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Thursday, 24 December 2015

How to survive Christmas

This could be used in other countries for other celebrations where food plays a central role but for many of us in the UK and Europe Christmas is the major eating celebration of the year.
We will assume here you aren’t young and trying to add mass. If that is you then simply eat.  The fact you are eating an each few thousand calories will only help your goals, but for people concerned about their waistlines it is time to think about how to minimise the damage.

Do NOT be strong willed

Unless you have a contest that depends upon you making you weight class or a fat percentage then do not avoid everything. Eating a few hundred calories more than normal on one day will have zero effect on you if you stick to the eating plan before and then return to that plan afterwards.  Just remember it is OVERDOING things that gets you into trouble.  Have a handful of crisps (chips in the US), a bite or 2 of chocolate will be fine, just do not binge from morning to night.  Allow yourself a little leeway on Christmas day, but plan on a return to normal training and eat the day after Christmas (boxing day).


Alcohol  is 7Kcal per gram, more than carbs or protein but less than fat.  Alcohol also has the dubious honour of being able to turn on your fat storage systems and switch off your fat burning (nice combo!). Your body burns alcohol over other fuel.  Much of the other food you eat goes directly to storage (fat storage). A glass of wine is not going affect you too badly, infact it may have some benefits, but 6 pints with a few chasers are not going to aid you on the day and will also affect your next training session as you will have a hangover..  If you are going to drink heavily plan on missing a few days of training. To minimise the negatives drink a pint of water after each pint of alcohol and a pint of water and some vitamin C before bed.  You will notice some impaired performance, but it will not be as extreme as it is if you do not do these things.  Eating can also help, but it does increase the chances of vomiting (which may not be a bad thing as you remove alcohol from your system).
Just remember alcohol is a fluid, you can drink many more calories than you can eat. Always eat before you drink.  Foods that absorb fluids slightly slow the absorption of alcohol (bread and similar).
Obviously do not train or do anything dangerous while under the influence of alcohol your judgement is impaired  so be sensible and safe.

Brazil nuts

Traditionally many families have brazil nuts at Christmas in the UK. Brazil nuts are a very concentrated source of selenium.  You only need about 2 brazil nuts to get enough selenium. If you eat around 10-12 nuts you risk overdosing on selenium. So enjoy Brazil nuts in moderation. The worst offenders are the chocolate Brazil nuts you can buy as many people can only manage a nut or two, but cannot resist many chocolate coated nuts!

How to avoid overeating

Christmas dinner is the traditional overeating meal.  Allow yourself some leeway and do enjoy the meal.  A few simple tips will help you survive with a reasonable waistline.
Drink water before and during
Drink some water before you eat and during your meal.  You stomach is a sack, you only have so much room in there.  If it is partly full of water you will not feel as hungry.

 Eat your greens

Eat the green vegetables first when you start your meal.  Green, leafy vegetables are full of fibre, bulky and low in calories.  Like the water they will fill the stomach without many calories.

Use a small plate

A smaller plate makes you eat less. Use a smaller plate and it looks like more food.

Chew your food

Chew your food a lot.  You have no teeth in your stomach, so make sure you chew thoroughly. This will slow eating and it has been shown that eating more slowly actually lessens fat accumulation.

Put down your cutlery

Stop, talk, be sociable.  You are at a family gathering to enjoy the company of others, so enjoy it! It shouldn’t be about the food, it should be about the company, so take the opportunity to communicate with your family and friends.


There is little need to snack on Christmas day as there is ample food at the main meal, so try to minimise snacking.  In most households there are many snacks available all day, so minimise these or stick to less calorie dense snacks, or small amounts of others.

Final points

Christmas is to enjoy.  One day of even terrible eating isn’t going to ruin an otherwise good diet.  So give yourself permission to enjoy some foods and drinks.  What is the point of being the most ripped miserable person in the room?  Have some treats, eat some roast potatoes and then get back to the gym and healthy eating tomorrow. You’ll be glad you did as it will be a day to remember!

Written by Pete Ryan - Clinical nutritionist, personal trainer and massage therapist. Owner of Gorilla Gym

Further reading: "Eating vegan over Christmas" for more tips

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