Christmas is an exciting time of the year. It’s a time of celebration with friends and family. A time when we indulge in festive feasts and party drinks. But for many of us, the New Year celebrations pass and we realise we’ve packed on the pounds – it’s the dreaded post-Christmas bulge.
Weight gain at this time of year is one of the biggest contributors to total yearly weight gain for many people. The good news is that putting on weight during the holidays is not inevitable – you can work to control your waistline. Here we share some tips to help you avoid weight gain during the holiday season:
- Get Active with family and friends
Being a couch potato, watching Christmas movies and re-runs on TV, is a tradition for many families through the holidays. Lounging around and enjoying traditional treats is all part of the fun.
Consider getting active with your loved ones this year. A simple family walk gets you moving, which is beneficial for weight control and helps your resist the temptations to overindulge on festive food.
Community activities are also popular at this time of year. Check out what is happening local to you and get involved.
- Snack smartly
During the holiday season, unhealthy snacks are readily available. Try to avoid grazing. Keep the naughty treats out of sight. Stock up on healthy options like nuts and seeds that don’t have the added sugars or unhealthy fats.
- Moderate portion sizes
Christmas is a time when we eat traditional fayre often these festive treats are not readily available throughout the rest of the year. For this reason, it can be easy to overdo it on your portion sizes, which your waistline will pay for later. One good way to manage this issue at mealtimes is to take a smaller plate. Psychologically, we feel the need to fill a bigger plate, so opt for a smaller one to moderate your portion size.
- Practice mindful eating
This is a busy time when we are often rushed and on the go. Frequently we may find ourselves multitasking during meals. Studies show that those who eat while they are distracted are more likely to overeat. This is because they are unable to pay attention to their body’s fullness signals.
To prevent this from happening, eat mindfully without distractions, including work and electronics. Another way to eat mindfully is to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly, which allows you to better recognize your body’s signals of fullness.
Another good tip is to take a moment to calm yourself before you start eating. Try to relax and give your full attention to the meal at hand rather than your To-Do-List.
- Get plenty of sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t uncommon through the Festive Season. Tiredness tends to make us hungrier, so we consume more calories to power us through. We are also less likely to exercise if we are tired.
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to lower metabolism. This is believed to be due to alterations in your circadian rhythm, which is known as the biological clock that regulates many bodily functions
- Manage your stress levels
Keeping up with the demands of the holidays can be stressful.
It’s important to keep stress levels under control throughout the year, but the demands of Christmas and the party season can make this an especially challenging time. There are many more tasks to complete and entertaining can be stressful.
Those who are stressed commonly have high levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s released in response to stress. Chronically high cortisol levels may cause weight gain, as they have been linked to greater food intake. Additionally, a stressful lifestyle may cause more cravings for snacking on unhealthy foods.
Take time out for you during this busy season and look to find ways to de-stress. Indulge in a massage, manicure, or a long bath. Other options include exercise, meditation, and walking. Find what works for you and build it into your schedule now and throughout the year.
- Balance your meals with protein
Traditional Christmas Fayre is typically rich in carbohydrates. However, it’s important to include some protein with every meal, as it promotes fullness and may be useful for weight maintenance. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish and some plant foods like beans and quinoa. Ensure your meals include a serving or two of these type of foods to reduce the likelihood of overindulgence.
- Include fibre in your meal choices
Fibre is another important nutrient that induces fullness. Unfortunately, many common holiday foods lack adequate amounts of fibre. So do your best to incorporate fibre-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, into your meals.
- Bring a healthy dish to share
Party food can be a common setback in the battle against weight gain. A good way to combat this is to take along your own healthy dish for yourself and to share with others. This way, you can be sure you’ll have a healthy food choice to help your weight goals.
- Make wise dessert decisions
Desserts are everywhere during the Festive Season. It’s far too easy to indulge in excesses of sugar consumption, a common cause of weight gain. Instead of eating every treat in sight, focus on your favourite. Eat the one you really want and ditch the rest. Take time to savour the dessert you choose, eat slowly, so you feel more satisfied and less likely to overdo dessert.
- Limit liquid calories
Alcohol and sweetened beverages seem to be unlimited during the Party Season. These beverages can contribute a significant amount of sugar and empty calories to your diet, which can cause weight gain. Additionally, alcohol consumption is often linked to increased appetite.
Try to alternate alcohol with a glass of water, and choose low-calorie mixers. Have soda or sparkling water in place of sweetened beverages. Many cocktails are calorie loaded, so choose wisely. Flavour drinks with freshly squeezed lemon or lime instead of sugar. Cinnamon can also add flavour to holiday-themed beverages. In dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk in place of heavy cream.
- Monitor your weight
Stepping on the scale regularly during the holidays may help prevent weight gain. It can make you more mindful of the excesses of the day before.
- Plan ahead
If you have events that involve food on the calendar, take matters into your own hands. Find out what types of foods will be served and if you need to, take along your own dish. Decide what and how much you will eat ahead of time. Try to explore healthy recipe options as alternatives to the traditions. Also ensure you have healthy snacks on hand, to help you moderate unhealthy choices.
- Say no to seconds
It’s easy to overindulge and take seconds when there is an abundance of good food. Make efforts to overcome this, assess your hunger. Make sure you really need that extra serving and you’re not just grazing. Move away from the buffet table at parties and enjoy other aspects of the gathering.
- Draw the line
Many people have an “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality, which can end up being a vicious cycle of unhealthy habits. If you are serious about controlling your weight, it may be helpful to draw the line, set limits for yourself and stick to your goals regarding food intake. Decide which foods are worth it to you and which ones are not. Know that it’s okay to say no to certain foods and habits that don’t align with your goals.
It’s also important to be aware that you might have a slip-up or two. Often people abandon their goals after this happens. However, there is no need for this. Simply move on and make a healthier choice the next time you eat.
By Fiona Parkin, Nutritionist