It's that time of year again! The decorations are up, the presents are under the tree and the fridge is bursting with food! More often than not, people come back from the Christmas period a few pounds heavier thanks to overindulgence and lack of exercise. How can we avoid these pitfalls and set ourselves up for a successful 2020?
Double Up On Protein
It is easy to say “avoid sugar” or “don’t eat too much”. And while these are VERY important to avoid over-eating and subsequently gaining weight this Christmas, the reality is that in this country Christmas has almost become synonymous with over-indulgence. So, how can we trick ourselves into eating less?
One way we can do this is to have extra protein with your meals. Protein is said to be more satiating than carbohydrates and fat, though evidence is inconclusive in this regard. With that being said, filling up on protein is a good idea when you know you are going to be eating a lot of food.
Filling your plate with mostly green vegetables is also a good way to avoid consuming too many calories. Green vegetables are often lower in calories than other foods you may consume this Christmas and are also important sources of minerals and vitamins.
Just take it easy on the sprouts for….obvious reasons.
Relax and unwind! Stress is your worst enemy when trying to get in shape. Cortisol - the hormone released when you are stressed - has many effects on the body; both positive and negative. While cortisol can help the body in times of acute stress - think ‘fight or flight’ - when it is chronically elevated it can have some pretty bad effects (1):
Immune system suppression
So, to avoid stress, ensure you sleep well, make time to have fun with those you care about and stay active. Which brings us on to the next point.
Being active over the Christmas period is very important. Any prolonged physical activity helps you to burn more calories and walking outdoors is a great choice. Increasing the number of calories you burn is generally a good idea if you are going to increase the amount of calories you consume.
Arguably, your most important meal of the day is the one straight after your workout or a hard period of exercise or activity. After exercise your body needs protein and carbohydrates to help replenish and rebuild and, luckily enough, most Christmas dinners are predominantly protein and carbohydrates! Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and all the other trimmings give you a healthy dose of protein, carbohydrates and minerals and vitamins - exactly what you need after a workout. So, get outside and earn your Christmas dinner!
The Christmas break is a good opportunity to experiment with extended fasts. A fast is a period of time where you consume nothing but water, herbal teas or black coffee (a pure fast is just water). The health benefits of fasting include (2):
Improved insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control
Increase growth hormone secretion
Improved brain function
The issue with fasting is it is stressful. And, when combined with the regular day-to-day stresses most of us experience, it can prove too much for some. The result is a huge increase in cortisol - the stress hormone - which can negatively impact us. So, fasting is best practised in periods of low stress, such as Christmas!
Fasting over Christmas can also help to avoid over-eating as snacking - usually the unhealthy, chocolate selection-box type - is reduced. This means less sugar and overall calories are consumed, increasing your chances of keeping your waistline in check.
Plan For Next Years Training
Even if you plan on continuing your fitness regime this Christmas - I highly recommend you do, most gyms are open for the majority of the Christmas break - it is a good time to plan your training goals for next year.
Think about what you would like to achieve in terms of fitness, what new sports or activities you may want to try or if you want to enlist the help of an amazing personal trainer (shameless plug). Remember, proper planning prevents p*ss-poor performance!
Set yourself realistic, specific goals and work on how you are going to achieve them. Trying new sports helps to keep things exciting and may also help improve your social life. Use your time off wisely and head into 2020 with a concrete plan of action.
If you would like advice or help in setting fitness goals for the new year, or if you are interested in personal training, you can contact me here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Maitland is a personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience. He has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.