Christmas is now less than a month away, meaning the period of family get togethers, shopping, the exchanging of gifts, the singing of carols, large meals and putting on weight is just around the corner. But is this genuinely the case? How many kilograms do we put on over the Christmas holidays? Most importantly, is there anything that we can do to enjoy this magical time of year without feeling anxious about stepping on the scales? And can we do anything to ensure that the change in diet won’t affect our health?
Several studies have shown that people do tend to put on weight during the Christmas holidays. These studies have shown that people tend to put on between 0.4 and 0.8 kilograms, although this weight increase tends to be more pronounced in those of a higher weight prior to the holiday season.
While this might not seem like a lot of weight—with the average person putting on less than one kilogram—it takes a fair while to shed the extra pounds. It takes an average of one-and-a-half months to lose all of the weight that was gained over a short two-week period. Some people fail to shed 100% of the extra weight, meaning their body weight progressively increases on a year-by-year basis.
There are various recommendations to mitigate this increase or to avoid it altogether. Firstly, the Christmas holidays usually comprise no more than five or six family meals. As such, if you eat more than you should on one of these days, it’s not the end of the world and there’s no need to feel guilty. Rather, you can compensate for this by being sure to eat a more balanced diet on the other days during the festive period. However, there other tricks that will help you to keep this added weight to a minimum.
One of the simplest tricks is to not skip any meal. This will help to regulate your appetite and make better decisions on what to eat and the quantity thereof. For example, by having a good breakfast on Christmas day, this will allow you to make a more conscious decision regarding snacks between meals. It may even increase the chances of you waiting until Christmas dinner is served before you start eating again. It’s also important to eat slowly and to chew well. This will allow you to enjoy every mouthful with each of your senses, increasing the chances of you listening to your stomach and being able to stop eating when your body tells you that you are full.
If you’re having a Christmas meal in a restaurant, sharing dishes could be a great idea. If you want to sample more things from the menu, by sharing dishes you will end up eating less. It’s also a good idea to ask the waiter about the cooking methods and dressings of the various dishes, as this will give you a better idea of whether you like the sound of the dish, or if you would prefer another option.
As far as drinks are concerned, it’s important to moderate your alcohol consumption. It’s important to remember that nothing quenches your thirst better than water. If you’re one of those people who struggles to drink water on its own, try adding some mint leaves, slices of lemon, orange or cucumber in the glass, as this can drastically change the way it tastes.
Besides the increased food consumption, it’s also important to factor in the lower amount of physical exercise. People are particularly sedentary during this festive period, despite the fact that physical activity can be one of your best friends during this time of year. Furthermore, according to a recent study, weighing yourself on a daily basis may allow you to keep a better eye on your weight during the Christmas holidays. Perhaps this will encourage the whole family to take a post-meal walk together.
In terms of healthy food, there’s no reason for the Christmas holidays to be any different to the rest of the year. Your best bet is to follow a Mediterranean diet featuring plant products such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole foods and legumes. Virgin olive oil should be the main source of fat in this diet, both for cooking the ingredients and seasoning the completed dishes. There’s no reason why your meals can’t be tasty and healthy at the same time!
Author: Bárbara Romano, nutritionist at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona.