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Don’t crack this Christmas

The average weight gain over the festive period? Up to 5lbs! Try our clever tricks to help dodge those food traps


moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.’ We’ve all heard this old adage (and tried to ignore it), and yet we know it’s kind of true. Those festive cheese platters, mini mince pies and piles of chocolates that seem so harmless as we guzzle our way through Christmas have a nasty habit of hanging around long past the new year. The bottom line? Those 5lbs are a lot harder to lose than they are to gain!


If only there was some way to navigate through all those oh-so-tempting eating opportunities with our willpower (and waistline) intact. Well, you guessed it, there is! And the good news is that it doesn’t mean depriving yourself (too much).


Enter our smart-eating method – it’s all about training your mind with simple psychological tricks to help you rethink your food choices. So stop with the excuses – we’ve got an answer for everything.

‘It’s a Christmas party, so it’s a special occasion!’

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    It feels like the very air we breathe from November to New Year is heavy with mince pies and Quality Street. Is it any wonder we give ourselves a licence to overindulge at festive soirées?


    Brian Wansink, a leading US expert on eating behaviour, director at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life (£9.99, Hay House), says: ‘We think: “Whatever I do doesn’t matter – it only happens once a year.” The trouble is, this is a celebration that lasts several weeks!’


    It doesn’t mean stuff yourself silly. Brian’s suggestion? Use ‘the rule of two’ at the festive buffet: pick any two items you particularly want – say one mini hamburger and one sausage roll. When you’ve eaten them, you’re then allowed two different kinds of food.


    ‘People will choose the things they want most and put them on their plate first,’ he says. ‘After that, they might go back one more time but they’ll tend to eat less.’


    This, he says, is because it gives you the much-desired permission to eat what you want, so you don’t get food FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Using a smaller plate is also a good way to help you choose and consume less.


    Another top tip? ‘It sounds obvious but sit facing away from the buffet table,’ says Brian. ‘You’re likely to eat less, partly because you’re not watching other people going back and forth to the food buffet, so you won’t become fixated by it.’


    Don’t fret if you slip up. Calgary Avansino, wellbeing campaigner and author of Keep It Real: Create A Healthy, Balanced And Delicious Life – For You And Your Family (£12.99, Yellow Kite), says: ‘Make each meal a fresh start – if you overindulged at dinner, the next meal is a new chance to eat well and make healthier choices.’

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‘Don’t listen to “head hunger” when it says “I want chocolate!”’

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    Yes, you should pay close attention to your body, but you don’t have to cave in every time the voice in your head convinces you that you want to eat, or eat a certain thing. While physical hunger is our body’s way of telling us to find food, cravings are a suggestion, not an order!



    Wanting is different to needing. But how to differentiate a craving from genuine hunger? Simple: the less picky you are, the more chance you’re actually hungry. ‘If you fancy something specific, such as chocolate or cheese and crackers, it’s because you’ve learnt to like it, so you crave it,’ explains psychologist Professor Jane Ogden, author of The Psychology Of Eating: From Healthy To Disordered Behaviour (£23.99, Wiley-Blackwell). ‘If you were genuinely hungry, you wouldn’t be so specific about what you want to eat.’


    But what if that craving is so strong, you just can’t concentrate on anything else? Try this visual exercise: ‘Imagine yourself eating loads and loads of it until you start to feel a bit sick. This visualisation can act as a sort of “aversion therapy”,’ she explains. We also love Brian’s short and simple tip: chew some sugar-free gum.

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‘I will seem rude if I refuse the food that’s offered to me’

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    You’ve had so many huge feasts this festive season, you’re rolling, not walking. But many of us feel the social pressure to say yes to food, and find it impossible to refuse because it’ll seem rude (or boring).


    You won’t – in fact, no one else will even notice what you’re eating. Brian assures us it isn’t rude at all. ‘People are so interested in what they’re eating and drinking themselves that they won’t notice what you’re doing,’ he insists.


    However, if you’re still anxious about not going all out with your Aunt Mavis’ lovingly cooked Christmas dinner, he suggests deploying this crafty trick: try asking for a small portion first, then after a few minutes loudly announce you’d like some more.


    ‘In reality you won’t have eaten that much, but crucially you’re not that person without a plate. And you’ll have convinced your aunt you really enjoy her food,’ he says.

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‘I was having a good time, so didn’t realise how much I’d eaten’

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    Picture the scene: Slade is booming out over the speakers, you’re catching up with friends and you’re shovelling handfuls of nibbles in your mouth on autopilot…



    Practise mindful eating. Nutritionist Lily Soutter says it’s a great way to stop yourself overindulging.


    ‘Make a conscious effort to eat slowly and chew each mouthful 15 times,’ she says. ‘It takes around 20 minutes for our bodies to register that we’re feeling full. So the more slowly you eat, the less likely you are to go back for seconds.’


    Indeed, Brian claims we make more than 200 food decisions each day, yet we’re unaware of 90% of them – talk about mindless eating!


    We say, just imagine you’re a food critic and need to review the flavour, texture and smell of what you’re eating. Excuse us while we go and (slowly) critique the cheese platter…

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Your smart-eating saviours


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Photography Alamy, Getty Images, Pixeleyes, Shutterstock


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