People will gain weight at Christmas for several reasons. For many of us, it is a relaxing time and we tend to be more sedentary through this period. It can also be a more social time, and can present additional situations for increased caloric intake with a greater variety of foods, larger portion sizes and increased alcohol consumption (Mason et al, 2018).
For some people, the festive period may be a time of added pressure and anxiety. This can be due to financial difficulties, or family/relationship issues and these stressors may trigger some unhealthy habits.
Following this period many will set New Year’s resolutions with the aim to spark positive change, one of the most common resolutions being a more active approach to health and fitness. Below are some tips to help you follow through and meet these resolutions:
1. Be kind to yourself
- If you're feeling bad about your body, current fitness level or lack of willpower, don't give yourself such a hard time, this will only demotivate you.
- Try to avoid being judgemental and self-critical during this time, and instead treat yourself with the kindness and patience you would treat a friend with in the same scenario. Practice speaking to yourself kindly, and be appreciative of your body and all that it does for you.
2. Goal setting
- Refocus your priorities and ensure that your health and fitness are towards the top. If living a healthy and active lifestyle is important to you, then make it a priority which you make time for every day.
- The article on goal setting has some further information on how to set achievable and sustainable goals for everyday life.
3. Get active
- Being active can benefit you both physically and mentally. As well as the health benefits, exercise has been shown to boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy levels. Below are some tips on increasing activity levels in a sustainable way to ensure that regular exercise becomes a part of your lifestyle:
- Start off slowly and build up the intensity; it is easier to start off with smaller and more attainable goals that you are able to achieve than ones which are overly ambitious. With time, you can gradually increase the intensity and move onto more challenging goals.
- Do activities that you enjoy; choosing activities which fit your abilities and that you find enjoyable will be much easier to stick to. The NHS website has a guide on different activities you can try here.
- Walking is an easy way to incorporate exercise into your everyday routine. Try to increase your step count throughout the day by doing some of the following:
- Go for a walk during your lunch breaks at work.
- Park your car further away when going to work or the shops.
- Rather than taking the lift or the escalator, opt for the stairs.
- Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
- Get the whole family involved and schedule regular family walks.
- Restart your normal exercise routine; if you took a break during the holiday period, try to get back into routine. To begin with, decrease the intensity and slowly increase this overtime.
- Listen to your body; avoid putting too much pressure on yourself and overexerting your body. Ensure that you are giving yourself enough time enough to rest and recover throughout the week.
4. Balanced diet and meal planning
- You should aim to eat a healthy and balanced diet whatever your physical activity levels may be. This will ensure your body is getting all the nutrients that it needs.
- The Eatwell Guide is the UK's healthy eating model and aims to help you understand how much food from each food group you should be having in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet (you do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a day or even a week).
- Below are some further tips for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet following the festive period:
- Take control over portions; after a period of eating in surplus, you may find that you are eating more than you usually would. The British Heart Foundation have some tips on how to portion control.
- Snack smarter; rather than opting for snacks which are high in calories, try swapping these for some lower calorie alternatives. You can find some examples of these on the NHS website by clicking here.
- Only eat between meals if you are hungry; during the holiday period, it can be easy to get into the habit of ‘grazing’ throughout the day. Try to ensure you have three meals a day which are balanced, filling and spaced out.
- Get rid of leftovers; re-establish your normal eating habits as soon as the holiday festive period is over. If you have any leftover biscuits, cakes, chocolates etc. donate these to foodbanks.
- Prepare meals in advance; this does require some time and effort, however it is an easier and faster way to ensure that there is a healthy meal for your whole family to enjoy on a busy week night. Further information on meal prepping.
- If you are stuck for meal ideas, the British Heart Foundation has a sample menu available on their website to help with planning 7 days of healthy meals on a budget.
5. Drink plenty of water
- Avoid sugary drinks such as soft drinks and energy drinks which are often high in calories, and instead opt for water. If you find drinking water difficult, try adding some slices of fruit, or a sugar free squash.
- Avoid or limit your alcohol consumption. As well as having a noticeable impact on your weight, it can cause more serious health problems. See the page on alcohol and weight management for some further information on this.
6. Prioritise sleep
- Research has shown that sleep deprivation can alter appetite regulating hormones (Greer et al, 2013). Hormones which signal when we are full and when we are hungry are negatively affected, and this can subsequently increase appetite. In particular, we are likely to crave energy-dense, high-carbohydrate foods, and having these in surplus may result in weight gain.
- If you have difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime routine may help you to wind down and prepare for bed. Below are some tips which can help put into place a good bedtime routine:
- Be consistent with the time you go to sleep and wake up every morning.
- Disconnect from electronic devices 60 minutes before bed.
- Have a wind down routine and do things you find calming to help to put you in a relaxed state.
- Avoid caffeine in the evening.
- Prepare your bedroom and ensure that things are as cool, dark and quiet as possible before you get into bed.
Watch this short video by Breathing Space National Coordinator Tony McLaren which includes some simple tips to help get a good night’s sleep.
- Mason F, Farley A, Pallan M, Sitch A, Easter C, Daley A J et al. Effectiveness of a brief behavioural intervention to prevent weight gain over the Christmas holiday period: randomised controlled trial BMJ 2018; 363 :k4867 doi:10.1136/bmj.k4867
- NHS - Get active your way
- NHS - Eat well
- BHF - Top tips for portion control
- BHF - Sample menus
- Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature communications, 4, 2259. doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3259
Updated on: 21/04/2022