How to avoid the festive bulge and stay trim this Christmas

Many people see the festive season as ‘blow-out’ time, when they don’t have to think about their health or their waistline until after the New Year. However, the average person puts on 5 to 10 pounds between November and January. And while there is nothing wrong with throwing caution to the wind and over-indulging once in a while, the problem lies with the fact that the sugary foods and drinks we consume over Christmas are addictive – and most people find it harder than anticipated to go back to a healthier lifestyle come January.

Research has shown that women in particular tend to put on 7 pounds a year. This steady weight gain is often linked to the excesses of the festive season, which are not discontinued come January, so more weight piles on year after year. The answer is not to deprive yourself entirely, but to eat smart. If you have read about the Holford Low-GL Diet, then you will be familiar with the concept of eating low-GL foods to keep your blood sugar balanced, boost your energy and increase weight loss. This way of eating can be applied just as easily to the festive season as to any other time of year – limiting the damage you do to your waistline over Christmas. The golden rules, in summary, are:

• Avoid sugary, starchy carbohydrates and choose low-GL, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables instead.

• Eat regular meals (three meals a day plus two snacks in between) to keep your blood sugar balanced and avoid hunger pangs that lead to being tempted by naughty treats.

• Eat protein and carbohydrates together. Carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar, whereas protein is digested much more slowly. By eating the two together, the protein helps to slow the release of sugar from the carbohydrates into the bloodstream.

So, how does this apply to the traditional dishes served at this time of year? Simple: Think about the classic Christmas meal of roast turkey with all the trimmings. Turkey is a lean source of protein, so it makes the ideal basis for a low-GL meal. Make sure you fill up on non-starchy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli rather than too many high-starch, high-GL potatoes. Or roast baby new potatoes in their skins. They are much lower in starch than ordinary potatoes, and the skin adds fiber to slow down the rate of digestion – thus lowering the GL. Most crucially, watch what you are nibbling on.

There are usually all sorts of tempting treats to be had throughout the festivities, so you can find yourself picking at chocolates or cheese biscuits when you are not actually hungry. Make sure your snacks follow the low-GL rule of combining protein with slow-releasing carbohydrate. For example, rather than sweets and biscuits, have a clementine and crack some nuts, or savour a couple of dark chocolate-covered Brazils (dark chocolate has a higher antioxidant content than milk). Instead of sausage rolls or anything else wrapped in pastry, make canapés of smoked salmon, pesto, and rocket on mini oat cakes, or top squares of rye or pumpernickel bread with smoked trout, olive tapenade and watercress. Swap crisps for tasty cashew nuts or toasted and seasoned pumpkin seeds. Come the New Year, if you want more inspiration for delicious ways to enjoy food that won’t pile on the pounds, then check out the Holford Low-GL Diet Cookbook.