If you are anything like me, Christmas is a time to take a little time off work, relax and spend time with family. But as much as I want to reach for the mince pies at 11am, I also want to try and still eat my 5 a day, stay in shape and not ruin my hard earned gains in the gym. Statistics show that we put on an average of a kilo of weight every year, MOST of which is gained at Christmas and then never fully lost.
So how can you go into the festive season and have your cake and eat it? Well, the calories that you take in and the energy that you expend should be taken into account over a longer period than just a few days over the xmas break. So, a week’s break ‘off the routine’ shouldn’t have any long-term negative effects.
However, the short-term impact can be enough to put you off really over indulging… If you eat an excess of refined carbs or sugars, this can cause a big spike in blood-glucose levels, followed by a blood sugar crash. This means your energy levels will likely also crash and you could well end up with a headache and feeling irritable. Then the viscous cycle starts again making us crave more stodge and more sugar. The typical catch 22 scenario! Nobody wants to feel like this, especially during an already busy and festive time, with kids (potentially) running riot.
A lot of us will also suffer from fluid retention from the temporary change in our diets over xmas. Excessive booze calories, refined and processed carbs and fatty foods all can play havoc with our bodies making us feel sluggish, bloated and wandering where on earth our hard earned ‘gym body’ has just disappeared to, in 2 days of over indulging!
How about the effect of swapping the gym for Christmas catch-ups and nights out? Well, when you put more calories into your body than you burn, your body stores it as excess fat. Generally, research suggests that after two weeks of not working in your heart-rate training zone, you will start to lose some aerobic fitness. So keep moving as much as possible, ideally still fitting in some type of exercise 3 times a week, but even just going for a walk is going to help. Walking is also a great way of giving your digestive system a helping hand after eating a large xmas day dinner or woofing down the left overs on Boxing Day.
We’re also likely to be sitting in the car more as we drive to visit family and friends and sat in front of the T.V. more when we watch The Grinch or Home Alone for the thousandth time. Getting up and out for some fresh air and walking, will help alleviate tight hip flexors and short hamstrings and ease strain on your lower back.
My advice? Moderation is key.
It is a time of year for celebrations and enjoyment, but it doesn’t mean that you need to forget your health completely. Here’s how:
· Aim to eat well 5 days out of 7. This allows you some flexibility for Xmas parties and gatherings.
· Don't write a whole day or even a week off! If you have a treat or a mince pie don't worry! Just ensure the next meal or snack you eat is nutritious to help rebalance your blood sugar levels and keep total calorie intake on track.
· If you make a bad choice or are in the position where you can't choose a healthy option easily - don't beat yourself up. But make sure you follow it up with a good choice!! The chances are you can still stick to your basal daily calorie intake by eating lighter meals before and/or after your cheat meal.
· Drink plenty of water; alcohol is a diuretic causing you to dehydrate faster. Try to break up every couple of alcoholic drinks with a glass of water to help rehydrate. The brain often confuses the sensation of dehydration for hunger so you could end up snacking unnecessarily when all you needed was a drink (non alcoholic!). If you’re really dehydrated try using a sports electrolyte solution like ‘Zeros’ that contain magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium as water alone simply won’t do the job.
· It's almost impossible to keep creating a calorie deficit to keep you losing body fat over Xmas, so don't set yourself up to fail. Giving your body a break from intense exercise and a calorie-controlled diet can actually help boost your metabolism, a process called 'anabolic burst cycling'. Instead, aim not to lay down any EXTRA body fat that will take time to burn off in January, and come back well-rested and raring to go!!
· Life is too short not to enjoy the festive period, after all you've (hopefully!) exercised and followed your nutrition plan for most of the year, and you deserve a treat! Just don’t overdo it! Use the time to enjoy some food and drink, give your mind and body a rest and get ready to smash some goals in the New Year. Still aim to include some exercise – go for walk, a bike ride, fit a short gym session in or follow my 20 min no-kit total body circuit in and keep yourself feeling fit and functional!