It’s the season to “eat, drink and be merry” as many call it, but if you’ve been losing weight you probably don’t want to undo all that hard work. Did you know the average Briton gains around 6lb over the holiday season? And that’s just an average, which means that some will not gain so much, but others may gain even more! Don’t let the festivities set you back a month or two on your weight loss journey! I wrote these tips for my blog last year but thought it would be helpful to update them and include them here at FastDay. I’ve now had two festive seasons as a 5:2 faster, the first of which I came out half a pound lighter and last year I more or less maintained (if there was a minor gain it was very temporary indeed).
#1 It’s only a couple of weeks out of a lifetime!
Just as I tell people who are going on holiday or have special occasions coming up, 5:2 is a long-term change to your way of eating – it’s flexible fits around your life, not the other way around. So if there’s a week or two where fasting isn’t going to be possible or even if you feel like a bit of a break from it, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got the experience and know-how to get back on track and do it again. You know that a short break doesn’t mean all is lost, it’s only a few fasts you’ll have missed out on, which is nothing really compared with a lifetime of intermittent fasting. So, don’t fret if you can’t fast! I saw a great quote on Facebook once although I forget where or who wrote it (sorry!) – “It’s not what you eat between December and January that matters, it’s what you eat between January and December”. So very true!
#2 Listen to your body – your eating habits have changed as have your tolerances and cravings
Those of you who have been fasting for a while or more will probably have noticed by now that your eating habits have changed. You may be inclined towards smaller portions or bulking meals out with lovely nutritious vegetables. You may well be craving less junk and learning that certain foods only lead down the path of making you want more of them – refined carbs for example, which peak your blood sugar and then cause a sudden drop, causing you to feel hungry again. You’ve possibly also found that you simply can’t manage large quantities of rich foods any more, that your body will complain to you if you have too much of this sort of thing and that the unpleasant after effects (‘rapid transit’ as we sometimes call it at the forum) and stomach pains are enough to remind you not to indulge like this again. Use these to your advantage, enjoy your festive treats but listen to your body and don’t go so far as to cause yourself physical discomfort. If you do it once, you’ll certainly remember why you ought not to do it again. I know that’s true for me! Another important thing to be aware of is that there are a lot of bugs going around at this time of year – I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent a Christmas or New Year feeling rotten from a cold or flu. Be careful about deciding whether or not to fast if you’re not feeling on top form over the holidays. We’re doing this to improve our health after all.
#3 Modify your fasts to fit
If you can’t fit in a normal fast day due to social commitments over the holidays, you can try modified forms of fasting. There is of course the option of going with 16:8 fasting – a feeding window of 8 hours each day and a 16 hour fast (including sleep) between them – this basically amounts to skipping breakfast. Many 5:2ers use this for maintenance or have naturally slipped into it for their feed days due to lack of hunger in the mornings. Another option to consider is what I call a ‘half fast’ if you’re a faster who normally goes without any calories until dinner. Fast until dinner as you would usually but allow yourself a normal dinner, particularly if it’s a day where you’re expecting a big dinner/meal out etc. This can enable you to enjoy a good social meal without going overboard on your daily calorie intake. This method is also known as Fast-5, a shorter feeding window approach. Above all remember that you should not be allowing your fast days to feel like punishment or any more restrictive than your usual fast days. You don’t want to start begrudging them. On my fast days over the holidays I am more lenient about my calories – allowing more in the region of 700 calories or so – even having a chocolate or two within that limit if I really wanted to. Christmas only comes once a year after all!
#4 Consider occasional meal substitution
Another thing I’ve done over Christmas to keep my calories down while still enjoying the festive food was to swap meals out for treats on occasion. This is something I do in life generally anyway – so if you fancy that slice of cake with a dollop of cream, have it but do so instead of your lunch rather than as well as it. Maybe add a piece of low calorie fruit or salad for some proper nutrition. Make sure you have a nice healthy dinner bulked out with vegetables to get the nutrients you need and balance out the less healthy things you ate. Obviously this sort of treat-for-meal food swapping is not a healthy way to eat each and every day, but now and then it serves as an option to keep your intake more balanced instead of being excessive.
#5 Bubble and squeak is easy and awesome
Bubble and Squeak, for those who haven’t heard of it, is a meal made from vegetable leftovers and therefore really quick to make as well as being full of goodness and super tasty too! I always cook extra on Christmas day because I honestly enjoy my bubble & squeak more. I eat it for several days after, with a bit of leftover turkey or lean ham – often with a nice runny poached or lightly fried egg on top. Delicious! Just mash up those leftover roasties (potatoes, parsnips, squashes, sweet potatoes etc work well – but you could make a cauliflower mash to keep the calories doqn), chop the vegetables and mix it all up in a bowl. Lightly oil a small frying pan and press the mixture into it, making a sort of thick vegetable pancake. Turn out onto a plate when heated through and let your runny poached egg break on the top of it. It’s filling, it’s quick, it’s full of goodness and I find it makes a great meal to balance out those days where I’ve eaten a few more Christmas sweets than I probably should have!
#6 Plan to be flexible
By all means go into the holidays with the best of intentions – know what your plan is if you intend to try to fast, decide which days and what you can eat (I like to prepare my meals ahead of time and freeze them in for ease, knowing I don’t have to cook from scratch particularly over the holidays makes it that much easier to stick with a fast), but don’t feel bad if the plans change. The last two years my plan was to fast on Christmas eve but allowing myself 600 calories in the form of fillet steak, home-made potato wedges, vegetables and a little cheese sauce. I did it the first year year (it was delish!) and it meant I didn’t feel capable of overloading my tummy the next day but I could still enjoy a healthy sized meal – without the bloated, stuffed feeling which gives me no pleasure. Last year we ended up with guests on Christmas eve and I wound up having a little extra in the evening, but I still had the benefit of my usual 24 hour fast and less calories than I would otherwise have had that day. As I said earlier, it comes but once a year and change of plans or missing a fast is not the end of the world. Being organised and having good intentions can help you keep on track, but don’t feel bad about it if you have to change your plans – or even if you choose to just because you want to. Just don’t make a habit of it!
#7 Don’t aim to lose, aim to maintain…
It is said that over the festive period most people will gain close to half a stone (which means they’re probably eating about twice as much as their body needs!). Be realistic – don’t aim to lose over the festivities, you don’t want to feel deprived or like you’re some kind of martyr to your diet. 5:2 is about being able to enjoy your food still, remember? So, aim to maintain – or at least not to gain more than a pound or two, which you know you can shift again pretty quickly when your feet are firmly back on the 5:2 wagon in the new year. If you can fit in some fasts or half fasts you should be able to keep your calories relatively balanced and come out the other side of the holidays seeing the same sort of numbers on the scales as before. Don’t feel disappointed if it’s up a little, you know how to lose it and we’ve all had blips. Don’t be hard on yourself, we’re all our own worst critics when we should be our biggest supporters.
#8 Don’t beat yourself up if you gain a little
Following on from the above, we all know how annoying it can be to see the numbers go up on the scales. The important thing is to have a bit of perspective. Look at how far you’ve come and always remember how much you have already achieved. For what it’s worth let me tell you that this year – having had a serious medical condition – I have unfortunately regained a lot more weight than I would ever have wanted to. I remember how disappointed I felt after a holiday last year when I came home to find I had gained a few lbs… but having regained so much now, that little holiday gain has really been put into perspective. A few lbs is not worth getting horribly upset about, so pick yourself up and get back on track before the numbers creep up more and more. I console myself with knowing that I still weigh considerably less than I did a couple of years ago and that in terms of being considered successful, my loss is still significant (I have maintained a loss of more than 10% of my starting body weight… even if I did get as far as over 20%) and I’ll not allow myself to end up back at square one if I have anything to say about it! Remember also that if you’re partway through your weight loss journey and still have a fair amount of lose, a few lbs fluctuation on the scales is quite normal and isn’t necessarily indicative of an actual fat gain.
#9 Eating all day every day feels weird and may make it less easy to get back into fasting!
Or at least, it does to me since I started 5:2. Hubs and I had a holiday last year and I didn’t fast at all. It felt strange, being used to having two days a week where I only eat dinner but finding myself eating meals throughout the day each day. When I got back from holiday my first fast felt just like my very first fast ever – headaches, grumpy, hungry – I’ll admit it was a struggle and took a fair few weeks to get back into the routine. How quickly the body forgets! I also remember the previous New Year it was difficult to get out of the habit of nibbling sweet treats during the day when I got back to work. I’m so glad I kept at my fasting last festive season so at least the fast days themselves weren’t difficult and I only had to get my feed days back under control. I must say I feel much better when I am fasting, I hated being unable to fast for much of this year while I was unwell, but since starting again I feel fantastic!
#10 Keep in touch with your fasting friends
There’s nothing better for keeping you on the straight and narrow than checking in with your fasting friends. We’re all in this together! Be sure to pop in to the forum and also to log your weight on the progress tracker to help keep yourself in check.
This Christmas you probably already weigh less than you did last year, and next year no doubt less still – perhaps even maintaining a healthy weight. Whatever you do over the holidays, however you choose to fast – or not – it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy yourself, be mindful and remember there’s a new year coming and a healthier, happier you to strive for.