Seven tips to avoid weight gain at Christmas
November 26, 2021
Our ‘Health Coach in Residence’, Nick Eggleton offers some ideas for avoiding the kilos this Christmas.
Christmas is the time of year we physically and culturally feel a sub-conscious pressure to eat more than we hunger for. Most people also consume more alcohol.
At other times of the year, we can eat intuitively i.e. when we are hungry, which makes any effort at a disciplined nutritional strategy (diet) easier to sustain. But in winter (for those living in the northern hemisphere) and Christmas (for all those that celebrate) it is almost impossible to prevent succumbing to the excess socialisation opportunities. Christmas is a time for celebration, the end of the year, the start of a new one and lots of opportunities to party with friends, family and workmates.
To avoid adding kilos you need to use more energy than you store. But how?
1) Choose your ‘poison’.
Energy in food comes from two main sources: fats and carbohydrates (carbs). Fats convert to fatty acids and are used for energy. Carbs convert to glucose and are used for energy.
Fats are mainly found in animal products (e.g. meat, cheese, eggs). Carbs are in fruits and vegetables (e.g. grains, legumes, apples).
Processed foods (cakes, biscuits, pies) contain both fat & carbohydrate. Eating processed foods will lead to the body trying to use the glucose energy in the carbs first and storing the fat for later. Overeating both converts the glucose and fats to be stored as fat.
There are limited fatty carb foods in nature other than breast milk, which is designed for babies to gain weight. We are instinctively programmed to find fatty carb foods ‘hyperpalatable’. Drinking alcohol (a type of carb) can also make you hungry and less disciplined.
The food and drink choices you make are also multiplicative. Not additive. Eating fats, and carbohydrates/alcohol will multiply the effect of fat storage.
So, avoid processed foods and when presented with fat or carb foods try to avoid or limit one or the other. For example, if you can’t avoid carbs/alcohol, eat less fat, and if you want to have a drink, reduce or remove carbs or fat.
2) Prioritise protein.
Proteins are made of amino acids. Proteins are our building blocks and are required for 100s of biological processes. Your body senses how much is required for repair and maintenance. Eating protein is satiating as we are programmed to eat protein until those needs have been met.
I recommend around 1.5g of protein per kilogram of ideal lean muscle mass. For example, if your ideal body weight is 75kg aim to eat around 110g of protein.
Different foods vary in protein content and bio-availability. 400g of steak has 100g of protein, 400 grams of salmon only has 80g of protein and 400g of egg only has 52g of protein. Vegetable protein (from beans or grains) is not as bio-available and comes with a high energy payload in the form of carbs. So it is possible to overeat energy to get the protein you need.
3) Fat is your friend.
Healthy fats (saturated and monounsaturated) are energy-dense, so you don’t need much to provide yourself with the energy required for the day. Compared to carbs, fats ‘burn’ a lot slower – 6 times slower. Foods like avocado, butter, eggs, bacon will sustain you for hours. Porridge and bananas and fruit juice won’t.
So, if you have some fat with your breakfast (bacon, eggs, avo) you will not get hungry as quickly as you would if you ate mainly carbs. If you’re not hungry at lunchtime you won’t be as tempted to over-indulge. If you’re going to an evening event have the fat at lunchtime for the same effect.
4) Canapé control.
Finger food is deadly to managing your weight. It always looks appetising and so small it cannot possibly be fattening. But they are often high in fat and high in carbs making them high in energy density. You just know that it’ll be delicious. And once you’ve tried it it’s hard to stop.
If you ate something with protein and fat before the event you may find it easier to resist the temptation but if you didn’t here’s what I do. First, I imagine I’m ‘celiac’ (i.e. allergic to gluten) and ask if the food contains gluten. If it does, I decline and wait for the next plate.
Catering firms use a strategy to bring out the filler food first (Arancini, Tacos, Blinis, Mini Pies) and the best, meatiest, treats last for two reasons: a) so not as much is consumed and b) so people remember what they were served last.
As you avoided the first plate fillers and waited, everyone else will be full and you’ll have your pick of the tastiest and healthier protein options: e.g. beef carpaccio, chicken satay, lamb cutlets or prawn kebabs.
Just watch the dips. They’ll usually contain a lot of sugar. Anything grilled is probably ok.
5) What about the booze?
The ethanol in alcoholic drinks is recognised by the body as a toxin. Your body will prioritise using or storing the ethanol (as liver fat) before anything else, and depending on the health of your liver, it can take quite a toll on energy storage.
Other energy sources consumed at the same time (fats and carbs) will therefore be sent to be stored until required. So consuming ethanol is not good for weight control.
That said, some alcoholic drinks are worse than others. Some contain less alcohol and less energy than others.
So swapping to ‘less bad’ choices will make a difference. The devil is always in the detail, but as a generalisation the lower the alcohol the better, the lower the sugar/carb content the better.
On a scale of terrible to less terrible: Cocktails are high in sugar and alcohol (some also high in fat) Avoid the Espresso Martini, Daiquiri, Pinã Colada, Old Fashioned, and Negroni. If you cannot avoid a cocktail the better choice would be a dry Martini or a Margarita (without the orange liqueur).
Beers, ciders and stouts are high energy grain-based drinks, but the lower alcohol, versions might be better. A great choice is a beer like Hahn Ultra Crisp. It is low carb, low energy and gluten-free and Burleigh Brewing Big Head is even ‘Zero Carb’!
With wine, drier is better. High alcohol (12-14%) dry white wine (like a Chardonnay, Viognier, Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc) is relatively low in ‘sugar’, but a sweet wine of the same alcohol strength (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Moscato) could be 50% more energy-dense.
White spirits such as vodka, gin and mezcal are extremely low in carbs and energy. Whisky, rum and brandy are also low in carbs. But what you mix it with matters. Soda water is great, and some premium bottled mixers use natural sweeteners like Stevia, which is ok. But most mixers are usually high fructose syrup-based and high in energy.
Avoid liqueurs. They are usually high in added sugar.
6) Remember, you’re only human.
You will not always be perfect. So don’t throw the towel in if you fall off the wagon. Look at it as a learning opportunity. Progress is more important than perfection. 80% compliant is better than no compliance. If you fall off the horse, get back on and realise that’s part of the journey.
7) Have a compensation plan.
If you know there’s a chance you might eat or drink more than you would normally (at a party) plan a day’s recovery time afterwards to ‘fast’ as much as you can. After a big day I’ll look to ‘break fast’ as late as possible. If you partied till midnight and don’t eat again till the next mid-day you’ll have given your system 12 hours to use the excess energy stored in your liver and possibly ‘eat’ into energy reserves. When you do eat, avoid carbohydrates.
8) Finally, don’t stress.
The holiday season can be extremely stressful from an emotional point of view and stress is not good for weight maintenance or weight loss.
The extra demand for energy can cause us to over-eat, and the extra demand for emotional stability/comfort can cause us to over-medicate on booze.
Stress is fine in short bursts, but chronic constant stress is toxic. The strain it puts on the body can generate adrenal fatigue and weaken our immune system. These cause inflammation, immune suppression and extra energy requirements. They also prevent weight loss.
If you can stay level, calm, and stress-free you will not only be happier so will your body.
Nick Eggleton is a Certified Health Coach, and founder of GeneLife Australia.