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 the northern hemisphere living) and Christmas (for all those that celebrate) it is almost impossible to prevent succumbing to the excess socialisation opportunities. Winter is a time to hibernate from the cold, so we are evolutionarily wired to store energy (eat more) and 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.
So what to do to avoid adding kilos?
One, choose your poison.
The choices you make are multiplicative. Not just additive. Drinking alcohol, eating fat, carbohydrates and processed foods will multiply the effect. Avoid or limit each at a ‘sitting’. For example if you can’t avoid carbs, eat less fat, drink less alcohol, and vice versa. Eating processed fatty carbohydrate foods (cakes, biscuits, pies) will lead to the body trying to use the sugars in the carbs first and storing the fat for later. There are no fatty carbohydrate foods in nature. Just choose one. And not the carbs.
Two, prioritise protein.
If you eat enough protein your body intuitively knows it has the right levels of amino acids for repair and replacement (particularly required when depleted through partying). Animal proteins are usually accompanied by other vitamins and minerals (and some fat) to provide optimal nutrients and is the basis of satisfying those needs. I recommend 1g to 1.5g of protein per kilogram of ideal lean muscle mass. For example if your ideal body weight is 75kg make sure to eat 75g – 110g of protein. NB different animal products 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 calorie payload.
Three, fat is your friend.
Healthy fats (saturated and monounsaturated) are calorific, so you don’t need much to provide yourself with the energy required. But compared to carbohydrates, 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 you will not get hungry as quickly as you would if you ate carbohydrates. 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.
Four, Canapé control.
Finger food is deadly to a diet. It always looks appetising and so small it cannot possibly be calorific. But they often carry a deadly weight trifecta of high fat, high carbohydrates and high density. You just know that it’ll be delicious. And once you’ve tried it it’s hard to stop. However, if you ate earlier with some ‘fat’ 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 and ask if the food contains gluten. It is does, I decline and wait for the next plate. Next, if it is gluten free I ask if it contains vegetable oils or is cooked in them. Vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory (amongst other things) and it is ok to say ‘I prefer not to eat toxic synthetic oils’ – to yourself but not out loud. Then wait. Catering strategy is to bring out the filler food first (Arancini, Tacos, Blinis, Mini Pies) and the best, meatiest, treats last so not as much is consumed and people remember what they were served last. As you avoided the fillers and waited, everyone else will be full and you’ll have your pick of 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.
Five, What about the booze.
All alcohol is recognised by the body as a toxin and as such are empty calories. Your body will prioritise metabolising the ethanol before anything else, and depending on the health of your liver, it can take quite a toll on energy storage. All other energy sources (fats and sugars) will therefore be stored until required. So consuming ethanol is not good for weight control.
That all said, some alcohols are worse 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 / carbohydrate content the better, the lower the gluten 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.
Beers, ciders and stouts are high calories 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 calorie (99 per bottle) and gluten free.
With wine, drier is better. A high alcohol (12-14%) dry white wine (like a Chardonnay, Viognier, Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc) might only have 3g of carbs and 150 calories per 175ml glass, but a sweet wine of the same alcohol strength (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Moscato) could be as high as 210 calories.
Generally speaking the lower the alcohol the lower the calories. The lower the carbohydrates the lower the calories. White spirits such as vodka, gin and mezcal are lower in carbs and calories. A 25ml measure is about 50 calories and zero carbs. So what you mix it with matters. Soda water is great, neat can be better. Tap mixers are usually high fructose syrup based and terrible. Some premium bottled mixers use natural sweeteners like Stevia, which is ok.
Whisky, rum and brandy are also low calorie. But avoid liqueurs. They are usually high in added sugar.
Six, you’re only human.
You will succumb. So don’t throw the towel in if you fall off the wagon. Look at it like a learning opportunity. Progress is more important than perfection. 80% compliant is better than none compliance. If you fall off the horse get back on and realise that’s part of the journey.
Seven, 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 my 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 glycogen in your liver and possibly ‘eat’ into energy reserves. When you do eat, avoid carbohydrates.
Finally, don’t stress.
The holiday season can be extremely stressful from an energy and 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 a chronic constant stress is toxic. The strain it puts on the body can generate adrenal fatigue and an immune response. 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.