Crash diet and Christmas binge? How to avoid an unhealthy festive season

Half of us will try and drop a few pounds ahead of the Christmas food-fest, but crash dieting followed by binging isn't the answer. We asked a nutritionist how to get the balance right over the holidays

Almost half of the women in the UK will be crash dieting ahead of Christmas to drop a few pounds and get into their festive party dresses.

But with 63 per cent of us planning to give up the diet a week before the big day itself, and fully indulge in the food-fest, this sounds like a bonafide crash diet to us - and following it with a binge isn't the healthiest idea.

The favoured weight loss plans in the survey by were the 5:2 and the Atkins diets, though some said they were simply going to eat less and exercise more.

But with the desire to fit into a Christmas party dress followed by the gluttony that's sure to occur over the holidays, we have a recipe for yo-yoing weight, which nobody wants.

So we asked nutritionist and women's health expert Marilyn Glenville for her top tips for surviving the Christmas period and not feeling like a whale come January.

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"Healthily, we can't lose more than a pound or two a week and we need that to be fat loss otherwise we're only losing muscle and water," explains Marilyn. "So when the binge comes at Christmas - when we can consume up to 6,000 in one day - the weight goes back on as fat.

"So you actually get fatter trying to offset the Christmas binging, than if you hadn't bothered. Then you'll get to new year and you're going to have to go on a much stricter diet than if you hadn't bothered at all."

"Plus, you really don't want to be losing muscle as it's metabolically active, so it will burn some of the Christmas calories."

That's all very well but there must be something we can do to get into our Christmas party dress, right?

In the run up to Christmas

"What you can do is aim to lose a pound or two of fat by eating really, really healthily. One simple thing you can do is cut out bread, which will also make you less likely to feel bloated, making your clothes fit and feel better on. And while you're at it avoid anything with added sugar, white flour products, anything that you know really isn't very good for us.

"Another easy thing to do to make an impact is cut out starchy carbs after 6pm - even the good, brown ones. So forget about pasta, brown rice and potatoes and instead go for the protein - say fish, with a salad or some veg."

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When the festivities begin

It's unlikely that you'll escape the Christmas season without snaffling down a few mince pies, or drinking along with a few toasts. But there are some tricks you can employ to enjoy the festivities without putting on pounds and feeling bad.

On the alcohol front, Marilyn tells us that spirits are better in terms of calories than wine or beer because they don't cause as much blood sugar fluctuation. But she recommends a spritzer, or drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.

"Having a spritzer is a good idea, as it'll give you the same amount of liquid but fewer alcohol calories - so you drink it at about the same rate as you would a normal glass of wine," she explains.

After work drinks, Christmas parties and the dreaded buffet

"If you can, try and eat before you go out because often, at events, you get onto the drinks for some time before you get any food, and they're very calorific.

"It's better to have something a bit fatty, such as an omlette, to buffer the drinks a bit - then the alcohol won't have such a huge effect and you're less likely to go for the nibbles."

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Christmas Day

Another vital yet simple piece of advice is to chew properly.

"Take the time when you eat because it takes 20 minutes for our body to register that it's full. So the slower you eat the more likely you'll realise you're full before you've eaten too much," says Marilyn.

"And make sure you have a good breakfast – something like an egg to start the day. That's less likely to cause cravings through the morning that will send you straight to the sugary foods on offer.

"With the Christmas dinner, pile up the protein rather than the potatoes and starchy carbs."

And it might seem futile when you've just put in a few thousands calories, but doing a bit of exercise will do some good.

"It will definitely make a difference in terms of energy," Marilyn says. "We're not going to be burning anywhere near what we've eaten but I'd definitely recommend you get out for some fresh air and do a bit of gentle exercise.

"It will make you feel more awake and less likely to have that post-lunch energy slump where you end up nodding off. Just doing something will help balance your blood sugar levels and give you oxygen, which will make you feel much better."

Good luck!