Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die(t):
It’s that time of year again.
For some it’s all tinsel and joy.
But many of us really don’t look forward to the festive season, particularly if control over our eating and weight is a bit precarious and a round of office parties and family blow-outs is the last thing we need!
If you love, but hate, the party season with its bargain buckets of sweets, and anything but moderation, here are some tips to help you navigate your way through the hazardous period of Advent and beyond.
All that effort over the past year to get a grip of your eating goes completely out of the window and by New Year you’re back at Square One!
According to a 2015 study by the company Healthspan, we will on average consume over 19,000 extra calories in December than in other months. No wonder most of us gain weight during the festive season!
The problem is that we have the treats on top of our normal food intake. We continue with our regular three meals a day and add the nibbles and party food on top. We justify this to ourselves by adopting a “Last Supper” mentality, thinking something on the lines of “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die(t)”. We imagine that come January we’ll get back on track, and for some of us this is an annual self-deception.
If you’ve made changes to your eating patterns that you’re happy with during 2018, blowing it all at Christmas may feel liberating in the short term but if it’s followed by regret and self-criticism in 2019, is it really worth it?
Tip: think about celebratory days of eating and drinking in advance. Those days will be deviations from how you usually eat, and if you plan such deviations and choose particular days to indulge, you’re more likely to maintain your weight overall rather than gain. Don’t think of eating more on a special day as a failure; see it as part of your enjoyment of life. A single day of excess does not lead to weight gain; repeated excess eating does. So choose the special occasions carefully and the rest of the time, eat in tune with your appetite. Lots more on how to do this in my upcoming book “How to Retrain Your Appetite” available to pre-order on Amazon.
Indulging in non-stop treats between 1st December and New Year’s Day leaves you nauseous
According to the Healthspan study, “A near-constant stream of chocolate, mince pies and alcohol means the typical adult’s calorie intake will soar by more than 28%”. And the excess often leads to regret: 83% of people report feeling sluggish and a third say they actually feel ill after their over-indulgence. So how can you enjoy your festive treats without the feeling-rubbish afterwards?
Tip: Professor Daniel Kahneman describes how the overall rating of an experience we have had depends on the “peak-end” rule. How pleasurable something was, when we recall it, depends the level of pleasure at the best moment of the experience and the level of pleasure at the end of the experience. The duration of the overall experience has no effect whatsoever on ratings of total pleasure, so eating a lot of something mediocre doesn’t register much pleasure whereas having an intensely pleasurable experience, even if only very brief, does. And as Professor Kahneman says, “Memories are all we get to keep from our experience of living”.
So choose your treats carefully and decline anything mediocre. Look forward to them and remember them with pleasure. After all, the anticipation and the reflection are both sources of extra (calorie-free) pleasure. And enhance the Peak Effect by really savouring every bite rather than mindlessly hoovering your way through whatever’s in front of you.
You lose your head at the all-you-can-eat buffet
The all-you-can-eat buffet isn’t confined to Christmas, but you may find yourself serving yourself from a seductive array of dishes more often at this time of year. Faced with an enormous fabulous-looking spread, we are prey to piling our plates high and going back for more. But eating as much as you can is only a bargain if you want to gain weight, in which case the all-you-can-eat buffet is your friend. The two-pronged problem for the rest of us is the amount and the variety of what’s in front of you at the buffet spread, leaving you overwhelmed by choice.
Tip: Limit the number of different foods you choose to three, and opt for your real favourites. Taste-specific satiety means that although your taste buds lose their sensitivity as you eat bite by bite, each new dish refreshes your appetite. This means that it’s easier to stop eating if you limit how many different things you have on your plate – if you choose five dishes you’ll taste them all whether you’re still hungry or not. Maximise enjoyment, not intake – quality and taste over quantity every time. And if you’re going to feel cheated, take a takeaway box with you so you can feel you’ve got value for money.
You’re under pressure to eat more than you want “because it’s Christmas”!
If you’ve been trying to lose weight, how can you deal with pressure from others over that celebratory meal that threatens to derail your new-found self-control? There are different types of pressure. The genuine pressure from someone saying, ‘I’ll have one if you have one’ or ‘Are you going to have chips with that?’ (in a tone of voice suggesting they want chips). The other type of pressure if you’re someone who tries to keep other people happy, is that you may feel imagined pressure from other people. ‘S/he will feel better if I have dessert’ or ‘I need to order x to keep him/ her happy.’
Tip: Gradually you can learn to resist overt pressure by building your ability to say no. You can do this by visualizing saying no in a friendly and firm way. This may not work immediately, particularly if you’ve caved in to this sort of pressure from this person before, but practice makes perfect and regular visualization can help. If you’re struggling to work out how to do this, watch what other people do in situations like this and visualize doing this yourself and keep practising this skill, so it’s easier when you’re faced with the situation in reality.
When it comes to imagined pressure from others, what you need to develop is a slightly thicker skin when it comes to eating, so you focus on what your body wants, not what you think someone wants you to have. And remember you could be wrong about what they are thinking anyway.
You drink far, far more than you intended, and live to regret it
Alcohol releases your inhibitions, and your self-control. Fun if you want to let your hair down, but too much can lead to all sorts of unintentional eating as well as leaving you feeling rubbish the next day. After a couple of glasses, who cares how many crisps and nuts you eat. And after a few more, you need a kebab to soak up the alcohol. Feeling physically rubbish the next morning isn’t your only problem; you regret eating a load of stuff you didn’t enjoy and what did you say to that colleague?
Tip: Two simple things can help you enjoy a boozy evening with friends, without the morning-after guilt. First, opt to drink out of the thinnest glass available. This will help you drink more slowly (people drink more quickly out of wider glasses) and help you pace yourself. Second, alternate each glass of alcohol with a glass of tap water. This will help reduce calories, cost and hangover all at one fell swoop.