Last snag on the barbie? Can’t get your eyes off the pudding? The summer holidays are a silent nightmare for anyone watching their weight, let alone people with diabetes. And Christmas weight gain is no myth, with the average person gaining 0.48kg over the Xmas period according toThe New England Journal of Medicine.
While this isn’t significant in the short term, the bad news is that this weight is not lost over the next 11 months - and Christmas remains a significant contributor to obesity in later life, the authors concluded.
“Christmas is a danger period for weight gain as most or our festive activities revolve around food, parties, celebratory drinks and edible presents,” agrees Dr John Jorgensen Director of Bariatric Surgical Services at St George Private Hospital. “So, allowing yourself to eat endlessly from the beginning of December to the middle of January and then vowing to take it off “come the New Year”, is actually much harder than people realise.” He says this is because the body tends to recognise its weight “set point” as the highest it has ever been.
Indeed, one recent study in the Obesity Research Journal found that 13 of the 14 Biggest Loser contestants regained most their pre-show weight (some even more) a few years down the TV track; with authors concluding that “the metabolic adaptation persists over time.”
“Many other studies confirm this finding,” says Dr. Jorgensen. “The brain is programmed to have a very good survival instinct so that when we diet, the brain will sabotage all our efforts to lose weight and revert to its highest set point”.
“In fact, once you reach the point of severe obesity the success rate of diets and exercise is documented in the best medical studies to be about 2%-4%.”He says when there is a severe weight issue AND concurrent diabetes, the problems are further compounded and that is why the World Health Organisation and dozens of other medical organizations have recently stated that bariatric surgery is the new paradigm of treatment for obese people with diabetes. “This is because unlike diet, the surgery is “metabolic”, it doesn’t just shrink the stomach, it changes the brain’s hunger drivers.”
What about for people who are not severely overweight or just want to lose those stubborn 5 to 10kg?
“For people who are only slightly overweight, the brain’s hunger drivers are not as aggressive as someone who is carrying an extra 40, 60 or 80kg.
“Certainly, diet and exercise will work to shed those stubborn last 5kg. However, still, once these people stop eating healthily they will put weight on again.
“The best bet is just to avoid weight gain in the first place, and this goes double for younger people because being heavy at a younger age sets you on a heavy trajectory for life.”
Top Christmas Eating Hacks
Follow these tips from dietitian Accredited Practising Dietitian Geraldine Georgeou from Ellawell, Diabetes Prevention Management, to navigate Christmas pitfalls
- Stop giving yourself permission to overeat “for the next five weeks”.
- Instead make healthy choices throughout the Christmas break and leave Christmas and New Year as treat days when you can enjoy that pavlova or cheesecake.
- Choose salads (including, green leafy “Greek salad” with a small amount of feta, baked sweet potato and quinoa) rather than filling up on white bread or pasta or potato salads.
- Choose lemon or vinaigrette dressings with small amounts of extra virgin olive oil rather than creamy mayonnaise dressings for your salads.
- Eat fresh fruit as dessert options rather than cakes and biscuits.
- However, opt for mostly low GI fruits (apples, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and plums) as opposed to higher GI fruits (ripe bananas, rockmelon, pineapple, watermelon)
- Eat a small amount of roasted unsalted nuts rather than potato chips
- Choose turkey breast instead of salami
- Choose fresh peeled prawns and grilled seafood instead of sausages or cured meats
- Exercise regularly during the holidays – but don’t overcompensate for exercise by eating more. Weight loss is still 80% eating and 20% exercise.
- Most importantly use small plates to help portion control, use a hand-written food diary or app, or photograph your meals on your phone so you can be accountable to yourself.
- Weigh yourself at least weekly with the aim to maintain a healthy stable weight throughout the festive season.