How do we handle food during the holidays?
Some of the options we have been hearing year on. If I eat nothing but leaves for the whole of the coldest month of the year (shoutout to the brave souls tackling salads in December..!) I could eat everything over Christmas, because I will have made up for it for weeks before that. Right?
As you may have guessed, no.
First, good luck on your detox or low-carb diet at friends’ dinners, at work parties, at early celebrations. Living on fried air leading up to the holidays will instil evolutionary mechanism in your body (we have talked about this in the sugar highlights) i.e., the restrict-binge cycle. This entails more than extreme hunger: the prolonged food restriction may lead to increased stress, which in turn can sensitise you to the reward effects of hyper-palatable food, potentially lead to overeating.
Secondly, even if you do manage to lose weight before Christmas with a quick-fix diet, the rapid weight loss will trigger a series of hormonal signals in your body (i.e., reduced Leptin) which can lead to overfeeding and reduced energy expenditure. In a real life setting, this means that your fullness cues will be virtually non-existent, as your body will be trying to make up for the rapid weight-loss to drive you back to your original set-point. Again, overeating.
In short, every physiological mechanism in your body is working to counteract the weight loss that you fought so hard to achieve at an unrealistic pace in the weeks prior to Christmas Day.
What is all of this for?
Christmas can be a deeply stressful time if you are struggling with food. But, the weight you “gain” after a Christmas lunch will be nothing more than some carbohydrate stores (the same that stop you from passing out between meals), and water. And the holidays do not have to be an eating competition if you don’t want them to be. Pace yourselves, drink your water, enjoy the conviviality and the atmosphere and everything AROUND the dining table.
Until then, spread out the mince pies, eat your stews, share pastries, shift the focus away from those one, two, five meals.