The idea that we can throw caution to the wind, indulge but also avoid Christmas weight gain, emerging into January polishing our halo’s is really appealing. You may think, in order to achieve this, I’m going to tell you to eat less mince pies and more satsumas. Well, I’m not because like always, I think there’s more to it than that.

Instead, let’s consider the following…

What are your expectations about your weight over Christmas?

Firstly, it’s worth remembering our body weight will fluctuate across a year and that this is far more normal than maintaining exactly the same weight all the time. Genetically, before we try to manipulate things too much, we are programmed to sit across a small spectrum that the body still recognises as being in homeostasis (balance).

Secondly, it’s important to note, body weight is meant to change over our lifetime – irrespective of external influences our body composition and therefore our weight will change as we age.

So rather than asking what your expectations about your weight are over Christmas, perhaps also consider what your expectations are about your weight generally and whether they need to be reviewed or approached in a slightly different way

Coping with the ‘What the hell, it’s Christmas’ effect

Gaining weight over Christmas is common and I think part of the problem is that ‘Christmas’ starts sometime in November. The extended festive period gives us ample opportunity to indulge and whilst it falls under the umbrella of ‘Christmas’ it’s out of our hands, right?

I would argue it is our belief that we can’t do much about it anyway, that changes our attitudes and behaviours – and all the micro decisions we make around food and alcohol, across those festive weeks.

What if we didn’t have this belief? What if we actually said, ‘I get to choose what I put in my mouth, it is my decision, but can I pause for a moment and ask myself whether I actually want it? Will it taste as good as the first mouthful did?’ ‘Why do I want to continue eating? Is it because it is genuinely still as satisfying as it was to start with? Or is it because I’ve started so I may as well finish?’

It’s worth asking yourself what lies beneath these in the moment decisions sometimes.

Understanding why we’re tempted to eat more ‘just because it’s Christmas’

I think this has a lot to do with the people we spend time with. Have you noticed the amount of permission to eat we grant ourselves if we see others also indulging? Comparing ourselves to others makes us switch off from what our own body is telling us.

We’re taught wrongly to feel rebellious if we’re eating foods that we’re programmed to think are ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. Before we know it, we’ve turned into a gaggle of children, bonded by our joint naughtiness and rebellion.   

This isn’t about making rationale, sensible decisions all the time. We’re allowed to be spontaneous and fluid, especially at Christmas time. But it is often underlying thoughts of what lies ahead, that drives our Christmas eating habits and Christmas weight gain.

The thoughts of the hideous January that loom

Whether you’re planning to start a new diet in January, do dry January or just ‘get back on track’ all those thoughts can feel quite negative. We create a picture in our minds of how deprived we’ll feel in January. This makes us more likely to seek comfort through the festive season. ‘I’ll worry about it later’ ‘don’t think about it now’ ‘best enjoy this whilst I still can’

I feel though that this attitude has the potential to lead to even more food, snacks, whatever. What if January didn’t feel like it was going to be quite so hideous? What if, instead there isn’t this constant cycle of overindulgence and restriction and food just gets to be food.

As well as the complex mindset stuff, it’s also worth thinking about our environments, and how we can get ourselves up to win so I’ll close with a few practical tips:

Top tips for coping with the Christmas buffet

  • Research into different body sizes tells us there are differences. If you pick up cues to eat easily and don’t have reliable fullness indicators, sit further away from the food which will reduce what your brain subconsciously is scanning for.
  • The buffet is not there as a bush tucker trial – you do not have to include something from every dish. Instead, survey the scene beforehand and pick out what really appeals.
  • Try to choose a smaller plate as this will help to redefine to your brain what’s enough.

Top tips for the Christmas drinks party

  • Ask for your drink in a tall, thin glass. Research shows you’ll drink less if it’s presented in this way.
  • Insist you finish your glass first before it’s topped up so you can keep a bit more of a track on how much you’ve had.
  • Enjoy every morsel of the canape created just for you and allow your brain to register its yumminess. Find ways to savour the mindfulness when you eat, which may involve talking to really boring people, so you can focus on more scintillating things!
  • Have a really healthy lunch beforehand – when we eat well we’re more inclined to want to keep this going. I know you’re probably scoffing at this but healthy does breed healthy according to behavioural scientists. If you think Christmas cancels this out, then think of the benefits of regulated blood sugar levels to prevent diving into the peanut bowl on arrival.

Top tips for Christmas day

Ironically Christmas dinner can be one of the healthiest meals eaten together as a family; with lean turkey, plenty of fresh vegetables and fruity pudding for dessert. Savour it, taste it and enjoy the only meal of the year where you can wear a paper crown with pride.

If you’d like this January to be different and you fancy breaking up with dieting for good, join the waiting list for more news of my next Break Up with Dieting Course launching in the New Year.