more weight gain than 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. Sleep over 7 hours
The ideal amount of sleep varies a little between people, but between 7 and 9 hours of sleep is ideal every night. Sleep is a time when regeneration and repair occur. The quality of sleep is important. Disturbed sleep tends to be poor quality sleep and your metabolism suffers. And when your metabolism suffers, you gain weight.
Social jet lag is why you don’t like Mondays, so skip that lie-in and keep your sleep patterns as normal as you can, over the holiday.3
10. Learn how to Fat Adapt
If you are fat adapted, you have the tools to correct temporary dietary excesses. Fat adaptation means that you can use you stored body fat as your primary fuel. Few people these days are fat adapted; quite the opposite, most people are carb adapted. Fat adapted means weight loss, carb adapted means weight gain. Fat adaptation is one of the best investments in our own health we ever made!
Humans have evolved to use fat to fuel, but in these days of plenty, most people have forgotten how to use fat to fuel. It does take a bit of training.9 Fasting fitness applies both to the mental and physical aspect of fasting. Like any system, if it has not been used for some time, it will be rusty and slow at first. Fat adaptation happens quite quickly within the first 3-4 weeks, but then continues to increase for many months, even up to a year.
If you are fasting fit, you can shift any excess holiday pounds in a twinkle, one or two 24 to 48 hours fasts, will soon torch that excess fat and restore a healthy metabolism. If you are not fasting fit, follow the 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.