As a nutritionist I get requests every year from magazines and journalists asking me for tips and quotes on ways to ‘avoid the festive weight gain’ or for ‘guilt-free Christmas recipes’. And if your inbox and twitter feed looks anything like mine, it’ll currently be full to the brim with ‘survival guides’, ‘action plans’ and ‘strategies’ for avoiding the ‘dreaded Christmas weight gain’ (*unfollow). Anyone would think that we’re preparing for going into battle, rather than entering the festive season.
I’m not going to pretend that avoiding Christmas weight gain isn’t something that will likely cross all of our minds at some point this month and something that we’d all prefer. In fact just this week I’m running a workshop for Charlton Athletic Football Club’s Women’s team on ways to reduce weight gain over the holidays. Yet the difference here is that these women are sports professionals (ok, frustratingly still semi-professionals) who’s passion and job it is to perform at their peak. And for athletes, this means staying within their optimum weight. Yet for the rest of us, is there really anything so wrong with gaining a couple of pounds this December? If it means that by doing so we will get to truly enjoy meals with friends and family without upsetting hosts, skipping precious sleep to get to the gym and beating ourselves up with negativity and guilt? In a word, NO.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Most articles you’ll read talking about the festive pounds will quote stats such as ‘the average person gains half a stone over Christmas’ yet if we look at the studies, it’s actually not this drastic. We’re all different – and while some people will gain weight, others will lose it, and many will stay just about the same. What’s more, most of us fluctuate in weight by a couple of kilos from week to week, if not day-to-day so the chances are that this will continue over the Christmas period.
If however, you do notice that your jeans are feeling a little more snug by January 1st, or even by December 15th here’s why it’s OK.
- Christmas is a time for socialising – and we know that people who spend time with others are happier, less likely to be depressed and actually live longer.
- Sharing food and meals with others is a way to express gratitude, joy and love. Three things we all need more of in our lives.
- Rest and relaxation, particularly in our busy ‘have it all’ lives can be rare. When else in the year do we have an excuse to wear our cozies, watch Christmas films/the darts all day and catch up on sleep? Embrace the time out.
- It’s all in the mind – it’s been shown that people who go through life as restrictive eaters with the ‘diet mentality’ and see foods as either good or bad, are more likely to gain weight than those who are non-restrictive eaters. One of the reasons for this is that restrictive eaters who view food as ‘fearful’ or ‘bad’ will have more negative emotions and underlying levels of the stress hormone cortisol (linked to fat storage). In addition, feeling anxious when eating means that the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for digestion never really switches on properly, meaning that the body doesn’t digest food or recognise that you’re even eating. If you’re struggling with anxiety around food, it can help to surround yourself with people who have a relaxed approach to food, look to activities that don’t have such a ‘food centric’ focus to take part in over Christmas and share how you’re feeling with the people around you.
- One easy way to overcome this anxiety is to practice mindful eating. Take the time to sit down and focus solely on your food when eating. Chew each mouthful slowly, appreciate the taste, texture, scent and enjoy it. Go back to basics and think of food as nourishment for the body and mind.
- Some weight gain isn’t actually as awful as the press would leave us to believe. Yes obesity is a health problem that cannot be denied, but did you know that being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight? In fact, studies have shown that while being underweight increases your risk of death, being ‘moderately overweight’ may protect you from an early death! Pass the mince pies..:-)
- Despite being a fun-filled time for many, Christmas comes with its added pressures, expectations and anxiety. Is it worth adding another unnecessary one? Practice being kind to yourself with this simple exercise: Each day over the next week, write down one thing that you’re grateful that your body can do. It may be as simple as ‘I’m grateful that my body has the strength to get me to and from work each day’ or ‘I’m grateful that my body was amazing enough to produce my children’, or ‘I’m grateful that my body is here and allowing me to see new things each day.’ Without wishing to sound pious, our bodies are incredible things that deserve to be looked after and this means nourishing ourselves not just through the foods we eat, but also in the company we keep, the way we choose to spend our time and through our outlook on the world.
So we’re urging you to ditch the guilt this December, keep the balance and start your journey of acceptance. #31daysofacceptance