Many of us gain up to half a stone over the holiday season, so why not follow our savvy slimming tricks to avoid starting the New Year with an extra helping of podge.
Have a really big breakfast Studies show that the bigger your breakfast, the fewer calories you will consume during the rest of the day – and this rule counts double at Christmas with all that temptation around. “Unless you start the day by refuelling and stabilising your blood sugar levels you’re setting yourself up for a day of bingeing on all the sugar-packed festive treats that come your way,” advises nutritionist Linda Foster. “A filling breakfast that contains some wholegrain carbs (granary bread or cereal) plus some protein in the form of eggs or low-fat dairy will keep you full until lunchtime – stopping you from picking at Quality Street and mince pies all morning.” Have two breakfast courses, one of cereal and one egg-based to really load up.
Stay active, get outside Exercise is the single best way to keep your weight stable over the Christmas period. “Just being a bit more active daily can help burn off the extra calories and be rolled into all the festive fun,” advises celebrity trainer Scott Laidler. “For example an energetic boogie around the Christmas tree will burn up to 195 calories per half hour, while ice-skating, whether indoors or outdoors, will burn up to 165 calories per 30 minutes and really tone your thigh and calf muscles.”
Danger: festive lattes can be very fattening (Image: Getty)
Ditch that festive latte They might taste good, but those special Christmas coffees with flavours such as eggnog and gingerbread can clock up a staggering 500 calories a time. For example, Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Latte made with whipped cream and whole milk contains 507 calories – the same as a McDonald’s Big Mac. Meanwhile, a Caffè Nero Praline Latte, with semi-skimmed milk, contains 11 teaspoons of sugar – nearly double the World Health Organisation’s recommended healthy intake of 6 teaspoons per day. “Drinking a festive latte every day throughout December could add an extra 3,500 calories per week to your diet – equivalent to four lbs extra weight by January 1,” warns nutritionist Linda Foster.
Slow the pace “Whether we’re rushing food on the go, or sitting with the family at the dinner table, it’s easier to overindulge when we eat too quickly,” says nutritionist Amanda Hamilton. "Chewing food five to 10 times slows down our eating, aiding digestion and allowing the brain more time to recognise when we’ve eaten enough.”
Take it easy: Don't spend too much on your Christmas shopping
Shop for need not greed Christmas is not only harsh on our waistlines but also our pockets. “We’ve all fallen into the trap of spending a small fortune in the supermarket, only to ending up throwing it away – or worse, eating it up out of guilt,” says Izzy Cameron, Diet Chef’s weight management expert. “So make a list and try to be realistic about how much food you really need to buy this Christmas, and avoid all those bumper packs.”
Stay hydrated Sip water regularly throughout the day. The more hydrated you are, the fuller you’ll feel and the less food (and calories) you’ll want to, or be able to, consume. “Plus, sometimes our body mistakes thirst for hunger,” says trainer Scott Laidler, “So the more water you drink, the less thirsty you’ll be and therefore the less likely you’ll be to pick at calorie-filled Christmas treats.”
Eat before you party Heading to a party straight from work? Unless you eat beforehand, you won’t be able to resist wrecking your diet with every canapé that comes your way. The trick is not to turn up starving, but to eat well before you get there. Choose something light and healthy but filling such as poached egg or beans on toast before you go, and you’ll find it 10 times easier to exercise self-control. Once there, you only need one rule to not fall foul of the buffet spread – only ever fill your plate once.
Think before you drink When you’re at Christmas events where you know the alcohol will be flowing, try some simple strategies to slow down the rate you’re drinking, so you guzzle less over the course of the evening. Good tricks include: alternating your alcoholic drinks with soft ones, drinking spritzers (wine diluted with soda) or starting the night with a refreshing booze-free mocktail. Alternating each alcoholic drink with water will also slash your calorie intake by half.
Choose wisely Many Christmas parties ask you to choose your meal choice in advance, and now is the time to choose sensible options that will help you manage your weight. Soup, baked or grilled fish, plus roast dinners without all the trimmings and fruit for desert will all keep you on track.
Size is everything: Smaller portions are best
Exercise some portion control Yes, it’s Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you’ve completely forgotten what a sensible portion size looks like on a normal dinner plate. An easy way to remember is: Pasta and rice = A fist-sized portion Potatoes = One normal-sized spud Protein = A palm-sized portion High-fat foods (eg. cheese) = A thumb-sized portion Vegetables = As many as you like.
Keep your turkey light Turkey is naturally a low-fat, healthy meat, so don’t spoil this by smothering it with butter or lard when you cook it. Instead, use a pastry brush to add a light covering of oil. Remember, just 1tbsp of oil contains 100 calories and 11g fat!
Oil well: Roast potatoes for Christmas
Sample slimmer spuds When it comes to making roast potatoes, avoid goose fat, butter or lard, and again, just brush on a little olive oil, sunflower or rapeseed oil. Although still high in calories, these oils contain a fraction of the unhealthy saturated fat. Cutting the potatoes into larger pieces will also mean they absorb less fat than smaller ones.
That's rich: Christmas pudding
Go for cream not custard You might be surprised to know that custard contains more calories per serving than cream or brandy butter – even if you make it with skimmed milk. So you’re probably better off opting for a tbsp of cream after all.
Drive, don’t drink Nominate yourself as designated driver for at least one festive night out – it doesn’t have to spoil your fun. Not drinking will save a heap of calories, plus you’ll eat fewer fattening snacks both at the party – and on the way home after!
Pass on the cocktails Seasonal drinks are delicious but eggnog and mulled wine are laden with sugar – and even a simple peach Bellini can contain 158 calories. Stick to white wine at 85 calories per glass, or white wine spritzers (made with half soda) at just 43 calories a go.
A walk in the park “A brisk family stroll is a great idea for body and mind and will help ensure your digestion works properly,” advises celebrity trainer Kathryn Freeland of Absolute Fitness. “Go for a real stomp and add a few bursts of energy by playing chase with the kids or walking up some hills if possible, and you could work off 250-300 calories.” Getting out of the house also means less opportunity to scoff chocolates and drink wine!
Plan around the binge Planning your week will make it easier to make healthy food choices. So if you know you’re having a festive meal out one evening, make sure you have a healthy lunch of soup or salad during the day. Being realistic about the times when you know you’re going to overindulge allows you to plan sensible food choices before and after.
Plump for protein power When your blood sugar is high you produce more of the hormone insulin, which encourages you to store fat. Eating more protein helps stabilise your blood sugar levels reducing fat storage and also keeping food cravings at bay. So make the most of all those high protein festive snacks, such as nuts, cheese, cold ham and turkey.
Dodge the stodge Aside from Christmas dinner itself, family get-togethers often mean fat-laden comfort food and puddings. Offer to cook or bring a dish yourself, so you can create a tasty but healthy meal and know exactly how much fat it contains. Or suggest a meal out and stick to healthy menu picks, such as pasta or chicken with tomato-based sauces and grilled white meat or fish with veg.
Crafty Christmas calorie burners Let’s face it, none of us are very likely to hit the gym at this time of year so there’s no point even pretending. However, that doesn’t mean the holiday period can’t include plenty of sneaky but effective ways to burn off that turkey dinner… Shop off the pounds: A two-hour dash for those last-minute pressies burns 500 calories Cook up at storm: A whole morning preparing and cooking Christmas dinner burns 400 calories Be a lean cleaning machine: Clearing the table and washing up after every family meal burns 150 calories a time
Give something back… Christmas Day is one thing, but letting that indulgent food pattern seep into the rest of the holidays is just asking to pile on weight. If you were gifted lots of tempting treats, give away all but a small box of chocolates and send guests home with doggie bags containing leftover cheese and cake.