The festive season is fast approaching and it coincides, at least in the northern hemisphere, with shorter days and longer nights. This combination of delicious seasonal foods, warming tipples, and reduced activity is a sure fire way to gain the pounds. Yet weight gain doesn't have to be inevitable if you have a cunning plan.
Whenever adults hold a social gathering, alcohol is inevitably present. But how fattening is alcohol? It is certainly calorific; containing almost as many calories as fat. A 250ml glass of red wine is 170 calories, a bottle of alcopop tots up around 200 calories and a pint of lager will set you back between 200 and 350 calories. This is a significant percentage of your daily energy requirements.
Somewhat surprisingly, medical research shows quite clearly that if you drink moderately, up to two drinks a day for women and three drinks a day for men, you don't gain weight. This is because the energy cost of metabolising alcohol is high at 20% and you are likely to compensate by eating less.
Heavy drinking, particularly binge drinking does however make you fat. Here's why.
Alcohol inhibits fat mobilisation by suppressing testosterone - a sex hormone found in women as well as men. Testosterone is a great hormone for burning fat and when it drops it increases fat storage.
Testosterone contributes to lean body mass. Less testosterone means less muscle, and less muscle means fewer calories burned and a slower metabolic rate.
Alcohol is your body's priority fuel so have a few lagers with your chicken biryani and onion bhaji and the alcohol gets burnt up first, leaving much of your meal to be deposited effortlessly around your waist.
Alcohol loosens your inhibitions so you may find it hard to resist those tempting bar snacks or greasy takeaways on the way home from the pub. You may end up having an extra meal a day and that's a lot of extra calories.
It is not just boozy get-togethers that you need to be wary of. Party and celebration foods are typically loaded with energy dense fat and sugar. Pastries - both sweet and savoury - cakes, biscuits, muffins, mince pies, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, ice cream, sweets and confectionary. They are all highly calorific.
Soft drinks, including pure fruit juices, do not contain fat but they are little more than sugar even if it just from fruit. Liquid calories from sugary drinks don't fill you up and you still eat the same amount of food. Pick these beverages instead of alcohol and stay sober, but you will get fat.
And what could be nicer than a festive coffee or hot chocolate topped with cream while you do your Christmas shopping or wait at a cold and unwelcoming bus stop. They may contain more calories than a Big Mac.
Here are my tips for getting through party season without having to buy a new wardrobe.
• Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for women and three drinks a day for men. Heavy drinking and binge drinking make you fat.
• Avoid all carb/fat combinations, except nuts which contain fibre and are hard to digest. You can eat wholegrain bread, potatoes, rice and pasta as long as they contain minimal added fat.
• Eat protein (meat, fish, cheese, eggs, pulses or nuts) at every meal. Protein is the most filling food and it is less fattening than carbs as your body uses up more energy to digest it.
• Avoid sugary soft drinks, and drinks containing sugar and cream.
• Eat three times a day and do not eat between meals. If you are used to snacking, this one strategy drastically reduces your daily calorie intake.
When it comes to festive eating, nibble some nuts or olives instead of crisps or savoury snacks. Choose cheese instead of cheese cake and meat instead of sausage rolls. At mealtimes eat potatoes, rice or pasta, add a portion of protein, and a glass of wine and you should see in the New Year with your waistline unchanged.