Going “Out Out”? How to choose your meals wisely to avoid the dreaded Christmas weight gain
How to choose your meals wisely to avoid the dreaded Christmas weight gain
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” sang Andy Williams, but for many people the Christmas season comes with January consequences of carrying quite a few extra pounds that seem to take for ever to shift. Let’s understand what’s probably happening and what you can do to avoid the pitfalls.
After the non-event that last Christmas was, I can already see that people are determined to ensure they meet up with friends and colleagues. I think Christmas events started earlier this year and are running right up to Christmas. Last Saturday I took the train to London, and it was heaving with families and couples off for weekend breaks and to West End shows. This week alone, I have three Christmas “dos”.
So how do I – and how can you – avoid letting your good habits go so that you start January 2022 in pretty much the same shape that you left 2021?
Let’s start with dinner parties. You’re invited to someone’s house, where the meal is already chosen for you. You’ve no idea what will be served. Let’s assume it’s a three-course meal with cheese and biscuits, then chocolates at the end. Oh, and it starts with lengthy pre-dinner drinks and nibbles!
The best advice is to not starve yourself all day so that you arrive really hungry. It’s a false economy to skip a meal because you’re eating more later. You’ll arrive hungry and immediately dive into the crisps and peanuts.
Try and avoid the bread. It’s just starchy sugar and nothing more which is quickly converted to fat in the body.
With all meals – whether at home, a friend’s house or restaurant – always try and pause and eat more slowly. You’ll be surprised how you recognise you’re full before you have finished what’s on your plate. It takes time for the signal to travel from the sensors in your stomach to the brain and back to your mouth.
This is important for healthy digestion too. Take time to chew your food, put less on your fork, and just allow more time to eat what is on your plate. I see far too many people gobble down their food without any consideration for how their poor stomach will digest the food that has barely been chewed.
If you’re able to serve yourself, then try to choose more non-starchy vegetables and less of the starches. The rice, pasta, pastry, potatoes and other root vegetables (except carrots) are the ones that create rapidly rising blood glucose levels. It is this excess sugar that becomes fat around the abdomen.
What about puddings? I practice the 80;20 Pareto rule (more like 90:10 most of the time). An occasional pudding cannot undo all your good habits. You don’t have to say no and deprive yourself. But aim to have a really small portion. If you eat this really slowly too, it will feel like you have had more.
Ah! the chocolates. This is my weakness. But I hope by this time I am quite full. Again, like puddings, I will have a couple and try to really enjoy them slowly.
If cheese and biscuits are also served, the cheese will cause less harm than the crackers. Have a couple of small slices of cheese without the biscuits.
The Next Day
Do you wake up feeling guilty as you had more food and more courses than normal? You may choose to skip breakfast and practice “Time Restricted eating”. A 16-hour window between meals is recognised as a helpful approach to weight management (and healthy ageing). Get up, go for a lovely walk and have your first meal lunchtime.
And eat normally. Your body will quickly revert to its usual pattern of hunger and satiety.
Do you wake feeling hungry? This may be due to a lack of protein and fats with your meal. Did you eat meat, fish, lentils or pulses? The protein content of your meal will keep you full for much longer than any type of carbohydrates.
Pubs and Restaurants
Here you can choose what you want to eat. You have no restrictions of a set meal. Now is the time to scan the menu and quickly strike off the pasta dishes, risottos, pizzas, pies and big plates of chips. If you’re a meat lover, a steak or lamb are good options. If you like fish, choose the non-battered types. Vegetarians and vegans have a harder time but try and opt for a dish with pulses or tofu.
I find the vegetable servings shockingly small. Add a side order of vegetables and ask for the chips to be served on the side or not at all, and share a portion with someone else in the party (if they’re prepared to!).
I worry less about the sauces than I do about the starchy carbohydrates. But if you are concerned, ask for the sauce to be served in a jug on the side.
These can be difficult. Canapes are notoriously “unhealthy” with lots of pastry and not much else. Just think of the sausage rolls! Alcohol can increase the hunger and can make it difficult to resist.
If you really are determined not to undo all your hard work leading up to Christmas, it’s essential to eat before you go. A small omelette or a small bowl of lentil soup are good options. Both are quick, easy, nourishing and filling. This way you arrive without the hunger, and you can enjoy a few canapes during the evening without overconsumption.
It only takes a little thought and advance planning. Eating out can then be enjoyable and not a cause for concern about your waistband in January 2022.
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