Nutritious Christmas: How to lose weight over the festive season

Top tips to lose weight over the holiday season while still enjoying Christmas.

The Christmas holiday is typically a time for well-earned excess, where eating becomes a pastime and exercising takes a warm and comfy back seat. Eating, drinking and being merry is usually followed by a seemingly-inevitable weight gain. However, it’s not all doom and gloom – you can still enjoy the holidays without discounting the fitness gains you have worked hard for throughout the year with these helpful tips on how to lose weight through fasting, exercising and avoiding temptation.

Festive fasting

Top tips to lose weight over the holiday season while still enjoying Christmas.
One way to avoid the annual overindulgence at Christmas is by fasting, of which there are several types. Fasting is the ancient practice of restricted eating that promotes weight loss through the process of ketosis (fat burning). Fasting also simulates autophagy – the process of cellular rejuvenation that can protect against diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes [1]. Popular types of modern-day fasting include intermittent (alternating between periods of fasting and periods of feasting) and prolonged (fasting for more than two consecutive days). Since prolonged fasting over two or more days is not particularly convenient at Christmas and is better as a post-Christmas reset, a great alternative is intermittent fasting; this promotes weight loss without restricting what you can eat during feast hours.
An easy way to incorporate intermittent fasting into the busy festive period is by following the body’s natural circadian rhythm, a common practice for many centenarians. For example, restricting food at night and in the morning can achieve an overnight fasting period of 12-13 hours. More intensive is the 16:8 method, by which you fast for 16 hours overnight and feast for 8 hours during the day. Overnight, the body uses up nutrients consumed during the day, while the 16:8 has the advantage that no new nutrients are consumed so the body uses up its own glucose and fat reserves, promoting weight loss. The 16:8 method is especially convenient as its fasting hours can be adjusted according to your schedule. One strategy for maintaining your fast over Christmas without it being accompanied by feelings of guilt is by adjusting your fasting times to accommodate special meals. For example, if you are attending a late dinner with family and friends, delay your feasting time for few hours the following morning [2].
Despite the 8 hour cycle of eating in the 16:8 diet being known as the ‘feast’ hours, try to avoid overeating at the Christmas dinner table when you do eat. Overeating can increase postprandial lethargy and reduce energy, familiar from the post-Christmas dinner slump. While overeating on occasion is offset by the body’s metabolism, constant overeating can lead to metabolic syndrome, a nasty combination of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity that impairs your body’s ability to maintain metabolic control. Overeating for just 24 hours may have immediate negative effects on metabolism; a study investigating the effects of binge eating on the body found that excessive consumption of calories through high-fat food over 24 hours impaired glucose metabolism [3]. One way to counteract this, if overeating is unavoidable, is through exercising before a heavy meal, which increases your insulin sensitivity and reduces postprandial blood sugar, helping to avoid energy crashes later [4].
Luckily, there is a plethora of low-calorie, low-fat Christmas dinner options that do not compromise on taste. For example, serving a turkey, fish or plant-based centrepiece accompanied by vegetables is an easy way to get your protein and your five-a-day. Experimenting with vegetarian or vegan dishes offers a healthier alternative to the traditional high-calorie Christmas meal. Starting your morning off with a healthy, slow-energy release breakfast like porridge and fruit places you in control of your eating and sets an optimistic outlook for the day if consuming indulgent party food is unavoidable at evening events.

Exercising over Christmas

A day of overeating followed by the period of inertia between Christmas and New Year can seriously disrupt your weight loss and fitness routine. Scheduling and segmenting your day places you back in control over your eating and exercising habits. Start your New Year’s fitness resolutions early and use the Christmas break as practice before January. Try home workouts if you are unable to access the gym over Christmas – there are even festive-themed workouts like the CrossFit 12 Days of Christmas.
The Christmas break is also the perfect time to take advantage of winter sports and activities; combine exercise with family time by going for walks especially before or after a large meal, as postprandial walking is effective at lowering blood sugar levels [5]. Ice-skating is excellent cardio, and sledging integrates hill walking with family fun. One way to deal with general feelings of lethargy exacerbated by the dark winters is by combining regular walks with taking daily vitamin D supplements. This acts as a replacement for the ultraviolet B rays that we usually get from the sun and prevents vitamin D deficiency which is associated with depression and mood disorders.

Avoiding alcohol over Christmas

Top tips to lose weight over the holiday season while still enjoying Christmas.
Christmas customarily involves drinking of bacchanalian proportions, and unfortunately the guidelines of 14 units of alcohol per week for men and women still apply over this period. In fact, almost two thirds (61%) of drinkers over-indulge with alcohol over the festive season more than usual, with many experiencing extra pressure to drink at work Christmas parties, on Christmas Day and at New Year [6]. Drinking at home over Christmas also has the added danger of stronger home measures, so keep track of how much you are drinking by checking bottle labels for alcohol units and using a measuring jug for a standard spirit measure of 25ml [7].
Aim to include some detoxing, alcohol-free days during the week, but make sure that you do not overcompensate when you do drink. Common non-alcoholic alternatives like carbonated soft drinks are often high in diet-compromising calories and sugar, so alternatively stick to sparkling water or fruit juice. If you do drink, alternate every round with a glass of water; this slows your alcohol intake and makes your stomach feel fuller, preventing overeating as well. Overall, while Christmas is synonymous with excess, it is important to enjoy in moderation to ensure the start of a happy and healthy New Year.

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990190/
[2] https://fasting.com/strategies/12-days-of-fasting-wellness/
[3] https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/8/818
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24817675/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19560716/
[6] https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/news/new-study-finds-tis-the-season-for-peak-drinking-and-hangovers
[7] https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/support/healthy-living/healthy-eating/alcohol

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