The Christmas and New Year holiday break can be a pretty challenging time for the human body. Many independent factors come together and conspire to give our bodies a pretty good kicking and I am certainly no exception to this rule…..

Christmas party cheerful friends at having drink and fun

It’s Christmas party time again…

Christmas seems to be quite different from other festive holidays in that it seems to be synonymous with massive over indulgence and binging, both habits that our bodies find hard to cope with, status quo being much more acceptable to our normal bodily functions.

All reason seems to fly out of the window and even normal and rational ‘moderates’ seem to forget all their own rules and go on a two-week ‘bender’ or longer!


Well it all starts happening end of November doesn’t it? All of a sudden little tell-tale signs start appearing, announcing the forthcoming gluttony-fest. Selection boxes, shortbread biscuits, packets of mince pies and stollen all start miraculously appearing in the workplace, at coffee mornings and even in the centre of boardroom tables at high-powered business meetings.

The variety and volume of titbits seem to accelerate exponentially the closer to Christmas it gets, culminating in a calorie-fuelled orgy of over-eating on Christmas day.

The average calorie intake on Christmas day is a massive 7000 calories with half of it being consumed even before Christmas dinner is served which in itself amounts to 2000 calories! Studies show that on average, an extra 250 – 500 calories are consumed each day in December. This can lead to a weight gain of 2 to 5 lbs which may take up to 3 months to lose (if ever!).


Everyone likes a drink but nobody likes a drunk, so why do so many self respecting adults resort to days of alcoholic haze over Christmas? Alcohol consumption increases by 40% in December with 600 million units of alcohol being consumed. 14% of people drink more than they intended to with 50% on average drinking well over the recommended safe limits.

The impact on families as well as emergency services is significant. There are more arguments within families, incidences of domestic abuse and marital breakdown as a result of Christmas with a 28% increase in calls to Samaritans. Office parties contribute to this, as well as contributing to an increase in STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Have you ever ended up with more than you wanted at Christmas?

The drain on emergency services is significant, with more car accidents, drink-driving offences, a 20% increase in A&E attendances and more reported crime, including murder (up by 4.2%)!

Health and Fitness

With all the best intentions in the world, old habits die hard, particularly at Christmas. Recidivists including ex-smokers and alcoholics are more likely to return to their evil ways, attendances at gyms (already in decline from June, with the post- Christmas surge from the previous Christmas petering out), is the lowest in December, not helped by the fact the Gyms and leisure centres are usually closed over the Christmas period and the amount of regular exercise during the dark winter nights including jogging and cycling is also at its lowest.

Mental Illness

Somebody once told me that for all its glamour and bustling business, London can be the loneliest place on the planet and so it is with Christmas. Despite all the parties, frivolity and bonhomie – loneliness, depression and anxiety rise significantly over December. Suicide rates, calls to the Samaritans, GP attendances for mental health issues and admissions to mental health hospitals increase significantly.

Elderly patients are particularly vulnerable, but also single parent families. The children are off school, money is tight and expectations for presents are much higher. No longer are kids satisfied with a cracker, a pencil and rubber, a Satsuma and a couple of walnuts in their Christmas stocking but now it is all, PS4, Xbox1, I-phone6 and Blu-ray players etc., because that is what all their mates are getting.

Supermarket studies have shown that on average, families spend £312 per child on presents. Grandparents also really struggle buying presents for all the grandchildren on a very meagre pension and studies have shown that elderly patients frequently sacrifice proper heating and nutrition in December in order to fund all the presents they have to buy.

The Solution

Well, there isn’t one. No panacea sadly.

I can talk about moderation, planning ahead, predictability, common sense, acting like grown-ups, being good examples to our children etc. but we all know that even the best informed and resolved of us, are likely to fall by the wayside over this period in time.

What I would like to say is to try and cast off selfishness and hedonism, think of your families around you, think of the impact of your actions on your loved ones and work colleagues. Consider the lonely people in your street and those you know who are struggling.

Just a small effort on your part and a little bit of insight, can make so much difference to you and to those people around you and make Christmases as happy as they should be.


Dr Helen Webberley

Dr Helen Webberley is an NHS GP with a practice in South Wales, and an experienced online doctor providing healthcare advice and treatment via the Internet. She is a talkhealth expert in the Online Clinics. If anyone has any queries about their health then feel free to contact her.

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