The run up to Christmas can be dangerous for those of us making health changes. It’s the time of year when discipline can go out the window, when health gains made over the last few months can turn into the type of gain we don’t want.
To be fair it’s never just Christmas day that does any damage, it’s the days and weeks in the run up to the big day. The work nights out, lunches and social events for every group you ever joined. The yoga group has a night out, the gym team, the book club, the walking group, the kids club mums. You’ve got your work night out; your partners work night out and to crown it all your annual family trip to the Christmas markets.
So how can you manoeuvre all this and maintain a semblance of health without snowballing into a destructive cycle of binge eating and drinking.
1 Relax, but don’t let your guard down
“Sure, it’s Christmas!” – it’s a tempting excuse but one that won’t lead you anywhere healthy!
Resist the temptation to throw caution to the wind at Christmas – there are just too many opportunities to overeat and pile on those pounds that so many people never lose the following year. With buffets and nibbles a common occurrence at gatherings, it’s hard to keep track of exactly how much you’ve eaten and before you know it you’ve had six glasses of mulled wine, a few mince pies, shortbread, sausage rolls and more chocolates than you can count on both hands.
Start practising mindful eating now. Be conscious when you’re eating, sit down and eat if possible. By the time the Christmas festivities come you’ll be well fit to avoid overloading your plate.
2 Make lunch or dinner light
If you know you’ll be having a heavy lunch or dinner, switch one of them for light, healthy snacks. Carrot Batons and Sugar Snap Peas with Hummus, Omelette or Soup, a Piece of fruit and some nuts. Eating light, nutrient dense snacks will leave you with some energy for social occasions and help counter some of the rich and heavy meals you’ll be eating. Clementines make refeshing christmassy alternative for sweets – which, let’s face it, can leave you feeling a bit meh! Another strategy if you’re going out for an evening meal is to have a bowl of soup before you go so you’re not so hungry that you devour the bread.
3 Seek out nutrient dense foods.
Many of the commonly consumed festive treats are either nutrient deficient or nutrient-depleting, so try to include some foods rich in potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron, which are vital for keeping energy levels high. Good sources you could include at Christmas include dried fruit, raw nuts such as brazil nuts and walnuts, fish, turkey, eggs and sprouts. Vitamins are essential to enzyme processes in the body; a quick and easy way to get plenty of vitamins is to blend fruit and make smoothies, cook vegetables ‘al dente ‘, and eat a variety of lean meat and fish, and whole dairy. Multi-vitamin and mineral supplements are a convenient way of ‘topping up’ daily levels, especially if you can’t guarantee five portions on a regular basis. Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin B and vitamin C aren’t stored in the body, so these are common ones to supplement.
4 Keep breakfast healthy
This is the one meal that’s easiest to get right. You're going to need loads of energy over the festive period. Have a healthy breakfast to start your day, one that won’t spike your blood sugar levels and send you into an energy slump or knock your mood off balance. Your first meal of the day is an opportunity to have plenty of fruit and top up with immune- boosting antioxidants. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as sugary cereals, toast or croissants and choose slow-release carbohydrates such as porridge. Check out these amazing overnight oats recipes from Scott Baptie, or a good source of protein such as scrambled eggs and salmon.
5 Drink responsibly
Sorry - but there’s no way to disguise the fact that more than moderate amounts of alcohol can overload the body with toxins, deplete important nutrients, suppress the immune system (more colds or flu), disrupt sleep, and upset digestion… the list goes on. If you’re going to be drinking regularly at Christmas, alternate between alcoholic drinks and soft drinks and make sure you keep hydrated. Mixing spirits with fruit juices or making alcoholic smoothie-like cocktails with loads of fresh fruit provides useful nutrients to counteract the alcohol and may even help ward off a hangover.
DO NOT drink on an empty stomach the damage this can do to your gut lining is akin to pouring paint stripper on an open wound!
6 Switch bad foods for not quite so bad
Look around and there are, almost always, healthier choices to be made. the Choose cocktail sausages instead of sausage rolls or chicken drumsticks instead of southern-fried coated chicken. Wholemeal sandwiches instead of white is an easy win. And there's always a bit of salad floating about. If you can avoid the Quality Street and opt instead for dark chocolate, you won’t just be reducing your sugar intake, but you’ll benefit from important antioxidants – if you choose chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or above. In terms of alcohol, spirits are tough on the liver, but red and mulled wine or warm cider are kinder!
7 Keep active
If you have a fitness regime, try and stick to it as much as you can. A simple daily walk will help to prevent your already over-burdened digestive system from becoming sluggish. Lying on the sofa doesn’t make anyone feel too good even at Christmas. Not only will walking help you work off the extra calories, but it’s great for mood, and getting rid of that claustrophobic feeling from spending too much time indoors doing.
8 Chill Out
Take the easy option. Christmas is busy enough without putting additional pressure on ourselves; get help from others if you’re the cook or lend a hand to someone else. Buy the prepared vegetables lol. Avoid creating financial stress for January by resisting the sales or set a strict budget if you do visit the shops. Expectations are high at Christmas, and looking back how many of us get to see everyone we're 'supposed' to. I've just taken the pressure of myself and a few friends by making a date for the week after Christmas instead of stressing about it now.
9 Sleep more
Many of us reach Christmas absolutely knackered because we don’t prioritise sleep. Building on ‘tip 8 – just chill’, try to get real sleep every night, and avoid over-committing yourself. Alcohol, rich food and too much refined carbohydrate can disrupt sleep both in terms of quality and quantity. Control your intake of these festive extras and aim for 8 hours of good sleep.
10 Switch off the TV!
Christmas is a great time to catch up and have quality time with family. Whilst the odd Christmas family special or movie can be great fun, TV the christmas break can turn into a TV marathon with very little conversation. Turn it off now and again, get out the monopoly, take a walk in the countryside – do something that involves interaction. For your alone time, maybe read your favourite book (I've just ordered The Red Tent for a reread) or do something you always wanted to do but didn’t have time for during the year.
11 It’s okay to say “no”!
We tend not to enjoy those things we feel obliged to do. You don't need to say yes to every invite. Try to do too much and your cortisol levels will soar. Slow down, do less, take in your surroundings. Have some “me” time. Rest and relax.
12 Resolutions and goals
These do work for some people, but for others they can be pile on more stress. Try to see the New Year as an opportunity for re-evaluating where you are in life, and where you’re headed. If you’re setting resolutions, be realistic. Do you really want to do it, be it, achieve it? Successful resolutions need to come from intrinsic motivation – so choose carefully. Check out my article on Linked In which talks about the importance of the WHY behind your goals.
Some food for thought… It can be tempting to stray from your health goals, especially this time of year — we know because we’ve all been there! Assuming health is important to you, and it probably is if you’re reading this, then you already know how important it is to make sensible choices to maintain your health. Above all, I hope you stay fit and well this Christmas, and enjoy it!
And on a final note, it’s hard to go it alone and that’s where I come in. As I Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach I can help you achieve your goals, feel better and live more.