Five things I’ve learned about dieting at Christmas

The most common advice we get about dieting at Christmas can be summed up in two words: don’t bother. It would be terribly rude to suggest that anyone should go on a diet at this time of year. But, should you be interested in a bit of damage control, then read on — five years of essentially being on a diet have taught me a few specific skills that would only be fair to share.

To add context, I don’t come at this problem like some athletic Christmas Grinch who says things like ‘I couldn’t possibly eat another thing’. I spent much of my life being terribly overweight. When I watched Super Size Me at the cinema I snuck a McDonald’s takeaway in because I could barely cope with the idea of looking at burgers on a screen for two hours without eating them. Anyway, I’m about 20kg away from that now (we will never know the exact amount because I was too scared to weigh myself at the time), and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

And, while I don’t want to be a Christmas killjoy, the more you indulge over the festive season, the more you will have to restrict yourself in January. And January is bad enough already.

1. Moderate it
Everything about Christmas tells us that excess is the only option. But you don’t actually need to eat yourself into oblivion. Even if you don’t restrict yourself, be aware of what you’re eating. Are you really going to miss the third mince pie? Or those extra Maltesers you sink while watching rubbish television?

2. Don’t waste it
If you’re trying to be sensible with your calories without sacrificing amazing nutritional experiences, one of the easiest ways to take the edge off is by not wasting them on stuff that just isn’t exciting. I use the bread and butter analogy, because bread and butter, although incredible, is just bread and butter (see also salted peanuts, mediocre biscuits and, I’m sorry to say, mince pies). It is widely available, and in the future you will rarely recall a specific baguette that you missed out on. You will, however, remember the piece of Yule log that you didn’t have at Christmas 2004 forever, so don’t sacrifice that. Similarly, everyone knows that parsnips pale in comparison to roast potatoes, and that Christmas cake isn’t real cake.

3. Throw it away
If you’ve finished, get rid. If you don’t like it, get rid. One of the biggest wastes of calories is the picking at stuff just because it’s there. If you love it, eat it; if you don’t care for it, say your goodbyes and move on. I use the Quality Street analogy. How many times have you eaten one of the rubbish choices (I’m looking at you, Orange Creme) simply because they were the only ones left? There’s no need. You don’t even like them. Stop it.

4. Move it
One way to temper those extra calories is to make a bit of extra effort in burning them off, as much as Christmas spirit seems to encourage us to do otherwise. The traditional Boxing Day walk or, dare I say it, a few gym sessions over the festive season. Give it a go — it can take the edge off those extra indulgences and you might even enjoy it.

5. Accept it
Unless you want to stay completely strict over Christmas — and, if you do, fair play to you — it’s useful to decide and make peace with what is going to happen in advance. Decide where your limits are and allow yourself to relax as much as you choose, for as long as you choose.

But you don’t actually have to wait until the New Year to start making positive changes. The small ones you make now may well make the bigger ones easier when the time comes.

Most importantly, have an awesome Christmas.


  • Donk

    The cheeseboard is a perfect example of number 1. Sure, having several more exciting than usual cheeses is fun, but after a couple of slivers of each the diminishing rate of returns make sense to end it there, without feeling denied.

  • Very sound advice. You are a prince!

    • myke in the present

      I completely agree, whilst roasted potatoes are yum,yum; parsnips either roasted or boiled have the edge,

  • Anne Wareham