Avoid that holiday weight creep

The problem with holiday weight gain is not the gain, per se, it appears more that year on year, people just don’t lose the added weight they put on. This might be a kilogram in the holiday period for some – could be more, could be less – that is the thing with ‘averages.’. Five years on, and they could be 5kg up from they were 5 years earlier. Of course, this isn’t everyone – however I can’t tell you the number of people that come to me with their astonishment to have jumped on a pair of bathroom scales at a weight they have never been before, yet not even realised.

It is subtle and can be difficult to notice.

I did a whole webinar on managing weight over the holiday period and created a programme that went along with that. For those who didn’t get around to watching it (no judgement, life is busy!) I thought I’d whip together some key take homes for you in the lead up to Christmas, New Year and everything in between.

Truth is, if it was JUST Christmas day, it would be NBD, right. One day – neither here nor there. Trouble though, is that it isn’t just one day. And it’s not even necessarily the social occasions in between times – such as the dinners out, or the drinks after work etc. Yes, these contribute, but some people can regulate the increase in energy intake by naturally pulling back at other meals, or they are a little more active. An acute increase in carbohydrate calories may increase energy expenditure over the short term more so than fat calories, we can get an increase in carbohydrate storage as both glycogen and triglycerides (fat in the bloodstream) and a suppression of fat oxidation. This is an inconsistent finding in the literature with not all studies in agreement.

Plan your usual meals accordingly. If you normally eat fajitas, skip the tortilla and the sour cream. Have your spaghetti Bolognese sauce on vegetables and not pasta, skipping the cheese. Remove skin from your chicken and visible fat off your steak. Don’t cook your vegetables in oil. You may not normally need to do this (or want to do this) in everyday life. But if desserts, more alcoholic drinks, more snacks are in your next couple of weeks, and you want to lessen the overall impact on your energy consumption, then something has to give.

Prioritise protein, and for those who love numbers, this means going to ~2g/kg body weight each day. Yep, that’s a lot (think: 130g if you weigh 65 kg – and this isn’t 130g meat, this table below shows you the equivalent amount of protein in food. This will help regulate your appetite, keep you fuller for longer, help stabilise blood sugar and is more thermogenically costly. Hey, the thermic effect of food isn’t a big lever when it comes to energy expenditure, but every little bit counts!

  • 3 eggs 24g protein
  • 100g tofu 12g protein
  • 1 cup egg whites 27g protein
  • Serve of protein powder approx 21g protein
  • 140g cooked fish 30.8g protein
  • 140g cooked calamari 29.2g protein
  • 130g cooked chicken 42g protein
  • 130g cooked beef 41.5g protein
  • 200g light cottage cheese 26g protein

Eat vegetables. Fill your boots as these non-starchy good guys contain very little useable calories given their fibre content. The recommended amount is between 28-38g but we know successful weight maintenance is more likely if the fibre lever is used. High fibre meals can blunt glucose response and also are more metabolically costly, so you will burn more energy after a high fibre meal.

Skip the really long fasts. Some time restricted eating (TRE) is a good idea, especially if your meals are a bit later, or you are eating a bit more. Waking up in the morning, doing some aerobic style training in a fasted state and extending the fast to 14-16 hours would not go amiss. And isn’t going to overly ‘stress’ anyone’s system. However fasting for 24 hours or more can decrease your overall energy expenditure if you are not genetically suited to it (i.e. have a ‘thrifty genotype’ where you readily store fat. In addition, this may drive hunger and you overshoot at the next meal. 

Just plan to be a lot more active. Hey, it IS about energy balance at the end of the day. Lounging around the living room, on the deck, at the beach or beside the fire is great – and might be what you want to do, but if you are serious about staying in weight maintenance at this time, and you are typically active – you want to keep this up. I know for a lot of you, this is a no-brainer. But I also know that some people take the holidays off. Honestly, this just makes it THAT much for difficult to offset the fat gain – particularly as we age. Set a step goal that is 15% higher than your usual. Do 10 min extra on your exercise machine of choice. Throw some fartlek training into your easy jog. Get the cricket/basketball/tennis racquet out and make a point of getting others involved. You can be entirely obsessive about this of course, but it doesn’t require that in order just to do more. You will feel so much better.

Don’t snack. Those Roses chocolates. The fruit mince tarts. The candy cane that is just ubiquitous this time of year? You don’t need to eat these. You aren’t missing anything. In fact, this is often a big contributing reason as to why people gain weight this time of year. So stick to your three meals a day and say no to the snacks. You are offending no one. If anyone is offended, well, that is on them and not you. Sparkling water, brushing your teeth if you feel the urge grab you, going for a walk, having a Pepsi Max or some no-sugar beverage of choice – these are the things which can help you push through in between meals. You will enjoy your meals that much more as you will be hungry going into them.

Be mindful when you are eating. Engage in the meal, chew your food slowly, put your cutlery down between bites. Sit down when you do eat (make that the rule). It can be a frantic time of year and it’s easy for your brain not to get the signal that you have eaten when you do it in a rush to get to Kmart for last minute Christmas shopping. This way, your brain has an opportunity to keep pace with your stomach.

Prioritise your sleep. At a time where you need to nurture and protect your metabolic rate, now is not the time to skimp on sleep. Sleep restriction is related to reduced metabolic rate, meaning you will burn fewer calories during the day if you don’t get enough sleep. Further, it can disrupt our normal hunger and appetite signals, increasing hunger and leading to increased food intake. It impacts on our feedback reward centre of our brain – so the foods we crave will be even more tempting (and we will want more of them). We feel less full after meals and – if this happens on consecutive nights, it suppresses fat burning and increases fat storage. Poor sleep quality is also related to lower fat oxidation – so do be mindful of both the late hour of your meals and your alcohol intake in this context too, both reducing the quality of your sleep. Of course, some late nights and early mornings are inevitable, so try to minimise these as much as you can, perhaps take a nap (no longer than 20-60 minutes, early afternoon) and lower your carbohydrate content in the day following due to the fact that sleep disruption decreases carbohydrate tolerance.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and weighing yourself (and your food) can give you insight into both how much you are eating AND what impact your routine (or being out of routine) is having on your body weight. Now the more often you do it (i.e. daily, same time of day, after going to bathroom in the early morning) and taking an average number is a lot more accurate than, say, once a week. Many things impact on day to day scale weight (carbohydrate content, sodium, fibre, training, inflammation, sleep loss etc) however across the week you can certainly get insight into how things are trending. Look for averaging your weekly weight and trying to stay within 0.5% of it. Too much over that, then definitely look to see where you might need to adjust either your diet or the amount you are moving.

Don’t say yes to every dessert, meal, drink, night out etc. Give yourself some space and make choices that ultimately allow you to manage the mayhem of the holiday season. Choose when you will drink and when you will abstain. Choose which drink is your priority (before dinner, after dinner), which dessert you’ve really been looking forward to versus one you could easily skip or you are eating out of obligation. Oblige only yourself and your goals. And enjoy.

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