How to eat well: Don't overdo the seasonal excess

By Ian Marber, December 22, 2012

As a nutrition professional, I realise that the festive season is the time of the year that my advice will fall on deaf ears. This is the period when it is OK to overdo things — at least that is what the marketing message is and the temptation to comply can be overwhelming.

We seem to be encouraged to eat ourselves silly in December — it’s a month of permitted excess. But December is followed by January, with its remorse and diets.

Get ready for compelling newspaper and magazine headlines exhorting us to “lose the festive flab”, along with a stream of new exercise DVDs hosted by your favourite soap stars. This sits nicely with the “New Year, new you” message suggesting that the old flawed, second-rate you is about to be replaced by an improved version.

But if you believe that a few days of excess can be put right by a few days of abstinence the following month, you might want to think again. The complex biochemistry that processes food to produce energy has no idea that the excesses may be well deserved and temporary, but will simply add what it can’t use to the body’s fat stores.

Consume less in January and the process will be mostly reversed. But follow this cycle repeatedly and you will find that the fat stores are harder to get rid of, as the body stubbornly holds on to them, just in case famine occurs again.

'December is followed by January with its remorse and diets'

Put another way, overdoing it followed by dieting and then overdoing it again, even in a milder form, will make it harder to lose weight next time around.

This may not be new information, but I do wonder if the mere existence of January diets gives us the confidence to overdo things. The question is, if we couldn’t lose weight, would we be quite so cavalier about gaining it in the first place?

It’s not unlike living on credit rather than paying for what we want with what we have available. Weight gain and diets are no more than a credit agreement, but I feel the interest rate is far too high. Bear this in mind as you reach for yet another festive treat.

Or alternatively, you can ignore the advice of this old humbug, and follow the maxim of eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books.

Last updated: 10:14am, December 22 2012