Dietician’s Advice: Overcome the Season’s Excess

Following some festive indulging, our resident dietician, Adrian Penzhorn, serves up a cunning plan to get your pre-holiday body back.

This article is a few months too late. It is always better going into a season, an event or a phase of your year with a plan instead of running damage control after the fact. But we are all human and sitting at the desk after a few weeks of indulgence and an inbox full of queries, questions and panic stations leaves us needing to put out some fires.

It is generally remarkable how quickly the body reacts to a change in its environment. The excess of the festive season would have been worse were it not for some neat innate adjustments the body makes. Often an increase in metabolic rate and laying down of extra lean tissue can accommodate a quicker return to “normal” after these sessions. And hopefully some activity, exercise or training was part of the holiday too. I actually use occasional “refeeds” with chronic dieters for these benefits, a transient increase in calories in excess of what is needed to help move things along but ideally these are short lived, a couple days per week here and there.

If you have stood on the scale to a nasty number or found those skinfolds have added up to a little more than you had hoped, don’t despair, aim to get back to what you were doing. While many athletes want a quick shift there is a belief that this can only be done with something drastic, the latest cleanse, fasting or detox diet and I’d offer some caution here. It is not uncommon to see a quick 2-3 kg loss in a few days while fuelling well and eating balanced meals. The key is adding back the training too. We have seen great results in our groups of athletes with what I would see as the three steps to getting back on track; a return to consistency, cutting out the extras and mindfulness of intake.

If there was one word that sums up success with nutrition it is consistency. This does not mean eating the same thing every day, it means having a plan and being close to achieving it every day. Whatever your approach is, achieving 80% of your nutritional goals every day, every week or every month will have you bang on track in no time. And you are more likely to have lasting success. Be consistent with your diet, your meal timing, your choice of foods and food groups and your portions and give it a chance to work.

Cutting out the extras is simple. Start with drinks and snacks. Are there calories coming in from what you drink? Do you need them? Can some water, tea or coffee suffice? Are you snacking? Are you actually hungry or is this just a habit, a routine or some comfort that the food is providing? We often find that hunger is mistaken for thirst, so fix your fluid intake first. Then look at your daily meals, they might not be balanced and leaving you hungry 2-3 hours later. You might need to bump up the protein and breakfast is a good place to start. If you are throwing yourself back into training check that your fuelling and recovery strategies are working, you might be paying for poor habits here later in the day with hunger and cravings.

Lastly the mindfulness of what you are doing has already started. You have read these words, you have asked yourself some of the questions I have just posited, and you are now thinking about it all. We all need to tune in to our diet and food behaviours, choices and relationships. Start by keeping a diary for a few days, the two most useful are a simple food log to see what and when you are actually eating and then a hunger journal. For this I suggest adding two numbers to each meal you have logged on a scale from 1 (propvol) to 10 (starving). Give your meal a starting number of how hungry you were and then a completion number of how full you are. We want to maintain a grey area throughout the day, eating only when you are very hungry or eating to overly full are things to avoid. Take some time to sit down and enjoy food, think about the flavours you are picking up, how it was cooked or where it was from. Let it all be part of your journey.

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