How to enjoy Christmas without piling on the pounds

Mick Turner and Steve Hampson of Warrior Workouts
Mick Turner and Steve Hampson of Warrior Workouts

THE boxes of chocolates have already been opened and the parties have started. With Christmas fast approaching, we asked Steve Hampson and Mick Turner - of Warrior Workouts - for their tips on how to navigate the festive period without piling on the pounds.

Former Wigan and GB star Steve has worked on the Warriors coaching staff and as fitness conditioner for Sale Sharks, Lancashire County Cricket Club and the Great Britain RL team.

Mick is a former Royal Marine and was head of strength and conditioning for the Warriors and Warrington Wolves. Here is their advice...

Research shows that the average person gains 5lbs (2kg) over the Christmas period by over-eating and drinking. But a rapidly disappearing waistline can be avoided by following a simple survival plan that still lets you enjoy a traditional Christmas with family and friends.

The first thing is to forget about trying to lose weight over the Christmas period. You will not only miss out on most of the fun and enjoyment, but you will also make yourself miserable.

The trick is to just try and maintain your existing weight.

Being smart with your eating and drinking as well as doing some light exercise lets you enjoy a well-earned break and not end up feeling sluggish or out-of-shape. Light exercise does not mean vigorous workouts in the gym – it involves small periods of increased activity, such as a 30-minute walk, that will let you enjoy the festivities without gaining weight.

One of the main problems is that much of the food we traditionally eat at Christmas is full of calories. Mince pies, for example, will probably contain about 250 calories; a portion of Christmas pudding will contain about 300 calories. These figures soon mount up and you can see how we can easily gain 5lb over the holiday period.

There are some practical ways of avoiding weight gain over Christmas.

Before Christmas, try to avoid the traps set by supermarkets. They will tempt you to buy ‘big packets’ of snack foods and generally encourage you to buy much more than you actually need. Then you will feel under pressure to eat everything you have bought or end up throwing what you don’t eat away. Plan your meals carefully beforehand and try to buy only the food you need. Leftovers can be frozen or offered to guests to take home.

When the party season arrives, try to avoid arriving at parties hungry. Party food and snacks are almost always loaded with calories.

Take the edge off your appetite by eating something light (and healthy) before you go out.

Try to alternate your drinks at a party – follow one alcoholic drink with one non-alcoholic drink such as water or a soft drink. Be careful in restaurants – they often serve wine in much larger glasses than you have at home. And top-ups can lead to you losing count of the amount you have been drinking. Finish one glass before accepting a top-up.

The affects of alcohol can also undermine your attempts to eat healthily. You are more likely to reach for snacks that are high in fat and carbohydrates. Alcohol will also affect your blood sugar for about 24 hours. Even if you don’t have a hangover, you will be more inclined to eat fatty, sugar-filled foods.

Soft drinks can be a bit of a minefield. Fizzy drinks are full of sugar, so adults need to be careful with mixers in spirits - soda water or fresh juice is a better option – and youngsters should try and limit their intake of cola or similar drinks. Most sports drinks are also loaded with sugar.

Christmas is always associated with over-eating. There’s the office or work’s parties, and meals out with friends and family – and that’s before the challenge of Christmas Day itself.

So how can you survive all this and keep your waistline intact?

There’s one over-riding rule as far as food is concerned – eat slowly and concentrate on what you are eating. This has become known as ‘mindful eating’.

At Christmas, it is too easy to eat unconsciously. It may sound obvious, but many people eat food too quickly and, after the first few mouthfuls, are barely aware of what they are actually eating. This approach treats food as fuel – in much the same way as you fill your car’s petrol tank. The slower you eat food, the more conscious you will become of its taste, and the more you will enjoy it. Importantly, you will feel fuller sooner, will end up eating less and enjoy your food more.

One golden rule is not to skip breakfast. This may seem a good way to save calories, but starting the day with a healthy meal is important. Have a bowl of porridge, fresh fruit or a bagel or muffin with poached or scrambled eggs. A good breakfast will see you through to lunchtime and help to stop you ‘grazing’ during the morning.

When it comes to Christmas lunch, try this approach. Fill about half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with a portion of turkey (white meat), and a quarter with potatoes and stuffing. Avoid vegetables cooked in creamy sauces or coating them in melted butter.

Try to cut down the size of the portions on your plate in a sensible way. Everyone aims at leaving a clean plate and smaller portions mean you will eat less and people can always come back for seconds.

So what about seconds? We have all gone along with the ‘have a little more,’ suggestion.

Eating more slowly allows time for your stomach to send signals to your brain that you are actually full. The trick here to stop yourself over-eating is to wait five or 10 minutes after finishing your first helping – and you will be surprised to find that you will not want seconds.

Over-eating is also the main reason why most people feel sleepy after Christmas lunch.

The body energies are focused on digesting much more food than normal and you feel sluggish and lethargic.

The solution is to eat less and, before or after your meal, to take a brisk walk. Gentle aerobic activity has been shown to reduce blood fats and help prevent weight gain.

This combination of mindful eating and exercise is the secret to long-term weight control – not just for the Christmas period, but all year round. Above all, have a happy Christmas and a well-earned break with family and friends.

To summarise, here are some top tips:

Don’t try to lose weight over Christmas – try to maintain your existing weight.

Plan menus carefully – only buy the food you need.

Don’t skip breakfast.

Don’t go to a party hungry – have a snack beforehand.

Try to alternate alcoholic and non-alcohol drinks.

Do some light exercise every day - before or after meals.

Eat slowly and more mindfully.

Eat smaller portions.

Fill up with vegetables.

Avoid having seconds.

WARRIOR WORKOUTS offer regular sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (6.30pm-7.30pm) and Saturday mornings (8am-9am) at Central Park, Montrose Avenue, Wigan.

The sessions are open to anyone aged 15+ and provide workouts for all fitness levels. They cost £3.50 per session. First session on Monday, Jan 4 is free and £3.50 per session thereafter. Morning workouts new for 2016: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 45 minute workout starting at 7am. A challenging, rewarding and varied group conditioning session for all fitness abilities.