Should We Run To Combat Christmas Overindulgence?

If you’re anything like me, you love to indulge in festive and sweet treats over the Christmas period. I love making, sharing and eating desserts that I wouldn’t otherwise have during the year. Rum balls (without the rum) and chocolate ripple cake are definitely my favourites! I also love the various savoury treats on offer. I don’t drink much alcohol, but many people overindulge here too (hopefully responsibly!).

If you haven’t already noticed, the whole Christmas season can be an extended period (about one month for many) of increased energy consumption as a result of frequent celebrations and taking time off from usual activities. This can lead to some people being concerned that they might lose fitness and/or gain weight over Christmas.

But won’t your usual running burn off those extra calories? Should you even be thinking about burning off calories?

It’s well known that we “can’t outrun a bad diet”. This means that a non-elite athlete cannot constantly overeat and remain a healthy weight despite having a high exercise load. When I say constantly, I mean every day, not just over Christmas.

It is thought that people can gain between 0.5kg and 1kg over the Christmas holidays. Going for an extra long run is not going to compensate for the extra alcohol, sweets, fried foods and overall excess that comes with the festive period. In fact, it is thought that it could take an 84kg adult 5-6hr of jogging to compensate for Christmas dinner alone. I love running but that sounds like an ultramarathon I’m not willing to complete.

Christmas overindulgence is not a ‘bad diet’ in my mind. I treat it as a well earned break where you allow your mind and body to recover from a year of exercise, work, family and other commitments. Christmas overindulgence, to me, is a treat for the body and mind because food is more than just fuel. Runners often think of food as just fuel for running. However, food and the sharing of food with people you love and appreciate, especially during celebrations, is an important thing to do to maintain good mental health. Food is more than fuel, it’s also fun (and delicious!). Increasing your energy consumption over this period can also be a good thing for your body if you are constantly (deliberately or accidentally) under-fuelling, which deprives your body of the fuel it needs to effectively recover between exercise sessions and help you improve your strength and fitness.

However, excess alcohol consumption is still something that should be avoided over the Christmas period as it should be avoided across the rest of the year. Don’t be one of those people who are admitted to the emergency department as a ‘PAFO’ (Pissed And Fell Over) and, consequently, misses several months of new year running due to injury. Yes, there is a name for people who injure themselves when drunk! 

If you are physically active and follow a healthy diet throughout the year then you are very likely to lose any additional weight gained over the Christmas period. Let your hair down (if you have any) and enjoy some Christmas overindulgence. Focus on the pleasure you get from good food, fun and socialising with friends and take a break from your regular routine. There’s plenty of time in 2024 to return to your usual behaviours. Happy holidays!

Need some help achieving your running goals? Book a telehealth appointment with Performance Medicine’s exercise and run coach, Dr Brea Kunstler, to see how she can help you achieve your goals. She can provide a referral to a trusted shoe provider who will give you 10% off the RRP of your new shoes.

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