7 ways to navigate the party season without piling on the pounds

It's the most wonderful time of the year — but it's also an absolute minefield for your waistline. Here's how to survive it.

You’ve been hard at it all year, sculpting your chiselled abs or at the very least keeping your waistline just trim enough. What you don’t want do is fall at the final hurdle under an onslaught of seasonal temptations.

Here’s your guide from Joel Snape, Men’s Fitness editor-at-large and motivational alchemist for the Gentleman’s Journal, to reporting in on January 2nd as the envy of the office…without sacrificing your festive spirit to do it.

Have a day off or two from the punch

The logic’s seductive, but destructive: holiday season is (practically) a write-off anyway, so you might as well try for a full house on the booze bingo and worry about the consequences in January.

This is madness, though: apart from the sheer cost in calories, those eggnog snifters downregulate key hormones used in building muscle, while making it harder to burn fat. Schedule days off around your Christmas catch-ups, and use them strategically to work out, eat smartly, rehydrate and maybe read an improving book.

Cut down in the mornings

Nobody’s suggesting you skip breakfast entirely, but if you know you’ll be in gay abandon at that evening’s finger buffet – keep things minimal in the mornings to ‘save’ calories for the rest of the day. Aim for a mixture of quality protein and a little bit of fat – it’ll keep you sated until later with minimal cravings. Black coffee, incidentally, is an appetite suppressant – and three a day seems to be the magic number for an array of health benefits.

Have a plan for the morning after

Every gentleman needs a morning-after strategy. You can’t just throw a bacon sandwich and full-fat Coke at the problem and expect it to go away. Have a pint of water before anything else, and skip the Ibuprofen – it’s more for your liver to process, keeping the booze in your system unnecessarily.

Your breakfast should be alcohol-soaking but not egregious – go with a combo of protein and complex carbs, like asparagus with poached eggs on toast or a nice cheese ‘n’ mushroom omelette. And however bad it feels, go for a stroll – it’ll speed up circulation, processing the demon drink faster.

Prepare a (short) go-to workout

When time is at a premium, you fit in your workouts where you can. But trying to transfer the complexities of your usual arms-n-back routine to your brother-in-law’s house is doomed from the off – you don’t want to be working out a new plan on the fly when pigs in blankets are singing their siren song.

Right now, sit down and scribble out a workout you’ll be able to do anywhere this holiday season: if it lasts more than 15 minutes or would wake up a sleeping relative in the next room, you’ve failed. Try as many rounds as you can of 5 pressups, 5 squats and 5 lunges (each leg) in 10-15 minutes, and aim to improve by New Year.

Or just do something

No time to even break a sweat? Just a handful of press-ups, a few lunges or a brisk trot up the escalator (preferably at Holborn) will do more than simply burn calories – there’s some evidence that even 60–90 seconds of resistance exercise pre-food can bring a crucial set of glucose transporters into play, diverting at least some calories to muscle instead of fat.

Rethink your mixers

It’s basic, but big: assuming you aren’t going to your first ever party, you really don’t need to be drinking whiskey and Coke, which has around 150 calories a pop, jacks up your blood-sugar levels and is easy to overdrink. Where you can, switch out sugary mixers for soda water – and perhaps a splash of lemon or lime, which can help to blunt the insulin response from any miniature sliders you decide to hoover up. The best option of all? Order the nice stuff – and drink it straight and slow.

…And go for the odd Big Walk

Running? At Christmas? Be honest: when everyone else is gently gobbling cold turkey and re-watching The Great Escape, pulling on a pair of Inov-8s and hauling yourself around the streets feels a touch too far. Walking, though? That’s the ticket – and technically it still qualifies as Low-Intensity Steady State exercise (LISS to friends).

A brisk, log walk the ideal way to keep some festive fat in check, since it’s low-impact, easy to do, keeps the stress hormone cortisol in check and is unlikely to lead to refuelling carb-binges. Especially if you’re visiting far-flung relatives, take advantage by borrowing a stout pair of boots and a rambunctious dog for a bracing boxing day yomp.

Pain is gain and nine other gym fables busted by our motivational alchemist Joel Snape. Read 10 fitness myths you need to forget here.

Further Reading