Belfast PT and nutritionist Alan Waterman shares his top tips for keeping your diet on track over Christmas
'Tis the season, and at this time of year, everyone’s conscious of how rapidly Christmas is approaching, and none more so than parents, who will find themselves spending the majority of the month running around sorting toys, gifts and trips to see Santa, all while trying to balance other work and family commitments.
It’s hectic, it’s non-stop, and it definitely doesn’t make any weight loss goals easier to achieve.
However, for those of us who are still trying to work on our goals, there are certain things we can do to help ourselves stand a better chance of achieving them, even while juggling a busy family and work life.
Check out 10 of my top tips for helping you stay on top of your diet across the coming month, without having to invest too much time and effort, and still allowing you to get fully prepared in time for Christmas…1. Schedule
Make your diary your best friend. Being able to have an idea of what the week ahead looks like allows us to schedule in the things that matter, rather than just hoping that we’ll get the opportunity to do them. You may have work, a family event and a kid’s school play to make it to during the week, but by knowing where in your schedule these sit, you can plan in any workouts, food shops, food prep, etc. around them too.
Although things do unexpectedly crop up last minute, by scheduling in the extra behaviours we want to try and sustain, we have a much greater likelihood of finding the time to do them, rather than just leaving them to chance.2. Watch your food environment
In the run up to Christmas, there are usually a lot more higher-calorie, easily overeaten foods which find their way into our households. Although we cannot necessarily avoid these foods coming in, we can go some way to make them less of a temptation. By storing them in inconvenient places and making them harder to access, accompanied by placing better quality foods within more immediate reach, we can go some way to reducing our likelihood of consuming them, and make it somewhat easier compared to resorting to willpower alone.3. Bank your calories
Our calorie needs don’t just work on a daily basis, we can look at them across the course of an entire week.
This allows us to manipulate our calories in a way which can let us 'save' extra calories for when we need to, for things such as nights out, special occasions, etc. If we needed to eat, for example 1800 calories per day to lose weight, by simply dropping to 1700 calories across 6 days, we can save an additional 600 calories for us to use on one particular day of the week and still achieve the same rate of weight loss, as we are not exceeding the total number of calories we need within that week.
This can even work without counting calories, by simply being stricter with our food choices and serving sizes, which can naturally help to create a slighter larger calorie deficit.4. Two for function, one for fun
With typically an increased frequency of dining out at this time of year, it can certainly be more difficult to control our calorie intake on a daily basis. We can, however, plan to allow ourselves more calories for when we really need them. When we are faced with the prospect of a meal out, by making 2 of our daily meals as 'functional' as possible, it allows us within those meals to place more focus on our protein, vegetable, and fibre intake, which typically helps our calories stay on the lower side. This means by the time our meal out rolls around, we can be slightly more adventurous with our food choices, as we have some extra room in our daily calories to play with, and have already achieved the majority of the rest of our daily nutritional needs.5. Work around the buffet
Work functions, family gatherings, kids events - all situations we might find ourselves in when our only food choice is a buffet!
This is an easy opportunity to overdo things, but we can attempt to manage it by just being sensible. In allowing ourselves just a single trip to the buffet table, it forces us to be more selective of our food choices, and allows room for one or two treat items to find their way onto our plate, without overdoing it.
By then removing ourselves from the immediate environment, we can be less prone to returning for picking up extra or nibbling on leftovers.6. Be selective with the booze
Everyone likes a drink in the run up to Christmas, but be wary, the alcohol calories can add up - and fast!
However, by making some substitutions to what we drink, we can save a huge amount of calories and still enjoy the social aspect of the events we find ourselves in. As an average pint contains around 200 calories, by having only a handful of drinks we make a huge dent in our total daily calorie requirements. Compare that to a gin and slimline tonic or a vodka and diet coke, which only contain around 60 or 70 calories, and we save over 100 calories per drink, which will make a huge difference across the course of a night.7. Keep yourself moving
Although it’s not ideal with so much going on, we may find ourselves occasionally in a position where we miss a normal training session.
We can attempt to counteract this by making sure we are as active as possible throughout the course of the rest of the day. Can we walk the kids to their Christmas party or push the buggy? Can we park further away from the shops when we go into town to get gifts? All these help to increase our general activity levels (what we call our Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and contribute to burning off a greater amount of calories throughout the day. Don’t forget, our energy output matters too!8. Choose when to blow your calories
With loads of social events happening in the run up to Christmas, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if we blow our calorie intake at every single one, it will have a more drastic effect on our bodyweight.
However, if we are selective about when we blow our calories and don’t do so at every given opportunity, it will make it easier to at least maintain our current composition. Would you rather have more fun and blow your calories on a night out with friends, or at a boring work do?
This approach means we can be stricter when we need to to create a bit of balance for those situations when we’re not quite as strict.9. Bounce back from overindulgences
Overdid it at a gathering with friends or family? It happens!
Although it’s easy to slip into a guilt cycle, when we attempt to bounce back from over-indulgences by being overly restrictive with our diet, this can often lead to further binges and difficulties in our ability to control ourselves around certain foods.
Although we can make some slight alterations to our next-day diet for small over-indulgences, when we feel we’ve really messed up our best bet is to just get ourselves back to normal ASAP. It’s much more damaging to dwell on it, rather than accepting that these things happen on occasion and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it.10. Aim for weight maintenance
Let’s be honest, everyone knows that the Christmas period is tougher on our diets. Regardless of all the things we put into action, it’s just that bit harder to continue seeing the weight loss we want.
We can take some measures to reduce dietary stress by instead aiming for weight maintenance across the month, rather than attempting to keep seeing pounds drop off.
This allows us to have a little more freedom with our diets, makes it easier to accommodate some extra calories, and, although many would much rather prefer to continue to lose weight, it is still a step above seeing weight being regained. Maintenance, at times, can be a much more realistic goal.Want more help with juggling a busy family & work life alongside weight loss goals?
You can download your free copy of my book The Little Black Book Of Weight Loss and discover 40 more simple but effective tips and tricks here.