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Christmas Food Survival Guide

By Anita Bean

Christmas is the traditional time for overeating and drinking too much. Parties, social and family gatherings make Christmas one of the hardest times of the year to stick rigidly to a healthy eating plan. But it need not be a case of the rapidly disappearing waistline. With a little nutrition know-how and crafty swaps you don't have to blow out over Christmas nor do you have to avoid all the parties. There is certainly nothing wrong with indulging yourself provided you remember to balance this out with healthier habits at other times of the day.

Follow our food survival plan to prevent your toned physique sinking beneath layers of unwanted fat this Christmas.

How much weight will you gain?

The average person gains 5lb (2kg) over Christmas. Some of this extra weight - 1 lb to 4 lb - will be water and glycogen (stored carbohydrate); the remainder will be fat.

The average person stores around 400 - 500g (approximately 1 lb) of glycogen, although the more muscle mass you have and the fitter you are, the more you can store. For each gramme of glycogen stored you also store 3g of water with it. If you have dieted before hand or been very active, glycogen stores will be depleted. Replenishing your glycogen stores can create a total weight gain of around 4 lb. If you have not been dieting/ exercising, glycogen stores are probably half 'full' - expect to gain around 2lb in glycogen and water.

Salty food can increase water retention - up to 2 or 3 lbs can be stored - but this is temporary and will be lost once you reduce your salt intake.

How much fat can you gain?

The extra fat you eat - from mince pies, chocolates and so on - is readily turned in to fat on your body. An extra 3500 Calories (equivalent to 14 mince pies) puts on 1lb of fat. If you overeat just 500 kcal a day (equivalent to a couple of small slices of Christmas cake) for one week you will gain 1 lb of fat. If you overeat 1000 kcal a day for one week you will gain 2 lb of fat.

How to avoid gaining 5 lb

The secret to keeping your weight stable while still indulging over Christmas is to incorporate more activity in your daily life. We 're not necessarily talking about a vigorous workout in the gym every day but relatively small amounts of moderate activity mean that you can allow yourself the pleasures of eating and drinking without gaining an ounce.

For example, to burn off the calories provided by one mince pie (250 kcal) you could spend 50 minutes weight training in the gym or 42 minutes on an exercise bike. Alternatively, you could take a brisk 20 minute walk to work and a 20 minute swim at lunch- time. Stuck at home? Don't sit still; 34 minutes of general cleaning and 46 minutes of vacuuming would also burn the same number of calories.

To burn off one mince pie (250 kcal)
Cycling42 minutes
Swimming (fast breast stroke)26 minutes
Jogging31 minutes
Stepper/Stair master25 minutes
Weight training50 minutes

Amount of exercise needed to work off Christmas treats
4oz (112g) Christmas pudding (300 kcal)45 minutes aerobics
1 chocolate croissant (315 kcal)39 minutes jogging (moderate pace)

How to make Christmas Day easier on your waistline:

How To Survive Christmas Parties

Party nibbles and snacks are often laden with fat and salt. Use the guide below to avoid the worst ones and choose instead the healthier alternatives.

Pass On Healthier Choice
Crisps/ potato/ corn snacksBaked potato/ corn chips (very low fat); rice cakes
Salted peanutsPopcorn (plain); raisins
Sausage rollsCrisprolls; mini crackers
Vol au ventsFilo pastry parcels filled with grilled vegetables
Cheese strawsTwiglets
Cocktail sausagesOatcakes topped with low fat cheese/ tuna or chestnut pate/ tomatoes also recommends:
Soda drinks Low-Carb Fruity Drinks
Desserts Low-Carb Desserts>
Chocolates Low-Carb Chocolate Bars

Party Survival Tips

How to Avoid Overeating

Keep Reading

How to Avoid Temptation

Why do I feel sleepy after Christmas dinner?

After eating a big meal your poor body has to work extra hard to digest all that food. Blood is diverted from your limbs and muscles to your gut and liver to cope with the big task of digestion and absorption. This leaves less available to your brain, making you feel sleepy and sluggish.

Also, the big surge in carbohydrate and protein intake causes a rapid increase in insulin (a hormone) which lowers blood sugar levels. So, you feel more lethargic.

Why do I overeat at Christmas?

Most people eat more than they need at Christmas without being hungry. Identify your triggers below and work to diffuse them by using one of the suggestions given.

Working It Off

If you have overeaten, you can help prevent it becoming permanent by taking gentle exercise (e.g. a brisk walk) as soon as possible. Research has found that aerobic exercise either just before or after a meal helps reduce blood fats and therefore the chances of excess fat deposition on your hips. So, instead of collapsing on the sofa take a brisk walk or a leisurely bike ride. But don't exercise too vigorously - you may end up with stomach cramps or indigestion. You should still be able to hold a conversation without feeling too breathless.



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