How to Eat, Drink and Be Merry (without the guilt)
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Christmas soon. That means it’s time for food, fizz, friends, family and possibly panicking about how on Earth you’re going to manage to avoid weight gain when there’s food, fizz, friends and family around you at all times for a few weeks. This short blog is hopefully here to alleviate all of that and make sure you can enjoy the period stress-free!
The first thing we need to get out of the way is the simple fact of thermodynamics and how weight gain and loss works. I wrote about how calories and weight management work HERE (https://ditchthedietacademy.com/fat-loss-gain-how-it-really-works/) so it’s worth checking that out for a little more detail if you’re not sure what I’m about to say sounds right, but simply here’s the deal:
1kg of body fat represents a storage of around 7000calories of useable energy. That means that in order to store one kilo of body fat you need to eat:
- The number of calories your body needs on a day to day basis
- A little more, because once you eat over and above this your body will burn some off as heat (meat sweats anyone?), store some as glycogen to use for movement later, and put some into muscle mass, even if you haven’t trained
- 7000 additional calories.
Doing that in one day is going to be a bit of a challenge. It works out to be in the region of 160 celebrations chocolates on top of the 2000 or so you need on a resting day in order to gain an amount of weight you wouldn’t even notice and that would take around a week to lose by simply going back to what you were doing before. This means that unless you go absolutely HAM on the chocolates and cakes and snacks and sweets the worst thing that’s going to happen (if we’re defining it that way) is that you gain 1-2kg over the next couple weeks.
And honestly, who gives a shit? That’ll take a few weeks of a slow and easy calorie reduction to lose, if you want to.
With that out of the way we need to talk about permission to eat – something that YOU have, unconditionally. You’re an adult, and because of that you are allowed to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever quantity you want. Sure, if you make generally ‘better’ choices (minimally processed foods, plenty of plants, enough protein, etc) then this will likely have a favourable effect on your body composition and health, and if you generally make choices that are not in line with this then the opposite will happen, but you STILL have permission to make whatever choice you make. Seriously, you could have cake for breakfast and the police won’t come round or anything!
You’re allowed to eat the cake or the chocolate
You’re allowed the prosecco
And on the flip side, you’re allowed to choose the carrot sticks with hummus if that’s what you’d genuinely rather have, no matter what the “Oh just live a little” people say
You’re allowed to choose whatever it is that you personally want to eat, and because of that food guilt shouldn’t ever come into the equation. (for more on this, check out this blog (https://ditchthedietacademy.com/i-shouldnt-have-eaten-that-food-guilt/) where I outline this whole principle – it’s a really important read).
This becomes especially true when we remember that looking after your body is something that you do on average over a long period of time, rather than something you necessarily do moment to moment. If you spend 50 weeks of the year making great choices and exercising, honestly what you do for the other 2 weeks couldn’t really matter less.
This is ESPECIALLY true when you remember this: Health is not just about body weight or physical wellbeing – it also includes mental and social wellbeing, so if you’re going to make yourself a social pariah while also resisting everything you really want over the festive period you’re going to end up miserable and lonely.
Not exactly what I’d describe as a healthy way to be.
Now a caveat – I also wouldn’t define 2 weeks of drinking excessively and eating until you feel sluggish and bloated as healthy, either.
It’s my advice that everyone finds some kind of balance over the festive period. A balance between drinking and not (if you do). A balance between late nights and sleeping properly. A balance between chilling out and being active. A balance between cake and vegetables.
And while there are a lot of ways to skin that cat, my typical advice is the following:
- Treat special days as unusual, and the other days as usual. Christmas and the day either side and New Year’s Eve and Day make up 5 days and on those days – just eat and drink however the hell you want. That leaves 360 days where you’re not doing that, and so again – if you’re making generally better choices or working towards doing so then it doesn’t really matter.
- Drink in moderation most of the time. Interspersing alcohol with soft drinks keeps you hydrated, cuts back on alcohol, reduces hangovers and keeps you cruising in that really enjoyable “kinda buzzed” stage of drunk instead of slipping into “I’m slurring my words and will regret this tomorrow” stage.
- Try to get to bed at a sensible time unless you have a social reason not to. Sleep is really important and if you’re cutting back because you want to watch Elf by yourself that’s fine, but you will feel like garbage because of it
- Be a dessert snob. Homemade cakes/cookies? Delicious looking store-bought stuff? Go for it. Random bits of chocolate or cake that could be eaten any day of the year? Maybe skip it – not because it’s bad, but because you’re probably only eating it because it’s there and not because you really want it (of course if you do, then go right ahead)
- On that, try to avoid leaving snacks and cakes and things lying about everywhere – you won’t eat them because you want them but because they’re there and you can see them all the time. Keep things in the cupboard/out of the way where you won’t see them so much (check out THIS PODCAST on the food environment for more detail here)
- Stay active over the festive period. Family walks/hikes/bike rides and even gym sessions can be an enjoyable way to move, sweat, and feel great – vegetating on the couch can be nice but breaking it up with some movement makes it even better
- Make sure you have some idea of how you’re going to get back to your usual habits come January 2nd. The primary reason that people end up going off the rails, in general, is that something gets in the way and breaks good habits – the festive period can definitely be that thing, and so while enjoying yourself over the next few weeks is really important it’s also important that when life gets back to normal you’re able to snap back to working on your overall health
- And whatever you do – ENJOY IT. Do not feel guilty. Do not second guess yourself. And don’t have that “I want this but shouldn’t have it” thing. You have unconditional permission to eat whatever you want and that goes double during Christmas. If you’re not sure about this, remember, even if you ate 2000 calories more than you need over the next 2 weeks, a total of 14000kcal over and above your needs (you won’t), this can be lost really easily before February by simply using a small calorie deficit. It doesn’t matter, at all
Don’t let concerns around temporarily storing more energy on your body get in the way of spending time and making memories with your friends and family – after all, which are you going to feel more guilty about in 20 years’ time?