So, the festive season is well and truly upon us, shopping is in full swing and you can't get a coffee without being offered a selection of Christmas treats, so it really is time to make sure you keep an eye on the little things, so that they don't all add up to a rather larger you in January than you are right now!
It is quite possible, and quite common, for people to gain between half a stone and a stone over the Christmas period. Now, we are not talking just Christmas Day here, but this is one of the big problems - Christmas starts earlier and earlier, so that people can sell us more stuff! Many people are having a mince pie with their skinny latte on mid-morning on a Tuesday before advent has even kicked in - meaning it can be up to 6 weeks of over-eating before the January realisation takes over. Is it any wonder most people find January so depressing?
There is no need to make a pretty dull month even more painful, honestly! If you take a few action steps over the next few weeks you can do some damage limitation, which means you can enjoy the festivities, indulge without feeling guilty or sluggish, and feel hot in that New Year party outfit and hangover notwithstanding, hit the ground running in January, without feeling like you have to starve yourself all month or dedicate every spare moment to cardio purgatory!
Surely avoiding the standard misery-based approach to January is a good thing?!
Also, don't forget that many people NEVER actually lose the weight they gain over the Christmas period! All those ‘good’ intentions to engage in total denial in the month where all you really need is something to cheer you up, inevitably crumble pretty soon into January.
So, how can you avoid this miserable fate?
Well, firstly, do not treat ‘the festive season’ as a license to gorge on all sorts of random treats on a daily basis! If anything, now is the time to be even more selective with your treats, as there are more parties, dinners out and opportunities to overeat. If you make sure you have a healthy breakfast and lunch, and take a healthy snack to work, rather than going for the ‘skinny’ muffin (or the mince pie!) it means you can enjoy the events more, without feeling like you have been overdoing it all day (or week) long.
It is much harder at this time of year as food-pushing is more aggressive than usual, and the marketing, adverts and availability of foods that aren't around the rest of the year mean our subconscious is being bombarded more than usual (and thanks to ads and supermarkets we are bombarded way to much all year round anyway!). Learning to see through this is definitely a good strategy - see those tempting ads for what they are - attempting to make you as fat as possible and them as rich as possible!
But of course, you are going to enjoy Christmas foods and maybe eat more than usual at some point, and there is no need to vigorously deny yourself anything. Remind yourself that you can have whatever it is you want, but ask yourself if you really need it right now. I prefer to enjoy more indulgent foods at the weekend, when I can enjoy them with my husband or in a more social setting. Eating cakes in the office just because they are there always seems like a waste to me! I feel like I have eaten it for the sake of it, not really enjoyed it, and end up feeling a bit down as I have made a negative choice. Whereas, if I stick to my healthy lunch and snack, I feel fantastic.
The ‘all or nothing’ mentality is to blame for many people's winter weight gain! People often resign themselves to the fact that it's Christmas and that eating too much is a foregone conclusion, as is the weight gain. And then they let everything go! It is a bit like getting a flat tyre - and then rather than fixing it and driving on, you get out and deflate the other three! Sounds crazy? Well that is what many people do with their health and fitness on a regular basis!
The little things DO add up. If you are extra good with planning and preparing healthy meals when you can, including making sure you have healthy snacks, it means you can enjoy the nights out, the parties and the odd treat without too much waistline damage! If you decide to stick your head in the sand, forget that actions have consequences, relinquish all personal responsibility until January, then you will have a bigger problem on your hands in the New Year. . .
Another strategy is to make sure that when you are faced with several options, you only go for the more festive treats - as all the other stuff will be there all year round.
The local Christmas market to us is filled to the brim with utterly un-festive stodgy chow, and it seems that the exertion of Christmas shopping sends people to indulge, using Christmas as a bit of an excuse! I can kind of get that if you are having some Christmassy treats, but there are noodle bars, curry stands, pasty stands. . . If you stick to the more festive treats, and also give yourself a window for enjoying them, you can avoid gorging on junk for 6 weekends in the run up to the big day itself!
The ‘window’ of opportunity is a great way to reduce consumption, and actually enjoy things even more! I have had a mulled wine so far, as it was part of the local Christmas market experience I wanted to enjoy, although I was actually a bit disappointed as the temperature had crept up on that day, and the mulled wine was lukewarm, so the whole ‘warming your cockles’ effect was blunted somewhat. In retrospect I shouldn't have bothered and should have saved it for a colder, crisper winters’ day! I won't have a mince pie until Christmas week, ideally my first one will be Christmas eve, and it will be so much more enjoyable than if I had been having one every day along with my coffee from the end of November! The window of opportunity means I enjoy it a lot more without the damage!
Pick the things you want to enjoy, the ones you really want, and also think about the things you aren't so bothered about. The things you aren't bothered about, say to yourself you will allow yourself in January. Yes, allow yourself some treats in January! Plan that if you don't overdo it now you get to enjoy more in the dark days of January and February!
Deprivation early in the year sets you up for a negative spiral, which usually results in backlash anyway, so you might as well plan it in! And if you plan the non-festive treats in, just not right now, it does not feel like you are depriving yourself now.
If you select the things you really want to enjoy, plan when you are going to have them (and when you can happily refrain) then you are well on your way to a fitter and healthier Christmas!
The boxes of chocolates that everyone has at this time of year are a classic way to gain several pounds and feel pretty ropey in the process. One chocolate always leads to another (which is why the good chocolate shops always offer tasters - once I have had one I want to buy the whole shop!) and before you know it there are a mound of wrappers and you feel a bit nauseus. Chocolate is one thing there is never a shortage of, and it is well worth working a few of the strategies above to take your mind off the box of chocolates. Even on Christmas day, a big lunch is one thing, but most people make themselves feel terrible by munching on sugar all day long! Again, remind yourself you can eat chocolate any time you want, but that right now there are other things that are better to indulge in. . .
Finally, make time to exercise! This is key - even if you don't feel you have as much time as usual, make the most of the time you do have! Everyone can make 15 minutes a day, and this is an even more critical time of year to prioritise fitness.
You can boost your metabolism and burn more energy for the rest of the day (increasing your body temperature in the process, not a bad thing when it's chilly outside!) without having to take up residence on the treadmill. In fact that is the worst thing you can do to burn body fat!
Short, intense, full body workouts are the key to boosting your metabolism and getting your fat burning hormones primed and ready to keep you lean when most people are in mega fat storage mode.
There are so many benefits to this: you will feel warmer and more energised, so more likely to move more for the rest of the day. Getting out in the cold for a brisk walk every day is a great idea, but many feel too cold to want to venture out! If you do a workout at home first thing, you will feel ready to face the day. Wrap up warm with plenty of layers and get out there - generate heat from the inside, and burn up some body fat at the same time. If you have trained intensely in the morning, or the night before, your metabolism is elevated so you get more ‘bang for your buck’ on any daily activity you engage in. The combination is fantastic on every level - makes you feel better and helps keep you in shape!
You will also feel healthier from the inside out, which makes eating healthier much more appealing. The less you look after yourself the more it is tempting to continue the downward spiral - it can even become self destructive. A positive step, such as getting outside for a walk or doing a workout, can be enough to reverse the spiral and send you moving in the right direction.
Staying hydrated is important, and it is easy to forget to drink plain water when it's colder. Perhaps set a reminder on your phone so you don't forget!
And if you are feeling cold and sluggish, take some deep breaths, and move your limbs around! Getting the body moving, even while you are sitting, gets the energy and heat flowing and warms you up internally. The more you resist the cold and tighten your muscles up, the more you restrict blood flow and prevent yourself warming up! Doing this is a great first step to getting into a ‘proper’ workout, too.
So, some Festive Survival Strategies - it is vital to start now and not put it off until January!
Have a happy, fun and healthy Christmas and here's to hitting the New Year feeling great!
Caroline Radway is a certified Personal Trainer who wants you to get the fitness and fat loss results that you deserve. She has developed her M. I. R. A. C. L. E Success System and S. I. M. P. L. E. Nutrition System that are proven to get results, fast!
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