3 science-backed tricks to stop those over-indulgences from sticking.
With a Christmas feast and bikini-wearing holiday on the horizon, it can be tempting to start cutting calories throughout December to reduce the impact of second serves of plum pudding.
However, according to the latest research, restricting your food intake too much in the lead-up to a big feast can actually increase your chances of weight gain. So what is the best way to prepare for the onslaught?
1. Fine-tune your metabolism
“When you’re in energy-restriction mode and eating fewer calories than you’re burning, you’ll lose weight for a while, but you’ll hit a point where the ‘famine reaction’ is triggered and that primes the body for fat regain,” says associate professor Amanda Sainsbury-Salis, of the University of Sydney’s Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders. “Your metabolism will be down, your hormones will be altered and the body will be geared to store each little thing you eat.”
Instead, following a balanced, healthy diet in the lead-up to Christmas is the best strategy for negating a yuletide calorie hit.
“If you make healthy choices (rather than overly restrictive ones), plus get physically active, you’ve got the best chance of having a positive effect on your metabolism,” says Lisa Renn, spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia. “Then one day of overeating will just be a blip on the radar and won’t be much of a problem at all.”
A good rule of thumb is to follow the 90/10 rule. “Aim to eat healthily 90 per cent of the time and then look at your ‘treat’ foods as something to enjoy in moderation,” says Allan Borushek, author of the self-published book, Allan Borushek’s Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter.
2. Train your brain
Restrictive diets also backfire during the Christmas period because they make us obsess about food. “If you’ve been restricting your food intake, when you get to Christmas, the hunger is going to be really strong. You’re going to want to eat the whole turkey, as well as all the chips, nuts and ice-cream,” Sainsbury-Salis says.
But if you have spent the month before Christmas loading up on fruit, vegies, wholegrains and lean protein, you probably won’t be that fussed about stuffing yourself silly on December 25.
“Start to be a little bit more intuitive as to what you really want and what your body feels like and you won’t need a big pig-out day,” Renn says. “Often the idea of going crazy on Christmas Day is better than the real thing. There are not many people who actually like the feeling of being stuffed full.”
Adjusting your inner dialogue can also help diminish the cravings. “If you tell yourself you are depriving yourself, you will be more likely to obsess over your diet, then overeat,” Borushek says. “Instead, tell yourself you are making informed choices.”
3. Cut back after Chrissy
Follow your feast with a few days of intuitive eating and you might even lose weight after Christmas. “It’s been shown scientifically that after indulgence days, your appetite is suppressed,” Sainsbury-Salis says. “So eating normally before Christmas, having the feast and then dealing with the weight is the best physiological way to go about it.”
The key is to really tune in to your satiety signals. “If you listen to [your body], you might find that you’ll eat a small breakfast on Boxing Day and that you may not be hungry until dinner time,” she says. “That’s a good cue to do something else so that you’ll be occupied and not tempted to eat when you’re not actually hungry.”
Work off the feast with this calorie guide from Borushek:
- 375ml beer: 27-minute walk; 15-minute jog
- 30g piece of crackling: 30-minute walk; 17-minute jog
- 100g plum pudding, 100ml brandy custard: 1¼-hour walk; 42-minute jog
- 20g low-fat crisps: 20-minute walk; 11-minute-jog
- 350ml soft drink: 30-minute walk; 16-minute jog
Game of Thrones workout by Bodyism’s James Duigan.