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Ok, it is the time of year for parties, late nights, excess alcohol, continual food, all on a daily basis. It is only for a few weeks then January can be cold turkey. Wow, I bet our body really loves December and January, what a shock to the system. We still expect to function optimally in order to carry on this hedonistic lifestyle followed by complete withdrawal.
Now there is nothing wrong with having a good time but research shows that adults will eat an extra 2,410 calories a day over Christmas, with many eating a whopping 4,350-calorie roast dinner on the big day itself. Rich puddings and cakes, bottomless tins of chocolates, roast potatoes and lots of bubbles can see some people put on at least 2lbs between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.(1)
Are you a seasonal dieter? Do you spend your year beginning diets to lose those extra pounds that accrued over Christmas and the New Year? Or manically try to lose weight to fit into last year’s bikini? The average American begins 4 diets a year, they obviously never work otherwise we would not all be on this perpetual roller coaster.
So what does the word diet mean to you? Is it restriction of food or calories in order to deprive yourself of many of the things that you love for as long as you can holdout. Then it all becomes too much and you break the rules. Now some of us can cope with breaking rules and are able to pick ourselves up and carry on. Many, however, decide that's it the diet is over. We have failed. If we are lucky we may console ourselves with having lost a few pounds anyway, so we don’t feel too disappointed although they will probably reappear in a few weeks.
Are you the one that looks at a cake and gains inches or tell yourself you deserve that chocolate cake? Is it rude to decline food when someone has made an effort so a little bit won’t hurt or I will skip dinner to balance out the day?
Everyday we continue to say oh I’m watching my weight, what a strange expression, watching it grow? Monitoring it on a daily basis, how tedious it is. Wouldn’t it be empowering to just eat and forget about calories, high fat low carb, paleo, Atkin’s, Weightwatchers et al.
The Oxford English dictionary defines diet in two ways ‘The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.’ or "A special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons."
However, the latter definition only came into being in the 13th Century it’s previous meaning related to “a regime", as in a way of life and this is how I believe we should still relate to it.
It makes sense that your diet is your way of life, the way that you live, the food and drink that you consume. By rights we are always on a diet it just varies in its make up. One person’s vegetarian is another person’s pescatarian.
How can we change our attitude to food to maintain a healthy way of life? Firstly, we have to deal with the cravings we may experience which generally, but not always, involve sugar. However, I am not just talking about the white, brown or golden granulated kinds that we add to tea and coffee or sprinkle on strawberries. We are including all of the items that break down into sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol that boost blood glucose levels and create the wheel of addiction. This may not be the best time of year to suggest this as a way of life, but then again a little forethought may reduce the New Year yo-yo dieting, that in many lives is part of the annual ritual.
Do you know there are at least 56 different names for sugar,? So those labels need to be checked carefully. Remember, it is not just the obvious cakes and biscuits that contain hidden sugars, but baked beans, pies, ketchup, sauces, ready meals, tinned soups, sushi and crackers to name a few.
How can we achieve this? The best way to reduce cravings is to eat a diet of foods with a low glycemic load (GL) that do not spike blood glucose levels. The GL load of a food is the measure of the quantity and quality of carbohydrate. The number indicates the effect each food has on our blood glucose levels. Foods with a high GL rate encourage the body to store fat.
What defines a low GL carbohydrate?
Low: 10 or less
Medium: 11 – 19
High: 20 or more
For weight maintenance 65 - 100 GL’s should be adequate dependant upon gender, weight size andactivity levels. While for weight loss maintain between 35 - 45 GL’s a day split proportionately across meals. A comprehensive database of the GL value of various carbohydrates is available on https://www.patrickholford.com/topic/low-gl. However, as a guide if you lean towards the less starchy vegetables and fruits, in particular tropical fruits have a very high glycemic load. Also note that cooking, cooling and reheating reduces the GL of starchy foods like potatoes, rice and pasta.(2)
When blood glucose is maintained at optimal levels energy, mood and appetite are normalised. This means we have enough energy for the day and happily eat balanced meals. Make sure to eat protein with any carbohydrates to reduce the speed the sugar is released.(3)
Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts (not salted), oily fish, flax and chia seeds are all great options and while protein is the most satiating food, fats can also be filling.
Eat at regular intervals, 2 or maximum 3 times a day, your body is a clock and likes to be regulated. Snacking should not be necessary if meals are balanced with macronutrients. If you do feel the need then always select a healthy option, nuts and fruit, almond butter and an oatcake.
Intermittent fasting is another subject in itself but many people unless pregnant, or in poor health try to only eat within a small window of the day. Many opt for either a 8, 10 or 12 hour window of eating. The best advice is to eat earlier in the day, not just before bed in order to let the body recuperate properly whilst sleeping. Intermittent fasting helps to maintain or can even induce weight loss, obviously dependant upon the food and drink consumed in the window.(4)
Don’t let yourself become starving hungry so all control is lost and any food appears attractive.
Preplan and be prepared for those difficult occasions at parties with nibbles, try to eat in advance to avoid temptation. Plan weekly menus to save time, money and wastage.
Eating out is probably one of the hardest times to maintain a degree of moderation, especially if alcohol is involved. However, please do not try to abstain from everything that you love, but pay attention to your own thoughts and give consideration to the food on your fork. How will it affect the health of your gut, mood, sleep and energy levels? Drink water to keep hydrated, alternate each alcoholic drink with water or soda or add soda to the drink itself. Live by the 80/20 rule where possible and if some days are more 20/80 don’t beat yourself up. Pick yourself up the next day and carry on. The only moment that counts is now, we can live in the past or the future but neither of them is the reality.
Maintain a food diary to help identify any weak spots and the triggers behind them. Hopefully, these situations will then be more ably avoided.
Which one are you?
Do you step back and consider “do I really want another glass of wine, mince pie or Celebration chocolate?”
or does that voice say
“Go on it’s Christmas, eat the chocolates, be sociable have another beer.”
If you do experience a hangover, heartburn, indigestion or bloating, many herbal teas give comfort and relief such as:-
chamomile - helps relieve heartburn and acid reflux, also aids digestion,
dandelion - helps eliminate toxins,
ginger - aids digestion, eases wind and balances blood sugar,
peppermint - relieves nausea and wind, has a strong antimicrobial action,
and fennel - eases bloating and upset tummy's.(5)
The supplement silymarin or aka milk thistle is beneficial for the liver in times of excess and reportedly helps relieve hangover symptoms.(6)
Enjoy the celebrations.
1. A Dowden Nutritionist Daily Mail