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Surviving Christmas

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

...New Year, the two weeks of the holiday season, or the whole period around them.

In short, you wonder how you are going to do to come out of this period again without any "damage"? Whether in terms of body composition or markers of health, it does not pass without a trace.

The end-of-year holiday season is well known as the one where we gain weight that we will struggle to lose from January 1st. Yes, "struggle", because usually that's not what happens; after the end of year celebrations, there comes the new year celebrations. Christmas and New Year celebrations have been transformed, from 2 festive meals into 1 month of festive meals, even 2 months!

Between going out with friends, lunches at the restaurant with the team, work parties for the service, the department and the whole company; other sorts of events that come in + the daily chocolate (panettone, pastries, etc.) for the departure on vacation, then for the return from vacation of each colleague, we are faced with almost 2 months of feast!

So, is it inevitable to gain weight during this period?

"More than 50% of the weight gained in the year is gained during the winter holidays"

This systematic review of several studies concluded that more than 50% of the weight gained in the year is gained during the holiday season and that the majority of people do not manage to lose it all. Knowing how the human body works, this finding is anything but surprising. So this means that we gain weight little by little (some more than others) every year and this, mainly because of the holidays!? And here is a first explanation of the obesity crisis and the other metabolic diseases. So, as always: prevention is better than cure. But how? How to avoid or at least minimize weight gain? Before we can find the solutions, we must know the causes: in the end, why do we gain weight, and especially in this period? The answer lies on both sides of the energy balance: we eat more and we move less. So the solution seems obvious: eat less and move more. Everybody knows that. But if only it were that easy to achieve this, we wouldn't be here. It is not easy to implement this during this period because we get out of our routine, on both levels: nutrition and physical activity. But I'm here to show you some effective strategies for managing this, all while getting out of your routine and enjoying this time of year. 😁 I said "effective", not necessarily easy, I'm not going to lie. Because it will require some effort and it cannot be otherwise for 3 reasons:

  1. Anything that involves stepping out of your comfort zone and routine requires some effort.

  2. If it was easy everyone would do it.

  3. We will have to fight against the tendencies of our society, which favors excesses and a sedentary lifestyle. (See my article on this.)

Before the holidays

Let's assume that "the holidays" concern the 2 weeks that surround them, during which as a general rule we are on vacation, next to the family. If it was only one or two weeks of excess, the consequences would be much less. But as already mentioned, the "holiday period" is getting longer and longer and may even reach 2 months. So let's focus first on the weeks leading up to the holidays: the time when you're still at work, but the festive mood is starting to kick in.

Challenge no. 1: the proposals for restaurants, parties and events are multiplying.

If you have a sports routine, don't change it! Sometimes these invitations will fall at the same time as your sports sessions. And if there is no way to shift them to another day, then you will have 2 choices:

  • Organize yourself to do your training at another time of the day.

  • Refuse certain invitations.

If you are not really into training, you only have the second option. 😁

"Is there any real point in doing so many parties in such a short time, as if the world ended after December 31st?"

Well yes, I said it wouldn't always be easy. But after all, is there any real point in doing so many parties in such a short time, as if the world ended after December 31st? Friends, we can go out with them whenever we want. Colleagues, we see them every day and we can have lunch at the restaurant at any time.

But in both cases, a good strategy to employ is to plan to walk to the place of the event, at least for a part of the way. A 10-minute walk before and, above all, after the meal will only be welcome and favorable! Not only will your digestion be facilitated, but it will also reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and will use this energy wisely.

Challenge no. 2: the almost daily treats at work. Since you already know that you will have all kinds of temptations available almost every day, you can plan to make your meals lighter, or even skip some: if a colleague brings breakfast, you will no longer need to have your usual breakfast.

This implies at the same time not to do 2 types of excess on the same day: treats + going out. Yes, you will have to make some choices. 😔

Or, if you really have no choice, you can always enjoy both by being careful with the quantities. In the end, it's always the dose that makes the poison.

During the holidays

The long-awaited moment has arrived: you are on vacation, next to the dear ones with whom you will be able to do lots of nice activities (apart from eating 😁).

Playing board games next to the tree and watching Christmas movies is very nice, but that's not what will spend the energy from the chocolates that are constantly at your disposal. 😊 You get the idea: you'll have to get in more "moving" activities. Because unfortunately, in terms of energy nothing is lost, everything is transformed.

Surely there are other cool activities you can involve your family in: an adventure park (if the weather allows), bowling, an escape game, visiting a place, or simply walking.

Are there children in the family? Take advantage of their overflowing energy to engage in dynamic activities with them! (No, playing on the tablet or on the console does not count.) The goal is to have every day an activity that implies moving.

"The "all or nothing" mentality is the most harmful"

If you exercise regularly, there's no reason to stop now, all on the contrary! Most likely, you won't be able to do it in the same way, with the same intensity and frequency. But that's not even the goal, quite the opposite. This is an opportunity to try other types of sports, to surprise your body and make it discover other sensations. So get out of your box and be creative! Just because you can't do things perfectly doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything. The "all or nothing" mentality is the most harmful and it is what leads to long-term damage. A 20-minute workout will always be better than a 0-minute one. 😉

You don't have ideas or you don't have the possibility to adapt your workouts? Running is always at disposal. Can't you run? A good walk also does the trick. And you can also engage your family in these good habits, especially on big meal days: Christmas and New Year!

In terms of food then, how to manage these feasts? Here too, you will have to get out of your routine: if you are used to having several meals a day, now you will have to skip some. At the same time, when the Christmas meal starts around 11 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., you don't need to still have breakfast and dinner. Ideally you should start that day with a physical activity (yes, on an empty stomach 🙂) and end it with a good walk. It will make a big difference!

Does this mean that we can then enjoy the meal mindlessly? No, not at all, don't make yourself any illusions! The energy load of this meal is far greater than any activity you could do. But it is not for this reason that we do physical activity or sports, but for the many health benefits and for the optimized use of macro-nutrients and energy in general.

"Satisfaction decreases with the quantity consumed"

So, when it comes to meals, you should know that human physiology also works according to the laws of diminishing returns, according to which satisfaction decreases with the quantity consumed. Basically, the 2nd bite of the same food will bring you less pleasure than the 1st one, the 3rd bite even less, and so on. So actually, there's not much point in going beyond the first bite. (No reason to worry, with all there will be to eat there's no risk of being left hungry at the end. 😁) Especially since nowadays the foods eaten on these occasions are no longer quite exceptional foods: at the time they were eaten once, maybe twice a year; now we can eat them at any time.

And here's how to have fun, enjoy everything on the table without abusing!

The problem is that alcohol disinhibits us and makes us less aware of our actions, causing us to eat more without realizing it. Several studies have shown that you can eat up to 30% more when the meal is accompanied by alcohol.

So how do you limit the impact of alcohol on the body? Fortunately, there are some ways! A randomized controlled clinical trial has determined that the consumption of protein and fiber before alcohol consumption reduces its metabolism by half.

Now you have several tools to properly manage those big meals. The next day, the same thing, you won't quite be able to resume your usual routine, and you don't really need to. Well, at exceptional times exceptional measures.

If you didn't take a digestive walk the night before, with all the food and alcohol mingling, you'll most likely feel sluggish. And that's where you can still make the difference: start your day with a workout or a good invigorating walk and have lunch afterwards.

At mealtime, don't use all the leftovers from the night before, but rather foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fiber: everything that was most probably missing at the great meal.

Last advice on this, but not least: if you have a scale at your disposal, do not weigh yourself during this period. This will only add more stress to you because, even if you apply all these tips, the numbers ​​displayed will not be relevant. We must not forget that this is a period when we go out of our routine, so the body will function differently from its usual.

After the holidays

That's it, you're back home or the family has left and you're back to work. Is this the moment of truth? No, not so quickly. The first thing NOT to do is weigh yourself!

  • Didn't you already weigh yourself before the holidays? Don't start now!

  • Did you use to monitor your weight regularly? Very good habit. But don't take it back just yet! Not before at least 1 week after resuming your routine. For the same reasons as during the holidays: the values ​​will be distorted by glycogen stores, greater sodium quantity and the transport of fluids in the body.

This implies going back to your pre-pre-holiday routine, or applying the pre-holiday tips, nothing more. If you make use of these tricks to the fullest, you can be sure winter holidays won't leave a mess on their path.

As you can see, there are ways to deal with the end of the year celebrations, not all of them are easy and not without any effort. Afterwards, it's up to you to decide what matters most to you and what you're willing to give up to. Because you have understood it well: you will have to make choices and "choosing is giving up". 😁

Even if you don't manage to apply them all, it's not a big deal: every year is an opportunity to improve. And if you need support, don't hesitate to ask me for help.

Either way, enjoy your loved ones and this magical time! 🎄

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