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20 Dec 2018

‘Tis the season to indulge – but what does it mean for our bodies?

With the holiday season right around the corner, most of us will be looking forward to coming together with family and friends to celebrate.

Christmas table

It’s no surprise that this time of year is one where we all may indulge a bit – or a lot – more than usual. But what happens to your body when you overeat over a short period of time?

Short term feasting, rapid body changes

“Even after only a few days of over eating and drinking, healthy people will develop a fatty liver and increase their insulin resistance, particularly if they have a family history of type 2 diabetes” says Dr Dorit Samocha-Bonet, diabetes researcher and dietitian at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Dr Samocha-Bonet and her team ran a 28-day study mimicking the overfeeding that typically takes place during periods such as Christmas. “People also tend to gain around two kilos over this holiday period, not just from Christmas day but from a change in routine where people are on holidays, eating out and drinking more and not exercising.”

Should we all start skipping the pavlova in light of the effects of indulging in our holiday favourites? “We do overeat by around 50% to 100% over Christmas but I wouldn’t avoid anything,” says Dr Samocha-Bonet. “We all have our holiday traditions and it’s a time of year where everyone should be enjoying themselves. We are built with healthy regulatory systems for hunger and satiety that are working over Christmas just as they are every day of the year, so listen to those satiety signals and you’re not likely to overeat an excessive amount.” Satiety, the feeling of being ‘full’, is a result of a complex mechanism of signals sent from the gut and the stomach after eating which signals to the brain that you are full.

Beating the holiday bloat

If you are conscious about eating too much over this period, especially on Christmas day, the key is to plan ahead. “If you know you’re going to have a big lunch, have a light breakfast. Try and abstain from drinking before and after the Christmas period to give your liver time to detoxify, and enjoy the sunshine this time of year – go out for a long walk or a jog,” says Dr Samocha-Bonet. “Think ahead so you are able to enjoy yourself without feeling guilty – don’t miss out for the sake of a few calories.”

The good news is that even if you end up going all-in on everything delicious this holiday period, the effects of short-term feasting are reversible with a healthy eating and exercise regimen, and even by just getting back to a normal routine. For those who are looking to address the post-holiday food hangover sooner, the popular 5:2 diet has proven to be an effective method of reducing calorie intake. “It’s a safe protocol for healthy individuals,” says Dr Samocha-Bonet. “It has been shown to be effective in losing excess weight, clear the liver of fat and reduce insulin resistance. If you’ve been thinking about trying this diet, Christmas may be the perfect time to start.”