The idea of starting a new diet before the holidays almost sounds like a joke, and while there are ways to eat healthier during the season of overeating, some experts say a diet around this time can backfire.
According to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, chief medical correspondent for ABC News and Good Morning America, dieting before the holidays may not be the healthiest idea.
“It’s not as simple as calories in and calories out,” she said. “What happens in general when people start to diet, their weight may drop a little bit, that produces an increase in the hunger hormones … [and] your metabolism actually slows down.”
Ashton is referring to the homeostatic regulation of weight in our body, says Jessica Begg, a registered dietitian of Shift Nutrition, and it is a complicated subject.
“There is a set-point weight that every body determines through genetics. If you have gained weight over the years, your body can also ‘reset’ to that new set-point weight,” she tells Global News.
“So during times of dietary restriction, such as going on a diet before the holidays, if weight has been lost, it has been shown in research that in fact, hunger levels will increase. Studies have also shown that weight-reduced people will be more hungry than they were previously and will also find food more appealing than before, and particularly high-fat foods.”
This increase in hunger could be an issue when you’re constantly surrounded by high-calorie food during the holidays.
Not only do the holidays bring an abundance of savoury and sweet treats at offices and holiday parties, but many people are also gifted food, says registered dietitian Jessica Tong based in Calgary.
“The cold weather prompts us to seek comfort foods,” she tells Global News. “Most people attend the most social functions at this time of year and, at each function, there is always an abundance of food and alcohol.”
She adds people tend to overeat during this season because busy habits also lead to sleep deprivation. ” Sleep deprivation can trigger your hunger hormone, ghrelin, and cause you to eat more.”
But this doesn’t mean you can’t start eating healthier in general during the holiday season, Tong says.
She says try rationing your treats — the holidays shouldn’t be considered a free-for-all. And if you are attending a potluck, be the person who brings the healthy item.
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“If you know you’re going to a party that has little or no nutritious options, have a balanced snack with protein and fibre beforehand. By not arriving at the party hungry, you can help prevent yourself from making poor choices,” she tells Global News.
Food also brings people together during the holidays (which is why many of us overeat in the first place), but Tong says you don’t always have to share a meal in order spend time together.
“When planning social gatherings with your friends and family, do something that does not involve eating. Play an exciting escape game, plan a competitive sports game, look for special holiday events around the city, or start an interactive board game around a cozy fire,” she continues.
Begg says it is important to stick to your normal routine as much as you can — stick to your regular three meals a day and do not skip any meals.
“Enjoy your favourite holiday treats, but don’t bother with others that you don’t care that much about,” she continues. “Follow your hunger-fullness cues: don’t over-stuff yourself at meals. Take food home if you need to.”
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