It’s time to call out Christmas fat-shaming

Christmas tends to be that one time of the year when you can eat, drink and be merry without any of the guilt that’s foisted upon us the other 11 months of the year. It’s a period for spending time with loved ones - often over a warming mug of mulled wine or a tray of mince pies. The very last thing that any of us should be worrying about is maintaining or losing weight.

It’s odd then, that articles about 'how to watch your weight over the Christmas period' are consistently flooding our feeds, don't you think?

Whether it's tips for keeping weight at bay over the festive season – including weighing yourself at least twice a week, avoiding pigs in blankets and fasting – or, have to keep track of your calories, the articles and social media posts are damaging. 

talkhealth’s own resident dietitian, Sophie Medlin, says: ‘Press articles like this push people into believing that they can’t even spend time with their families and eat foods that they will only eat at Christmas without the ever present fear of weight gain. None of the 27 tips included need to be adhered to over Christmas and I want to make it clear that if you are anxious about gaining weight over Christmas this is not normal or healthy and it is something you can get help with.

‘This kind of narrative around food encourages us to lose trust in our bodies and our ability to regulate our appetites. It teaches us that we need an external person or rules to keep “on track”’

Food is more than just fuel. It’s a social glue, an endorphin producer, a relaxer. It’s a celebration and commiseration. If people are serious about losing body fat in the long term, it’s essential to assess what role food plays in your life - as well as other physical and biological factors that may be feeding into overconsumption or fat retention.  

Perennially being on a diet or watching what you eat isn’t good for you, mentally or physically. It’s a well-known fact, for example, that people who constantly under-eat struggle to shift body fat. Constant dieting not only causes stress but can lead to being malnourished;  the body switches to energy-conservation mode (a bit like going on low-battery mode when your phone is being drained) and starts to breakdown its own muscles for fuel. Our body composition relies on a healthy ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat; the higher the muscle mass, the lower the body fat. If you’re not fuelling effectively, that ratio can go off-kilter.

Many things affect our ability to burn fat. Poor sleep and stress are two of the biggest issues. Too much cortisol (stress hormone) stops the body from relaxing enough to use stored fat and allow muscles to grow. Rather than telling people to fear standard Christmas fodder and to engage in dangerous habits, articles like The Times’ should be telling people to prioritise 8-hour sleeps, to carve out ‘me time’ during the festive period, to think up coping mechanisms for getting through a corona-Christmas or family disputes. Those are far more useful, both in terms of maintaining a healthy weight and protecting mental health. 

If eating a plate of roast potatoes, washing them down with a good bottle of wine and finishing up with a healthy portion of Christmas pud with your household makes you feel good, go for it. No one has the right to shame you for celebrating togetherness or making the most out of an annual holiday. Getting in a decent walk every day is a good idea for brushing away the cobwebs, helping with digestion and helping you to safely see those you don’t live with but now really isn’t the time to stress out about exercising as a form of penance for overindulging. 

‘The truth is that what we all need to do is tune into our bodies more and enjoy food for all the things it is, including joy and celebration,’ Sophie explains.

‘In January, the parties will be over and the celebratory food will be gone and we’ll be back to our normal routines. Enjoy the feasting and make the most of Christmas, it only comes around once a year and we all need it more than ever at the moment.’

Perhaps the reader who commented the following on The Times’ piece has it nailed: ’I think I’ll follow the sentiment of the Tesco ads this Christmas: “There is no naughty list this year, so tuck in!”.’

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 21 December 2023
Next review: 21 December 2026