Weight Gain At Christmas -- Is It Inevitable?
I used to dread the Christmas and New Year festivities, because for me it was a choice of joining in and putting on lots of weight, or keeping my weight stable by missing out on all of the traditional treats, feeling deprived and the 'odd one out'.
Of course, some people are lucky enough not to put on more than a pound or two, and to be able to lose the extra weight quickly when they go back to non-holiday eating and drinking. But for many of us this isn't the case. The carb-laden foods we get tempted to eat at holiday time send our insulin levels into overdrive, despatching every last calorie to our fat stores. And worse, it is the same hormone, insulin, which prevents the fat from leaving our fat stores, making it doubly hard for us to lose our surplus pounds when we start the New Year diet.
When we diet by cutting calories, not only do we often fail to lose weight long term, we invariably feel weak and tired (because although we have plenty of stored energy our high insulin levels prevent it from being easily accessed). That's why a low carb diet is the best way for those of us who are carb-sensitive to lose weight. A low carb diet keeps our insulin levels stable, avoiding the dieter's double nightmare of easy fat storage coupled with reluctant fat release.
For some of us, carbs may need to be reduced to the very low levels of a ketogenic diet before we can lose weight successfully. A ketogenic diet is one where our bodies switch into using fat rather than carbs as the energy source. If we eat carbs, our bodies burn these preferentially for energy. But if we do not eat sufficient carbs to supply our energy needs, our bodies switch to a fat-burning metabolism. Being 'in ketosis' is a natural state and in fact happened frequently back in time when humans were cavemen and hunter-gatherers, since high-carb foods simply weren't available then in any significant quantity.
The beauty of switching into a fat-burning metabolism is that not only does it facilitate access to our stored fat, but it is also more wasteful of energy than a carbohydrate-burning metabolism. Basically, it takes more effort for our bodies to process our food into energy in the absence of carbohydrates. This means that we can lose weight on slightly more calories when we are in fat-burning mode than when we are in carb-burning mode.
So, to get back to our original topic of how to cope at Christmas, as I see it we have three options. One is to avoid all holiday foods entirely and reach 2 January weighing the same as before. Another is to eat whatever we like over the holidays and deal with the consequences afterwards, preferably with a low carb diet. But that's not so good for our bodies because it encourages the 'boom and bust' of yo-yo dieting. This often results in replacing more lean muscle with fat after each successive diet, thereby depressing our metabolism further and making it even harder to lose weight long term.
There is a middle option, though, which I have followed ever since I discovered low carb dieting. For most days of the holiday, I keep low carb but I 'break out' for one or two special meals that I really want to enjoy without constantly thinking about calories, carbs and weight. I also make sure I have a good stock of my own low carb versions of many of the festive foods, such as Yule Log, Christmas Pudding, stuffing, trifle, mince pies, chocolate truffles, cheese straws, brandy butter, chocolate eclairs and so on. Another trick is to substitute so-called healthy foods such as fruit, which I know sends my insulin levels soaring and sets me craving for more sugar, with naturally low carb foods such as seeds and nuts.
Eating this way, I'll probably still eat too many calories over the holiday to actually lose weight, but at least I won't have a massive weight gain to deal with in the New Year. And I won't feel deprived because I'll have enjoyed my alternative versions of my favourites without setting up the cravings and hunger pangs that I would be constantly battling if I had gone the 'just a half portion of all the normal foods' route. Not to mention avoiding the bloated tummy and energy crash that follows the initial high I get when I have the occasional lapse into high carb foods!
All the festive foods mentioned above are found in the Low Carb / Low GI Cookbook.