Quick Summary Points
- Weight gain over the Christmas and New Years period is fairly common, but not inevitable.
- Simple eating and activity strategies can help you avoid gaining fat and staying lean during this period.
- These include eating more protein, freezing leftovers and planning a fasting day or two before big feasts.
- Read on for 12 techniques on how to limit weight gain over the holiday period.
12 Ways to Avoid Christmas Weight Gain
Christmas is just around the corner and with it comes work and office parties as well as gatherings with friends and family. Mixed in New Years and you have a month of some serious eating, drinking and lazying around. No wonder so many people succumb to making the typical “lose weight, get fit” resolution on December 31st. Don’t let that be you this year and say “NO MORE”! Let’s take a look at 12 easy things you can do to avoid that Christmas bulge and the holiday weight gain.
1. Go for the Meat
On the first day of Christmas…fill up on meat.
Or any high protein foods for that matter such as fish, nuts, beans, peas, nuts or brussel sprouts. Protein is well known for its ability to not only suppress appetite and make you feel fuller, it also helps to boost your metabolism through thermogenesis (how much heat your body produces)1. On top of that, eating more protein doesn’t lead to as much weight gain as other macronutrients like carbs or fat2. So grab yourself a protein shake before the feasting begins and make sure to attack the meat or high protein foods first!
2. Eat First, Drink Later
On the second day of Christmas…eat before you drink.
There’s no beating around the bush, alcohol consumption is generally pretty high during the Christmas and New Years period. And this can definitely push up the calorie count. On top of that, alcohol actually dampens your body’s ability to metabolise carbs, fats and protein3. So the more you drink, the slower your metabolism. The best way to minimise these effects is to have your drinks a little later after the eating, even if it makes conversations with Uncle Jerry a little less tolerable.
3. Stock Up on Bananas
On the third day of Christmas…go out and get some bananas.
Water weight can contribute to a lot of the changes you see on the scales during the holiday period. In fact, if you weigh yourself without going to the toilet beforehand, you can easily be up almost half a kilo! Build up of water weight can be due to a variety of reasons, one of which is excessive sodium intake. To counteract this, you can eat more potassium, which has an almost opposite effect to sodium and helps to reduce water retention4. How do you get more potassium in your diet? Simply start eating more:
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Dried Fruit
The last one is an easy excuse to eat more Christmas pudding and fruit mince pies, but don’t overdo it as they are also high in calories, sugar and fat as well. You could also couple these high potassium foods with a natural diuretic to avoid the Christmas bloat.
4. Stop the Grazing
On the fourth day of Christmas…focus on the main meals.
We’ve long been told to snack constantly or graze to assist with weight gain. This was thought to ensure less gorging at main meals, but in fact, those people who avoid snacking and grazing tend to have better success at losing weight5. And really, all holiday snacking does is add in unnecessary calories from energy dense, nutrient poor junk foods such as chips, chocolate, biscuits and soft drink. Studies have shown people will snack on anything placed in front of them, especially if their attention is elsewhere such as watching tv or playing games6, so if you must snack, sort out some vegetables or some high fibre snacks. Or better yet, nothing at all!
5. Go for the Milk, Not the Cookies
On the fifth day of Christmas…drink more milk, eat less cookies.
I hate to say this, but Santa is definitely overweight, possibly even obese. And leaving milk and cookies out for him certainly doesn’t help. If you want to look less Santa and more Zac Efron, then you should focus on the milk rather than the cookies. Studies have shown that obesity is often correlated with low calcium and vitamin D levels7. It seems that higher amounts of these two nutrients supports fat oxidation (fat burning) and can promote greater fat excretion7. So fill up on high calcium foods such as dairy (itself a beneficial food group for weight loss8), kale, sardines and almonds as well as foods high in Vitamin D such as salmon and fortified dairy products. The easiest way to get more Vitamin D though is to get some sunshine, which leads us to our next tip.
6. Get Outdoors
On the sixth day of Christmas…spend more time outdoors.
Being outdoors has two major benefits to keeping you lean over the holiday period. The first is exposure to sunlight which helps boost Vitamin D levels. As mentioned previously, higher Vitamin D levels may help to support fat burning7. 10-15 minutes is all you need and the closer you are to midday sun, the more Vitamin D you’ll produce. Less sunscreen is also important as sunscreen can block vitamin D production. This does place you at risk of exposing yourself to more of the damaging ultraviolet rays, so a useful compromise is to spend a little less time in the sun and support it with some Vitamin D supplementation.
The second benefit of being outdoors is the exposure to heat, which often correlates to decreased appetites9. This is because eating and metabolising food generates energy in the form of heat, something your body definitely doesn’t need more of during hot weather. So go on, get out and about to stay leaner this Christmas.
7. Hit the Yoghurts
On the seventh day of Christmas…grab yourself a tub of yoghurt or two.
This powerful dairy product is one of the best foods you can eat if you want to stay slim. Yoghurts have a couple of major advantages for maintaining a stable weight, including:
1. Yoghurt is a dairy product, which as previously mentioned is beneficial for weight maintenance and loss8.
2. Yoghurt is high in calcium, which can support fat metabolism9.
3. Yoghurt is generally high in protein, especially Greek Yoghurt. Higher protein diets can fill you up, suppress appetite, help maintain body composition and boost muscle building and recovery1,10.
4. Many yoghurts have added probiotics – live microorganisms such as bacteria which can boost the good bacteria levels in your gut. A better gut environment (gut flora or gut microbiome) with more good bacteria can be helpful if you want to avoid weight gain11.
So fill up your fridge with some good yoghurt, either Greek or ones with “live cultures” and give your waistline the Christmas gift of staying at the same belt size.
8. Load Up on Veges
On the eighth day of Christmas…load up your plate with veges.
For a lot of people, vegetables aren’t the most exciting foods to eat, but they are what your body craves, especially if your goal is to maintain optimal health and leanness. Since the explosion of low nutrient density carbohydrates filled with flour and sugar on our supermarket shelves, obesity rates have skyrocketed. That’s not to say that carbohydrates are bad, but that refined carbohydrates are by no means as healthy as cellular carbohydrates such as vegetables, tubers and fruits. It’s believed that gorging on refined, carbohydrate dense foods such as bread, pasta, chips and cereal products are resulting in an inflammatory gut microbiome (gut environment), which is leading to an increased risk of obesity12. So if you want to live longer, have less risk of developing a chronic disease and stay leaner13, it’s time to make salad your new best friend.
9. Start Fasting
On the ninth day of Christmas…get fasting.
If you simply can’t say no to the delicious potato salad, bread, puddings and other carby desserts on offer, then a little bit of fasting may be helpful. Once you eat carbohydrates, it will suffer one of three fates:
- It will be stored as muscle glycogen (stores of energy)
- It will be metabolised
- It will get stored as fat
To avoid the third scenario, fasting for 1-2 days with low carbohydrate intake will deplete your muscle glycogen stores, so that when you do start eating carbs again, most of it (up to 500g) will be stored as muscle glycogen14. In other words, if you know you’re going to be gorging on carbs soon, spend a day or two beforehand limiting your carb intake so it doesn’t get stored as fat on the day.
10. Plan Intra-Meal Activities
On the tenth day of Christmas…stay busy.
It’s commonly known that it takes roughly 20 minutes before eating and the first signals of fullness15. Unfortunately for many people, they eat so fast and so much that by the time the satiety signals hit the brain, they’ve already eaten way too much. Cue the “I’m so full I could explode” groans as they make their way from the dinner table to the couch. To avoid this from happening, you could do a couple of things:
- Instead of preparing a massive feast – consider spreading it over a few courses
- If that’s too much hassle or you’re not preparing the food, consider taking a time out after 10 minutes of eating to do something else, while your body digests. This is the perfect time to call a loved one, play with the kids or do another quick activity. By the time you’re back to eating, the fullness signals will have reached your brain and you can correctly gauge if you actually need more food.
11. Freeze Leftovers
On the eleventh day of Christmas…fill up the freezer.
With feasting comes leftovers. Mountains of Tupperware or plastic boxes of turkey, hams, seafood, potato salads, casseroles, desserts, you name it. If you're keen to stay lean this Christmas and New Years period, the best thing you can do with those leftovers is to give it away or freeze it. By putting it in the freezer, you’re basically creating hurdles for yourself if you do get peckish a little later on. Not only will you need to take longer to heat it up, but if you do it right and hide it behind some packets of frozen peas and veges, you might not even know it’s there! The “out of sight, out of mind” approach is a great way to curb snacking behaviour16, so use it to your advantage this holiday period and beyond.
12. Plan Your Time
On the twelfth day of Christmas…do some planning.
Are you someone who leaves Christmas shopping to the last minute? If so, you might also be a person who indulges a little too much during the holiday period. A little planning goes a long way and is a sure fire way to keep your holiday bulge to a minimum.
- Is a party on the next day? Make sure you’re well rested as being tired and stressed can result in overeating and overdrinking17,18.
- Got an hour between engagements? Take a 20 minute power nap followed by quick 10-15 minute workout to burn off some calories. A high intensity session can burn off between 200-300 calories in 15 minutes.
- Upcoming buffet of family feast? Invest in a thermogenic fat burner or a fat metaboliser to help suppress appetite, boost fat metabolism and limit weight gain.
- Unlimited or substantial bar tab? Make sure you’ve got some B Vitamins and liver support supplements handy to maintain optimal health and fat burning processes.
Staying Lean Over Christmas
Let’s face it…eating, drinking and being merry is going to happen. But the Christmas and New Years period doesn’t have to equate to weight gain. With a few simple strategies and a bit of planning, you can beat the holiday bulge and start the New Year on the front foot.1. Halton TL, Hu FB. ‘The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review.’ J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85.
2. Antonio J, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, Vargas L, Peacock C. ‘The effects of a high protein diet on indices of health and body composition--a crossover trial in resistance-trained men.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 Jan 16;13:3.
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14. Acheson KJ, Schutz Y, Bessard T, Anantharaman K, Flatt JP, Jéquier E. ‘Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man.’ Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Aug;48(2):240-7.
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