Christmas really is the season for good times and... sadly, weight gain. In December every year, most people will over-indulge on food, drinks, snacks and entertainment just so they can feel terrible about it all by January. That's when fitness becomes everyone's number one priority, until late January when it all falls off the cliff again. Repeat next year.
However, there is a way to avoid the perpetual weight gain-weight loss seesaw: by factoring in the former so you can tackle it easier later. The problem is not that people eat or drink a bit more than usual during Christmas; it's the fact that they think "it doesn't matter" if they go way over the usual calories once they feel it's a lost cause to keep things under control.
As Performance Physique (opens in new tab) founder Arj Thiruchelvam, who worked with Holland & Barrett, Mac Nutrition and is also a UK Athletics Sprint & Jumps coach, explains, "it’s important to ask yourself whether your motivation for avoiding Christmas weight gain outweighs the importance of having fun with family and friends, especially with the pandemic we’re all going through."
And by having fun we mean enjoying the company and the food and not being guilt-tripped into having another serving of roast dinner just to make a relative happier. For the majority of people, there is no point in counting macros during the festive season, but there is certainly a point in not letting yourself go completely. Do your future self a favour and be mindful about consumption during Christmas.
As well as this more holistic advice, Arj has four more top tips for weight management over the festive period, as listed below. If you like what you've read, make sure you check out another article written in collaboration with Arj called the Olympian diet where he explains how top athletes fuel themselves before and during the biggest sporting event on the planet.
"It sounds odd but an extremely effective strategy to ensure you don’t go too overboard during the party season and Christmas holidays is to actually plan weight gain", Arj says, "You spend all year thinking about how much weight you can lose, how to ensure you burn off that takeaway and suddenly, you’re being told to think about gaining weight."
Arj recommends creating a "weight gain target" for December (or however long you think you're going to be eating like there is no tomorrow). By doing so, you can completely change your behaviour and mindset around food.
"Setting expectations of gaining a certain amount can cause a reduction in anxiety of weight gain, reducing the chance of binging and thus falling off the wagon", he adds, "Managing weight gain and roughly tracking calories helps you keep to routine but also allows you to socialise and then return to your usual eating patterns."
Better still, if you happen to keep your weight gain under the target, it can give you a sense of success rather than guilt. Can you imagine? Feeling happy about weight gain? That would put anyone in the best mood possible for January, ahead of the next stages of their weight journey.
Eat your protein
"Increase your protein intake on days you’re heading to a buffet", Arj recommends, "Grabbing a protein shake before the meal can make you feel fuller and less likely to snack, thus reducing the high-calorie food consumption that can occur at the buffet table."
Alternatively, and if possible, try to opt for foods that are higher in protein content and go for fewer fried foods such as dried potatoes or even fried meat. These have twice as many calories due to the high-fat ratio. Protein bars might also be considered: these snacks are healthier than chocolate and contain large portions of protein too.
Ask yourself: Do you really need it?
"Ask yourself; am I hungry, is it going to change my week by eating it, will it be available at another time?", Arj suggests, "For example, if it’s something unique that you won’t get to try again in the near future, you should probably have it. If it’s a digestive biscuit, that’s another matter."
This mindful, questioning approach can help you save hundreds of calories which might put you in a better position to keep the weight gain under target.
"One of the main contributing factors for festive period weight gain is our reduced movement, as well as less structured exercise", Arj says, "Gyms have reduced opening hours, you attend more social occasions and you’re also less keen to move around the office and go on walks, so you generally spend more time sitting down."
Fear not as there is a low-effort way to keep your body moving, even when there aren't many options to work out: NEAT. NEAT stands for 'Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis' and these are the calories that we burn from activity other than intentional exercise. These are all the small movements we make when we're fidgeting around as well as going for a walk instead of using the car.
Arj says you should take more steps around the office and home, opt to park further away and walk, or maybe be more disciplined and go on a walk even when it’s cold or rainy. "NEAT actually contributes to more calories burnt than exercise sessions in most cases, so use it!"
The main thing to remember is, social health is vital. It’s equally important as your weight management and therefore, don’t sacrifice another party season during the pandemic in order to lose 1lb. Instead, put a plan in place and succeed.