Dr Nick Fuller's 12 tips to help you have a merry – and metabolically healthy – Christmas!
Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.
Now, I know what you're thinking.
Not another jolly festive season survival guide sharing unrealistic healthy eating and lifestyle tips – the kind of guide that will have you sitting down to a joyless Christmas Day meal filled with just enough deprivation and starvation to make even old Scrooge proud.
It's easy to see why people find it difficult to reconcile the festive season with delicious, diet-friendly eating and activities, thanks to the season’s focus on calorie-rich celebratory food, plentiful drinks and maximum downtime.
It's why two-fifths of Australians gain weight over Christmas – almost three kilos on average.
But it is possible to celebrate the season with the foods and drinks you love without impacting your healthy eating plan. Just like there are 12 days of Christmas, here are 12 simple things you can do to avoid the dreaded Christmas weight gain this silly season.
1. Manage your stress
It may be surprising that my first tip for not gaining Christmas weight is not food related. But for some, the holiday season means extra financial and relationship stress, and stress is proven to lead to weight gain.
That's because stress increases your body's production of the hormone cortisol, promoting fat storage and triggering unhealthy food cravings. So make time for stress-relieving activities and take time out whenever you need it.
2. Make sure you're getting enough sleep
Another Christmas weight gain culprit is missing out on much-needed sleep. Sleep deprivation also disturbs your appetite hormones, increasing your feelings of hunger and triggering cravings.
Maintaining good sleep habits can be hard to achieve when there's a celebration every other night or your favourite Christmas holiday movies to watch. So indulge in a power nap during the day if you can't maintain your usual bedtime routine.
3. Set realistic goals for your Christmas weight-loss plan
The reality is it's hard to lose weight during the holiday season, so adjust your weight-loss target, aiming for weight maintenance instead.
You'll feel better in January, having achieved a more realistic goal, and set yourself up for long-term success. Research confirms a stepped approach to weight loss – losing a set amount of weight over a month, maintaining that weight for another month, and repeating the process until your reach your target weight – will help you achieve and sustain the results traditional diets can't.
4. Ask Santa for a healthy gift
Adding a health-related gift to your Christmas wish list – some exercise gear or a healthy cookbook – is another easy, non-food way to avoid weight gain.
5. Fill up before you head out
If your festive season is filled with parties, enjoy pre-event snacks – like these tasty stuffed mushrooms – before you head out. That way, you're less likely to fill up on finger food that’s high in fat, salt and sugar and low in nutritional value.
You'll also be less likely to stop for an unhealthy fast food option on your way home.
6. Don't skip breakfast on Christmas Day
It's tempting to skip breakfast on Christmas morning to 'save' the calories for later. But this plan will fail when you arrive at lunch hungry!
Fuelling your body with a healthy and delicious breakfast – like these pancakes – will kickstart your metabolism and make you feel fuller to reduce the risk of overeating.
7. Have fun with food hacks
If you're cooking Christmas lunch, get creative by swapping in healthier ingredients and options. I promise your traditional fare will taste just as good, if not better.
- Roast your veggies using healthier cooking oils like olive and avocado, and use flavourful herbs instead of salt.
- Swap salted ham for leaner meats like fresh seafood that are better suited to a hot Aussie Christmas Day and taste even better when grilled on the barbie.
- Ditch the traditional heavy cakes and puddings for healthier options incorporating ginger and spices to still enjoy the flavours you love.
- Give store-bought sauces and dressings a miss, making your own from scratch using fresh ingredients.
8. Change your plating
A surefire way to ensure you enjoy all your favourite Christmas foods is to get your portions right. Aim to fill a quarter of your plate with protein, a quarter with whole grain carbs and the rest with healthier options, like salads and veggies.
Use smaller plates, too, to avoid overloading your plate and overeating. If you want to enjoy more of the foods you love, you can always go back for seconds. But this simple trick may mean that you decide not to, saving you from over-indulging.
9. Don't feel obliged to eat more
People equate showering us with Christmas food with showering us with love. So it's tricky to turn down seconds from a persistent host – especially when they've gone to great lengths to prepare your Christmas feast.
Be confident to say no if you feel full. The scales will thank you in January.
10. Eat mindfully
By now, I hope you'll agree that nothing in these top tips suggests skipping the things you love.
So when you're enjoying those special Christmas treats, ensure you're really enjoying them! Savour every bite and flavour. You'll enjoy it more, and your brain will have time to let your body know when you're full.
11. Skip the low-carb alcoholic drinks and enjoy your favourites (in moderation, of course)
Despite the marketing promises, low-carb alcoholic drinks are not better for our waistlines and won’t help you avoid Christmas weight gain. Many low-carb options have a similar amount of carbohydrates as regular options but lull us into thinking they're better, so we drink more.
Instead, enjoy the drinks you enjoy in moderation, stick to two standard drinks daily, and sip lots of water in between drinks to stay hydrated.
12. Get moving after lunch
Going straight from the Christmas table to the lounge can be tempting, but getting your body moving after lunch is the best way to burn off any extra calories you've enjoyed and avoid a post-Christmas weight gain. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous, just get active!
Have a happy, safe, healthy Christmas, and I look forward to sharing more weight-loss insights and tips with you in the new year.