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Christmas and Weight Gain

Adapted from Zoë Harcombe, 20/12/21, news@zoë

This advice is edited from an email I received from Dr. Zoe Harcombe, a researcher, author and public speaker in the field of diet and health, with a PhD in public health nutrition. Her particular areas of interest/expertise are public health dietary guidelines (especially dietary fat), nutrition and obesity. Whilst it's written with regards to Christmas indulgence, I think this advice is very useful for ongoing weight maintenance.

1) Keep "Eat real food" as the main principle.

In any articles about what we should eat, my first principle is always “Eat real food.” Avoiding processed food is the single best dietary choice we can make. The festive period features many delicious real foods and thus we can still make these the major part of our diet. Turkey, pigs in blankets (chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon), roast ham, sprouts, carrots, parsnips, smoked salmon, satsumas, cheese, are all available over Christmas and (together) they are nutritious satiating real foods. The beige stuff won't make you feel great, so the more real stuff you can eat the better.

2) Don't cheat too much; don’t cheat too often; be alert and stay in control.

I have written a few diet books and Phase 3 is the weight maintenance phase. The three tips for Phase 3 are “Don't cheat too much; don’t cheat too often; be alert and stay in control.” We call eating something that is not real food “cheating”. It’s important to see going ‘off piste’ as a cheat and not a treat, as the mindset of treat makes us think that it’s something that is good for us and something we deserve. Chips, ice cream, confectionery, muffins, cookies etc. are not good for us and we deserve better, quite frankly!

  • Don’t cheat too much means have a mince pie, but don’t have 10. Have a mince pie, but don’t have Christmas pudding too.

  • Don’t cheat too often means don’t have a cookie every morning over the festive period and don’t get into the habit of having a dessert every main meal.

  • Be alert and stay in control means just that. Cravings are behind many, if not most, weight problems and they can return astonishingly quickly if you go back to eating things that you’ve not eaten for some time. If you wake up one day and find that you’re craving something, you should avoid that item for a few days to break the pattern before it becomes more difficult to address.

Over the festive period, I would add another tip – don’t cheat too early in each day. Given that cheating will involve carbs, and probably refined ones, you are likely to set off a blood glucose level roller coaster. You might have a croissant for breakfast and go out of the normal blood glucose range, release insulin, dip below the normal blood glucose range, crave something else sweet, have some chocolates and so the cycle continues. This will lead to you craving sweet things every couple of hours throughout the day and you'll end up falling into a carbohydrate-stupor-induced-sleep at bedtime – really not feeling like you've had fun. You may well wake up with a carb 'hangover' and start the roller coaster all over again.

3) Don’t waste your cheating.

Don't eat something just because it's there or because you've eaten other rubbish that day, so why not eat a bit more. Every cheat that you have should be worth it – something that you really fancy. You should never cheat to the extent that you'll feel stuffed and uncomfortable. Cheating should be a conscious choice and it should feel indulgent. If it is unconscious, mindless and/or it makes you feel guilty – it's not fun, so don't do it.

If you want Christmas pudding and brandy butter – have it. Don't have a dry mince pie thinking that this will satisfy you. You'll only want the Christmas pudding and brandy butter and will probably have this in addition to

the mince pie. Make a conscious choice to have what you want; eat it slowly; savour every mouthful and make it worthwhile.

This principle goes hand in hand with dropping the good/bad day mentality. If you cheat with something, don't then think you've blown it and can eat everything and then start again tomorrow. Don't have any day when you eat so much you feel ill. Most weight problems could be resolved by never having a ‘bad’ day again. That’s when we do the most harm.