1. Calories Count
- Don’t Give Up
As soon as your mindset is, ‘I’m going to ruin it all at Christmas anyway, might as well start now’, you’re already going to fail. If this sounds like you, you’ll never get or stay lean. If eating one biscuit leads you to eat the entire packet because ‘you’ve already ruined the diet with one biscuit’, you’ll never achieve success. If you know there are going to be some indulgent days coming up, your mindset should be the opposite – you should be eating less now to account for the extra food later.
- Diet before Christmas
If you know that you’re probably going to gain weight over Christmas, create a deficit before Christmas. Get as lean as you can and you’ll be earning all of those extra calories. Check out our ‘Six Week Christmas Party Dress Plan’ HERE to get training and eating properly. You’ll be ‘earning’ those mince pies if you get through that one!
- Be more active during Christmas
Commit to getting out for long walks around Christmas with family and friends. It’s lovely to sit inside watching movies and eating food, but you’ll feel much better if you get out for regular walks with the loved ones or even on your own. You’ll burn a few calories that way and feel far less lethargic. We’ll also look at some Christmas workouts later in the article to help you earn those calories.
- Avoid mindless eating
So many of the extra calories around Christmas are from snacking. Most of the time we don’t even notice we’re eating them. Little bowls of crisps and nuts or boxes of chocolates lay scattered everywhere and we just reach for them as we sit chatting. Beat this mindless eating by not laying food out or at least by sitting out of arm’s length, or by laying out less calorie dense foods such as grapes or popcorn.
- Don’t drink your calories
Having a few drinks at Christmas is nice. But it seems like every drink at Christmas is either sugary or alcoholic, or both. The rest of the year you’ll drink water when you’re thirsty, but at Christmas? Thousands of calories of drink just to sate your basic liquid requirements. Drinks at Christmas account for vast amounts of calories. So, have a few drinks with meals, but focus on mostly drinking water or the occasional diet fizzy drink.
Let’s have a quick look at the calorie content for different drinks:
Pint (568ml) of Beer: 182 calories = 1 Packet of Crisps
125ml Red Wine: 85 calories = 1 Chocolate Biscuit
125ml White Wine: 110 calories = 2 Handfuls of Popcorn
50ml Sherry: 68 calories = 1 Roses Chocolate
Pint (568ml) Cider: 210 calories = 1 Snickers Bar
125ml Mulled Wine: 227 calories = 1 Small Mince Pie
125ml Champagne: 89 calories = 10 Honey Roasted Cashew Nuts
37ml Baileys Irish Cream: 130 calories
The calorie content of drinks varies widely. As you can see, drink two glasses of Mulled Wine and you’ve already consumed around 20% of your daily calories. Choosing wine and champagne can greatly reduce the number of calories you consume in drink.
That said, note the glass sizes. Cider and beer have higher calories ‘per serving’ but lower calories per 100ml. Beer has 32 calories per 100ml while white wine has 88 calories per 100ml. If you’re pouring 250ml glasses of wine, you’ll be drinking more calories than from a whole pint of beer.
CREATE A CALORIE DEFECIT
Calories are at the heart of all nutrition for body composition If you want to lose fat, you have to eat fewer than you burn. Whether that is achieved by increasing training volume, increasing metabolic rate or decreasing food intake, it doesn’t matter. You won’t burn fat if you don’t get your calories in check. This calorie deficit doesn’t need to be in place every single day though.
You just have to look at something like the 5:2 diet. You eat ‘normally’ for five days of the week and then put yourself in an extreme calorie deficit for the other two days. Say you maintain your weight at 2000 calories per day. You could eat 1500 calories per day to create a 500 calorie deficit which would be a total deficit of 3500 calories per week. Or you could eat 2000 calories per day for five days, and then only 500 calories for two days. That means you’re in a 3000 calorie deficit for the week which would result in similar fat loss.
This is just an example of how calorie deficits don’t just have to be a daily consideration. Your average calorie consumption over the course of the week (or month) is what matters. If you can maintain body weight while eating 2000 calories per day and for four days of the week, you eat 1000 calories per day, you’d be in a 4000 calorie deficit for that week so far. If you ate 3000 calories for three days, you’d be eating fifty percent more calories than normal for those three days, which is a lot of food, but you’d still be in a 1000 calorie deficit for the week, provided you had 4 days at 1000 calories.
Why are these examples relevant? Just because you’re going to eat a lot of food and have a lot of drink over Christmas, doesn’t mean everything is ruined. If you create a calorie deficit elsewhere in the week or the month, you will stay lean or even get leaner. A few days of indulgence, even extreme indulgence, won’t ruin your results at all if you’ve earned those extra calories. This concept is proved repeatedly in the research. Cut down your calories on several days/week to compensate for days when you increase your intake and you will still maintain your weight.
DON’T INDULGE ALL MONTH
Here’s the thing; the reason we gain weight over Christmas is not Christmas and Boxing Day themselves. It’s the whole Christmas season. Christmas party invites start flooding in as soon as bonfire night is over, with everyone vying to host their party on a different day to everyone else. As a result, it’s not unusual to attend multiple parties every week of December. These parties, as with Christmas itself, revolve around food and drink. And it’s Christmas, so it’s going to be calorific food and drink – what kind of party would it be without mince pies?
So, it’s not about Christmas Day itself, it’s the excuse that Christmas Day gives us to indulge for the entire month of December. The number of times you’ll hear someone, around mid-December, declare, ‘it’s Christmas soon anyway’, as they over-indulge in comfort food. Just because Christmas day is going to be a day of high calorie intake, we say ‘screw it, might as well start now.’ If you didn’t give up on the diet at the start of December, just at the thought of that single day of indulgence, you’d save thousands and thousands of calories over the month.
KEEP SOME STRUCTURE
Yet that’s exactly what we do at Christmas. We have one mince pie, decide we’ve completely ruined our diet by having it, so have another ten. You’ve basically eaten 150 calories of food, which in the grand scheme of a whole day or week is nothing, but decide that ‘since I’ve ruined it anyway, I might as well eat 1500 calories of mince pie’. One mince pie doesn’t ruin the diet, but going in for a penny, in for a pound, and eating your entire daily calorie allowance in mince pies alone, is ruining it.
We have that first Christmas party, or first mince pie and we decide, we’ve already ruined the diet, so we might as well go all out from now until New Year. That’s literally as crazy as spending one hundred pounds on a new watch, and then deciding that since you’ve already ruined your bank account with that frivolous spend that you might as well go and spend every penny of your savings on a boat. Get the picture? Calories are your food currency – you wouldn’t treat money this way, so why treat calories this way?
- Prioritise protein
Protein keeps you fuller for longer, making you less likely to binge on other things. Keeping protein high and eating it first will help you avoid over-eating on other, less healthy and more calorie dense foods. Start the day with eggs or good quality sausages and bacon, eat that turkey at Christmas dinner before anything else, and perhaps have smoked salmon as a light meal in between. You don’t need to deprive yourself – just prioritise eating your protein first.
- Drink a lot of water
Get a glass of water on the go early in the day and keep it with you. Looking at all the calories from drinks, you can see how far that can throw you off the rails in terms of calories. Also, with all the sugary, salty foods, you’ll get thirsty quickly. This thirst can be misinterpreted as hunger – leading to unnecessary overeating.
- Eat your veggies
Vegetables fill you up and provide plenty of fibre and micronutrients. Already a mainstay of Christmas dinner, make sure you cook plenty of vegetables for all meals surrounding Christmas. It’s easy to stop doing those basic healthy habits around the holidays. You can indulge – just eat your veggies!
- Small plates
Most of us have been brought up to ‘finish everything on your plate’. We don’t like leaving food uneaten. To combat this, give yourself a smaller plate or put less on your plate than you think you should. This avoids you force feeding yourself, just to empty everything on your plate. You can always go back for seconds if you want. As mentioned, make sure your first plate is protein and vegetables!
- Change your snacks
Christmas involves a lot of socialising around food. With snacks scattered everywhere, we spend time with family and friends while mindlessly picking at food. Swap the honey roasted nuts, which are packed with calories, for something less calorie dense such as popcorn. There are loads of healthier alternatives to crisps on the market now too, with companies making crisps out of everything from beans and pulses to carrots and beetroot. Remember, it’s the calories that are most important. Don’t buy vegetable crisps and think you’re doing a good job, if those crisps have more calories than normal crisps!