It’s that time of year where we celebrate and overindulge more than any other time of the year. The office parties, the family get-togethers, the flow of mulled wine heralds a period where we will spend over £21 billion on presents, parties, pantos and festive food. In the end, all these things are worth it when you can spend some time with loved ones and get to reflect on your accomplishments for the year.
With such celebrations, it’s inevitable that we gain a few pounds. The average person gains anywhere between 1 to 13 pounds depending on who you ask. Losing that weight, unfortunately, is a whole different thing though. Actually, in a study at the Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, they found that it can take up to five months for the average person’s weight to go back to what it was before the festive period.
The good news from the study is that half of the weight gained was lost shortly after the festive period, but the other half lingered for months.
I’ll be honest with you, I have a sweet tooth and if you are anything like me when there are chocolates, desserts and snacks of some kind in the house you will inevitably keeping going back for just one more until they are all gone/.
The one other confession I need to make is. I frickin love roast potatoes! I’m talking, cooked in duck fat and sprinkled with sea salt and fresh rosemary roast potatoes. Somewhere in my DNA, I swear I have a gene that predisposes me to eat all roast potatoes that are left over. Actually, my plate is generally half roast potatoes and then the other half is made up of side dishes that go with it like meat and vegetables, so I would always gain a few pounds over Christmas.
Now I believe that this is a time of year to spoil yourself, gain a few pounds and let it all hang out, literally! But I have found that there is a smart way of being able to enjoy the festivities without feeling guilty and gaining weight and still getting to eat what you like.
Something that has been growing in popularity in the last year or two is intermittent fasting. Now, this is not a new fad, this is something that humans have been doing for thousands of years and is a part of many cultures and traditions. Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of eating and fasting. This way of eating was natural to our early ancestors because we didn’t have as we do today access to an abundance of food. There would be times when going for days with little or no food was normal because access to foods or the inability to run down some food just didn’t happen.
Now from a health perspective research into intermittent fasting has shown that it has great benefits, including:
- Helping you lose weight and belly fat
- Reducing insulin resistance, lowering your risk of type 2 Diabetes
- Reducing inflammation in the body
- Being beneficial for heart health
- Good for your brain and mood
- Helping you live a longer healthier life
Now the thing is, is that you do a version of intermittent fasting most days anyway. So you may be getting a 12 hour fast just by not eating between 8 pm and 8 am. I’ve been using Intermittent Fasting for a couple of years, especially around Christmas and during the winter months, because if we follow the sun/moon cycles then we should only be eating during a short window anyway. This year I switched to it as a standard way of eating all year long. This is when I started to gain more of the benefits that come with using it long-term like maintaining weight easier, and little or no bloating, or feeling lethargic after a big meal.
The reason why I adopted this way of eating was that I wanted to start listening to my body more. Our eating habits change over time, and when we listen to our bodies we find that generally, we don’t need as much food as we think.
So I generally don’t start eating before 10 am, though that could start as late as 1 pm. I then will eat two meals and maybe a snack within an 8-hour window. This is known in Intermittent Fasting as 16:8, so you have a 16 hour period of not eating. Most research that I mentioned earlier recommends over 12 hours to get any real benefits. Some days I will only eat within a 4 or 5-hour window if that how I feel like eating. This doesn’t mean that say for instance when I was away for a wedding weekend recently that I ate 3 meals a day, plus snacks. So you could say it was more of an 8:16 pattern, than a 16:8. So it always comes down to balance.
The idea is that by eating this way you are giving your digestive system time off to work on breaking down the food you’ve eaten without backing up the system, literally for some people with a continuous barrage of fodder. See, it takes your body 6-8 hours to digest a meal, so if you are eating 3 meals and then snacks in-between, this is putting a lot of demands on your body.
Intermittent Fasting allowed me to be more conscious of what I was eating, which meant I was picking healthier choices and I had fewer cravings for sweet foods. So how do you apply this over the festive period?
Modify your fasts to fit in with your schedule. I like the 16:8 as a starting point because you can move the 8-hour window to fit in with most social calendars. Let’s say you have the work Christmas Party at 6-10pm tonight. Then your first meal will be a late lunch at say 2 or 3 pm. This gives you a nice window to work in. Now if you are anything like me after this kind of event, I am famished the next morning and need something early to soak up the extra wine that someone sneaked into my glass when I wasn’t looking. So I will have an early 8-hour window that day to balance things out.
When it comes to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day then I will always start eating later and may still cram in the supposed 6000 calories we eat, into an 8-hour window. The other popular Intermittent Fasting routine that works well, though personally, I’m not a fan of is the 5:2. This means for 5 days of the week you eat normally and then for two days of the weeks you eat 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. I find it too restrictive, though, for those who like routine, this fits well.
You can implement your chosen intermittent fasting method all through the Christmas and the New Year festivities and even in the weeks leading up to it to get your body into the routine. For me, it comes down to eating sensibly but not feeling guilty if I do overindulge.
Intermittent fasting works even better when coupled with regular exercise. This can be a long walk after lunch on Christmas day or Boxing day or go to the gym and lift some weights or do some high-intensity interval training.
The aim is not to lose weight over this period, but to maintain it. Don’t beat yourself up if you do gain a little either, it is the Christmas after all.
After the festive season, you may want to continue using Intermittent Fasting to reap the long-term health benefits, because for me this has become a natural way of eating and to be honest, I feel a lot more comfortable with eating what I want now than before.