News from ION

One sure-fire way to tell that the festive season is well and truly in swing is the barrage of Christmas adverts that descend upon our screens from the middle of November. But this year, one ad particularly stands out: with one supermarket’s ‘No Naughty List’ campaign encouraging us to forget our 2020 wrongdoings and treat ourselves this festive season, because “after a year like this…there is no naughty list”.

Getting us to go easy on ourselves after a hard year – and buy more in the process – might seem like a harmless marketing ploy, but what the ad potentially does is encourage overindulgence at a time when COVID has raised serious concerns about obesity and poor immune status. With the government committed to clamping down on high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) advertising as part of its new obesity strategy, should we actually look at reframing the narrative around festive indulgence?

Aiming for balance

After what has certainly been a turbulent year, Christmas doesn’t need to be a case of ‘bah humbug’. But overdoing the ‘occasional treat’ can have a huge impact on our mood, energy levels and general health.

So, with Christmas get-togethers going virtual, this year provides the perfect opportunity to avoid overindulging and the inevitable January slump, and to head into the New Year feeling healthy and energised instead.

One way to do this is to support your blood sugar levels by combining complex carbohydrates with a good source of protein, healthy fats and vegetables in each meal. This will help to regulate your energy levels, keep you full for longer and prevent cravings for that extra portion of dessert.

Likewise, try to aim for a healthy balance. If you’ve got lots of Zoom parties to tune into it, just pick one or two where you can let your hair down (within reason – you don’t want to be the colleague who embarrasses themselves at your work’s virtual Christmas party). The rest of the time, try to stick to healthier options – lots of fresh vegetables, wholegrains and good quality protein – and keep it to just one or two drinks.

If your three households do not add up to many people, there’s no reason to hoard multiple boxes of chocolates or canapés either. Plan ahead and take note of what you’re actually going to eat each week over the holiday season, so that you’re not left with a mountain of food to get through once the festivities have died down.

Finally, if you do drink alcohol, try alternating your drinks with a glass of water to prevent dehydration and to help slow you down.

Long term benefits

A big benefit to adopting a more balanced approach throughout December is avoiding any post-Christmas weight gain, and slipping into the cycle of yoyo dieting in January.

It has been suggested that the body has a weight set-point; a weight range it maintains by increasing or decreasing energy expenditure depending on how much excess fat/energy storage the brain detects. However, dieting can affect the efficiency of this. The human body did not evolve to lose precious energy stores; the more calories are restricted, the more the brain responds as if there is a famine, lowering energy expenditure to conserve fat reserves. It has been suggested that repeated diets act to increase this weight set-point and slow the metabolism in order to protect the body from future food restrictions. Eating a consistent, nourishing diet, on the other hand, can lower the body’s weight set-point slowly, promoting sustainable and long term weight loss.

Enjoy the good stuff

Indulgence doesn’t have to come in the form of a shiny wrapper or a food coma either. Taking a few days off from work to spend time with loved ones (albeit bubbled or distanced), going on a Boxing Day walk or watching a Christmas movie are all ways that we can enjoy this festive season. In fact, these are the things we should be gorging on – they’re free, and can help our body and mind to work at their best.

Ultimately, enjoying the festive season with a balanced approach will help to set us up for long term health for which, come January, your body will be thanking you.