Many of us seem to get confused between the last supper and Christmas day. You know the scene – you’ve had a champers or three, you’re already full with canapés, the main meal is yet to be served, and you’re wondering whether to have brandy butter or custard with your pudding. Yes, ‘tis the season to exceed your energy intake needs and, with it, gain weight.
And while a couple of festive kay-gees isn’t itself a disaster, the double serve of self-loathing many of us will feel for the (guilty) pleasure can spell the end of festive cheer – or at least a decent misery interval while the scale reading makes its way back to neutral. The cruel irony is that the solution seems to be at odds with the season’s sedentary rituals.
“The more you sit around and do nothing, the less you can get away with, essentially,” says Freddy Warren, national fitness manager for Fernwood.
“The more alcohol you drink the more excess quick-use kilojoules you add and the more of other excess foods your body begins to store as fat. The longer this goes on the more fat is stored and the more you have to get rid of with a body that has grown accustomed to life in the ‘top paddock’.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have your cake and eat it, too, and you can certainly bounce back fitter and healthier than ever, without ruining all your fun in the process.
What can you get away with?
One kilogram of fat equates to 37,000 kilojoules. So, in theory, if you consume 37,000 kilojoules more than you would normally eat during the course of a week, you’re likely to put on an extra kilogram of weight. Which is easy to do.
“37,000 kilojoules over the course of a week equates to about 5,200 kilojoules a day, which is like having two glasses of wine and a handful of cheese and bikkies each day,” says accredited practising dietitian Melanie McGrice. “It doesn’t take much,” she concedes.
But some people are far more easily affected by a slight kilojoule increase than others.
“People who have more muscle mass are able to indulge for a short period of time and get away with it, whereas people who have a higher percentage of body fat tend to put on weight easily,” says McGrice.
“Some people put on weight as soon as they look at a piece of chocolate cake. They’re the ones with a higher percentage of body fat.”
Curiously, some people appear to burn off extra kilojoules simply by fidgeting while they’re eating, McGrice says.
How does a blowout affect your body?
The unfortunate part about having a weight gain blowout is that it can set you up for further blowouts in years to come.
“When we gain weight we often grow new fat cells,” explains McGrice. “You don’t get rid of those fat cells when you lose weight, they just shrink down again. They’re always there, so that’s how you often rebound with weight gain in the future.”
Should you weigh yourself and count kilojoules?
Weighing yourself can be a useful indicator of long term progress but obsessing about your weight is counter productive.
“Weighing yourself is a mood predictor rather than improving health and it’s not really about looking after your body,” says clinical psychologist Louise Adams.
“Working with people who have problems with their weight, I overwhelmingly find that weighing yourself doesn’t help because the body weight reading one morning can dictate feeling bad about yourself and the more you feel bad about yourself, the more likely you are to eat emotionally.
“Conversely, if the scales are down you feel fantastic. But you’re still reinforcing the idea that body weight is the focus and the reason for looking after your body.”
Rather than being weight or scale focused, we should be “health focused”, says Adams.
“Body weight fluctuates so much anyway, especially in women, and it doesn’t really tell you about what’s going on in your body.”
How can you minimise the damage?
Giving yourself restrictions with no other plan is fraught. You need to enjoy yourself, indulge a little and have time to relax. But at the same time there are plenty of healthy things you can do to balance things.
“Aim to have no more than two consecutive days where you do the triple whammy of overeating, over-drinking, and doing nothing,” says Warren.
“Have days where you go and drink ice cold glasses of lemon juice while swimming and lying on the beach and eating prawn salads and lean chicken for lunch and dinner, rather than a barbecued sausage and beer fest sitting in front of the cricket all day.”
Physical activity is also a great way of squaring up the ledger. “If you do some active outdoor exercise or recreational activity and have some leaner days without heavy food and alcohol consumption, you can enjoy a few big meals and maybe a few more drinks than usual,” Warren says.
What is the best way to bounce back?
Okay, so despite your good intentions, the blowout happened – don’t panic! Just turn your attention to getting back on track.
“Don’t use the ‘oh, all my effort has been wasted’ approach,” Warren advises.
“The sooner you can go and do some exercise or activity and even have a one or two day break from over consumption during the festive period, the quicker your body will adapt to consuming what it was before the gourmet extravaganza began.
“Don’t let over-consumption become a habit that continues after the festive season. Identify when it will end and when normal practice will resume.”
What you don’t want to do is go on a restrictive diet, McGrice warns.
“You should definitely not skip meals, that’s the worst thing you can do,” she says. “Skipping meals makes you overly hungry and you’re really going to overeat when you do have a meal.
“Just try to maintain a healthy diet, rather than cutting back, and increase physical activity to compensate [for special occasion eating behaviour].”
5 TACTICS TO OVERCOME GUILT AND MOVE ON: with expert opinion from Clinical Psychologist Louise Adams
1. Make guilt the enemy
Many of us feel guilty after a food ‘blowout’ and subsequent weight gain. We assume that guilt is helpful, that it can motivate us to be ‘good’ with food (at least for a while). But guilt can lead to rash decisions, like going on a strict new diet or becoming overly focused on food and body weight. These types of regimes never last for long and often lead straight back to ‘blowing out’ once again.
Guilt also makes us feel bad about our bodies and can serve to reinforce negative body image. Feeling bad about our bodies doesn’t help us to look after them. So lose the guilt!
2. Motivate with self compassion
Self compassion means developing a kind and understanding relationship towards yourself, particularly during difficult times. Self-compassion means treating yourself as if you were a treasured friend. Research shows that people scoring highly in self-compassion take better care of their health and their bodies than people low in self compassion.
So, in response to a blowout, a self compassionate response might be something like: “I can understand how I went overboard with eating this Christmas – it’s been tough to ‘resist’ all those opportunities to eat. I’m going to do my best to learn from this experience and have a go at treating my body differently.”
3. Treat your body well rather than focusing on weight
Having a ‘target weight’ means you are concentrating on the outcome, not the process. It’s like trying to become a millionaire by constantly cursing the fact that you are not yet rich! The only way to make a million dollars is to focus on managing your money well. In weight management, the only way to get close to your goal weight is to focus on what you are doing every day – the small steps, such as being active and planning meals. Or, the process, not the outcome.
4. Relax ‘food rules’ and resist the temptation to diet
Learn to eat from the body rather than eating from the head. ‘Head eating’ is when we ignore our bodies and eat according to certain ‘rules’. Having food rules makes us feel deprived, and sets up a preoccupation with the very foods we are trying to avoid. Food becomes ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and the bad food is so very seductive. Before long most of us break the rules in some manner, and this can lead to overeating the ‘bad’ food.
5. Develop mindful eating skills
Mindful eating involves paying attention to the body’s internal signals. How hungry am I feeling? How full am I getting? How satisfying is this food? Mindful eating also means slowing down, and paying full attention to the act of eating. Focus on sensory input such as the sight, texture, and smell of the food. c