How to NOT GET FAT over Christmas

It's the most wonderful time of the year... the holiday season; Christmas and New Years (and Thanksgiving too, if you live in North America). A time for family, friends and ohhhh so importantly... FOOD... lots and lots of food!


What did you get for Christmas? Fat... I got fat!

It's pretty much a well established fact that people gain weight during the holiday period. It really is the perfect s#!t storm of conditions coming together in harmony to absolutely screw up any dieting success you might have had before. Cold weather that makes us lazy and keeps us indoors, warm homes that also make us lazy and keep us indoors and enough delicious food to feed a small but very physically active army. Not only that but it's absolutely socially acceptable to eat like a pig because everyone else is doing it... right? 


Too little exercise and way too much food... sounds like the perfect recipe for gaining weight so it really is no surprise that more than 50% of the weight that most people gain in a year, happens over the holiday season from Thanksgiving through to New Year {1}.



It's inevitable... right?


For most people, the idea that getting fat over Christmas is just the natural order of things. Unfortunately, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and people just give into the idea that over the holidays they NEED to do the following:

  1. Sit on your ass as much as possible
  2. Eat all the foods

And thus, your nightmare of gaining weight becomes a prophecy fulfilled. You can literally feel the new rolls of fat forming on a daily basis as just as the feeling of self-loathing  becomes stronger and stronger: "Oh why did I have to eat that fourth helping of cake?", "How did just one become an entire box of chocolates?", "These jeans weren't this tight last week"...


...but it doesn't have to be that way.

I'm not going to lie to you. Christmas is not Waistline-friendly... at all. It is super easy to gain weight because we've made it that way ourselves by spending our days grazing on food like livestock without doing any exercise.


But if we're able to make it easy to gain weight, we're also able to do the opposite. With the right mindset and a solid plan you'll be able to enjoy the holiday feasts and avoid a few extra rolls of fat. Here are some solid tips to help you do just that.



Christmas Damage Control

1. Stop Worrying and Accept that you will gain weight


This may sound counter intuitive but hear me out.


One of the worst things about gaining weight over Christmas is the amount of worrying we do about it. We freak ourselves out about how much food we're going to eat and how much weight we're going to gain. Yet despite this worry, we don't do anything about it. Instead we let that worry take away from our enjoyment of what should be an amazing time of celebration with family and friends.


All the celebrating is going to end up in a little weight gain but if you follow the rest of the tips in this article, you'll be able to minimize it and maybe even use it to your advantage. Besides, unless you are a professional physique competitor with a competition in January it doesn't matter if you gain a tiny amount of weight over the holidays. Trust me, worrying about something is not going to make it any better so, Step 1: just accept and stop worrying... we've got this under control.


2. Enjoy your food

One of my most important principles when working with clients (and eating for myself) is "Enjoy your food". If you don't enjoy your food, you usually end up feeling restricted and that only ends with people giving up and binging a little further down the line and gaining even more weight {2,3}. It's the classic Yo-Yo diet: eliminate all the foods you love, lose some weight but feel miserable and then cave in and eat everything that you've craved while dieting. Sound familiar?


This Christmas day (or Thanksgiving if you celebrate it), eat everything without giving a damn about how many calories or fat it has, without worrying about the glycemic index of the mashed potatoes or fat content of your second helping of plum pudding. Just do what you're supposed to do at Christmas: eat delicious food with your loved ones and enjoy every morsel.


That said, don't make an absolute pig of yourself or make yourself feel sick from too much food. Use your head.

Just go to town on that Christmas feast and enjoy every morsel
Just go to town on that Christmas feast and enjoy every morsel

3. Damage control on other Days

You're going to eat a lot on Christmas day. You've allowed yourself that one day of excess... just make sure you keep it at ONE day! 


What I mean is that you don't need to eat like everyday is Christmas over the holiday period. Instead you need to use the days around the big feast day for your damage control. To explain this better, let's look at an actual example of how much someone can eat in excess at Christmas and how he can compensate for that on the other days:


Lets take Bobby as an example (remember Bobby?)

  1. Let's assume Bobby's maintenance calories are 2500/day. That means he needs to eat that amount of calories daily to stay at the same weight.
  2. On Christmas day, Bobby really, really enjoys himself and eats 6000 calories (this is perfectly easy to do, by the way) meaning he eats 3500 calories extra. Those 3500 will probably end up getting stored as fat.
  3. To make up for the Christmas excess, Bobby decides to reduce his daily calories by 500. That means that he eats only 2000 calories/day for a few days after Christmas.
  4. If Bobby is in a daily deficit of 500 calories, that means he only needs to do it for 7 days to equal the 3500 extra calories he ate on Christmas day.


So, in just one week, Bobby effectively cancels out the damage he did on Christmas day.


Yes this is an over-simplification but it is also something that is very easy to do yourself. Even if you don't want to put yourself into such a strict deficit, it can still be done over two weeks or more. We'll take a look at how to reduce those calories a little later.


4. Train Like a beast

The other problem with the holiday period is how lazy we become; they don't call them "holidays" for nothing. However this is actually like shooting yourself in the foot, twice because:

  1. You don't burn any of the excess calories you eat, so they get stored as fat
  2. You don't take advantage of the excess calories to build muscle and get stronger

Look, I'm not going to use this article to list all the reasons you should be lifting weights regularly. Just take my advice and make "lifting heavy things" a regular part of your lifestyle. You can thank me later.


Over the holidays many people make the mistake of thinking that they should take a holiday from exercise too. Instead, I think it's of the utmost importance that people remain as active as usual (if not more active). If you lift weights around the Christmas period you can take advantage of the extra calories to not only feel stronger in the gym but also to put on a little extra muscle (instead of storing it all as pure fat). You may even find that you hit some new strength or rep PRs (personal records) over the holiday season. I know that often happens for me.


I plan on training just as hard as I usually do around Christmas and I will take my "deload" (a break from lifting) later in January when my weight is stable and I'm not tempted by excess food.

Get into that gym and train like an absolute beast. You'll be stronger and will help turn some of that excess food into muscle.
Get into that gym and train like an absolute beast. You'll be stronger and will help turn some of that excess food into muscle.

5. Plan your eating "obligations"

Another "given" over Christmas is visiting relatives that you haven't seen all year and sharing food with them. It's very easy to consider each one of these meals as another "mini-Christmas" and really do some damage to your waistline.


Instead, plan the rest of your eating around these "obligatory" meals. If it's a dinner, eat less during the day (following the rules below), saving your calories up for a larger, but controlled meal at night. It it's a lunch, just eat less at breakfast and dinner. If you control the food that you eat around larger meals, then you can still enjoy these important family get-togethers and there should be no reason that you have to eat ridiculously above your maintenance calories.


Just but in a little mental effort to plan your daily eating and remember "If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail".


6. Make the right food choices

As I've already pointed out, you don't have to change your eating habits on Christmas day itself but the following tips will help you to avoid eating in excess on the days around it (and if you want to use some of them for Christmas dinner... well that's fine too)


  • Fill up on protein and non-starchy vegetables: these are quite possibly the best foods for keeping you feeling full and stopping you from eating too much. Turkey and ham are going to be plentiful around Christmas so eat plenty early in the day to keep you feeling full. You should also make an effort to fit in as many vegetables as you can like Brussel sprouts (although I promise myself every year that I'm not going to bother making them), carrots and leafy greens like spinach, kale or salads. This combination of protein and veg is much lower in calories than the fatty/starchy Christmas staples so it will really help to offset the excess from the big day. Protein is also much more thermogenic than fats or carbs meaning it won't be so easily converted into extra rolls of fat.
  • Don't drink your calories: It is way to easy to take in excess calories when you drink them. Alcohol and sugary drinks are all too easily available over the holidays so make an effort to reduce them considerably. I've seen clients on a night out with friends drink well over 1000 calories from beer and mixed drinks, so you really shouldn't underestimate the contribution of liquid calories. Anyway, I find I get much more pleasure from my calories when I EAT them.
  • Ration out Christmas Sweets: Even if we (pretend) we don't want them, we all know that the house is going to filled with sugary treats over Christmas. Candies, cookies, chocolates and cakes... delicious diabetes as far as the eye can see. However, just because they are in the house doesn't mean you have to eat them all before the holidays are over. In general, sweets keep really well so you can store them and eat them in reasonable portions over the weeks or even months following Christmas (flexible dieting at it's best). It's not a race to see who can finish their Christmas sweets first, SO DON'T ACT LIKE IT IS!
Fill yourself up on high-protein foods (like turkey and ham) and fiber-rich fruit and vegetables
Fill yourself up on high-protein foods (like turkey and ham) and fiber-rich fruit and vegetables

7. Eat conciously

One of the most important aspects of any successful, long-term diet is being conscious of what you're eating. If we just threw everything we see into our mouths, every day, it wouldn't be long before we got fat. This is fine on Christmas day itself because IT'S JUST ONE DAY but on every other day you need to be somewhat aware of what your eating.


You can do this in many different ways:

  • Tracking macros (with a tracking app)
  • Counting calories
  • Portion control
  • Restricting certain foods

The most important thing is that you have some form of control over the amount of food you put into your body. If you don't eat consciously, it's very easy for your eating to get out of control and your waistline to expand.


Happy Holidays

 I hope that after reading this you realize that you aren't destined to jump up 3 dress sizes or cursed to wear stretchy pants for the weeks after Christmas.


I also hope you realize that it's not only OK to enjoy Christmas but you should actually make sure that you do so. Like I said, the holidays are a very special time of year and with a little dedication and some planning you can enjoy them fully AND stay in pretty good shape.

Eat well, folks.



  1. Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: Fact or fiction? Nutr Rev. 2000;58(12):378–9. 

  2. Stewart TM, Williamson DA, White MA. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in non-obese women. Appetite. 2002;38(1):39–44.
  3. Smith CF, Williamson D a, Bray G a, Ryan DH. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite. 1999;32(1995):295–305.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

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