Dieting at Christmas? There Are Better Ways…
It’s that time of year when temptation is all around us and no one wants to be a party pooper and munch on celery sticks and chicken breasts when there is mashed potato, turkey, sausages, bacon, stuffing, apple sauce and lots of Christmas pudding and brandy butter (in a 1:1 pudding/butter ratio if you’re lucky) to be had. And that’s before you’ve raided the kids’ chocolate box selections or Granny’s After Eights!
As much as we may want to be strict and Spartan and stick to our diets despite Christmas temptations, I am a huge proponent of the credo that life is for living, and don’t see anything wrong with the odd festive blow out. However, caution must be exercised (you didn’t think I’d give carte blanche for gross piggery did you?!) and a Christmas Day feast should not turn into a week long food fest. There are also ways to mitigate the oh so tasty, but not so nutritious, good stuff you will inevitably consume and these simple guidelines are something that should come in handy when confronted with the healthy eater’s hell that is a buffet meal!
The primary rule of thumb for limiting festive damage to your diet at Christmas is to ensure that you drink plenty of water. I know this is a boring point, you have all heard it a hundred times before, and you are expecting me to pull a few new surprises out of my nutritional bag of tricks (patience Grasshopper), but it is of fundamental importance. Adequate hydration will enable your body to cope far better with the deleterious effects of alcohol, it will fill you up and prevent you stuffing your face all in one go, and it will allow you to process your inevitably high carbohydrate consumption far more effectively.
Overdosing on the Quality Streets will suck up your body’s available B vitamins, so keeping a few multi B vitamins handy is a smart way to enable your body to cope with an excess of sugar.
Something that I always recommend my clients do in “party circumstances” is to strike a balance between carbohydrates and protein consumption. You may not feel like doing it, but a quick protein shake will blunt any sugar high and its inevitable crash, and this in turn will help to keep you lean by limiting the insulin / cortisol seesaw syndrome caused by excessive swings in blood sugar levels. This trick really will help limit the damage and make dieting at Christmas far more bearable.
One less well known but highly effective strategy is to supplement with the widely available amino acid glutamine. This product isn’t enhancing merely to the immune system, it also helps limit the desire for both alcohol and sugary foods! 5 to 10 grammes in a glass of water before you go out should help, and for those of you with carbohydrate cravings that you can’t control try 10 grammes of glutamine with 4oz of heavy cream. It sounds awful, but it kills sugar cravings stone cold dead in its tracks and makes dieting at Christmas an awful lot easier.
Another supplement that should be at the top of all our Christmas wish lists is a high quality fish oil product. Ignore the fact that fish oils have been proven to have a positive effect on all diseases known to man and woman (both physical and mental), a decent dose of fish oil (minimum of 8 grammes daily) massively enhances stable blood sugar levels to the extent that 1-2 grammes taken with a “bad carb” meal can mitigate the negative impact of rapidly elevated insulin levels by up to 70%, and turns on the lipolytic gene whilst turning off the lipogenic gene (the former is fat burning, the latter fat storing). Furthermore, fish oil is also anti inflammatory so that it can help fight the swelling and oedema associated with seasonal over indulgencies.
Two other excellent products that can be put to great effect at this time of year and aid in Christmas time diets are a greens supplement and the botanical product fenugreek. The latter prevents your body from generating a huge insulin spike when you flood your system with carbs as it not only increases the uptake of insulin at the receptor level, meaning that less insulin is needed to balance out blood sugar levels, but also slows down the absorption of sugar from the gut, allowing your body to handle the carbs in a more stable and less negative manner. Greens supplements (plant based supplements based on green vegetables) add the vital nutrients that should be an essential staple of our daily diets, but hardly ever are. They can boost your immune system by supplying a broad array of vital antioxidants crucial during this flu season, and when taken with a meal are a fantastic way to control any potential blood sugar crash caused by eating those sugary foods that we all have a hard time avoiding.
Other quick tips that we can all put into action for effective dieting at Christmas include adding a high fibre snack (my personal favourite is a handful of organic nuts) to help stabilise blood sugar, and if you are going to drink alcohol remember that relatively moderate quantities (1-2 glasses) of red wine is unquestionably the way to go. The flavonoids and antioxidants in red wine (most notably Muscadine wines and to a slightly lesser extent Pinot Noir and Merlot) are so beneficial to your health that I like to prescribe a small glass very night to all my clients regardless of the time of year!
In summary, a little of what you fancy is no bad thing and can be actually be a very positive thing for both your mental and physical fitness. Use these tips to enable you to enjoy the festive season without guilt and anxiety (both of which are far worse for you than a few thousand extra Christmas calories) and pay some heed to the words of W. Somerset Maughan who said that “excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit.” Go on, live a little.
By Nick Mitchell, “London’s Best Personal Trainer” (Time Out London)