Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s hard to escape the indulgence that surrounds us in December. Family meals and social events tend to mean rich food and copious amounts of drink over the month. Busy diaries, cold weather and dark evenings can also mean less time and inclination to work out. Little wonder that many of us gain weight by the start of January.
So does this mean it’s inevitable that we’ll gain weight over the holidays, or is it perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy? And what can we do to minimise the impact on our waistlines, and not throw all notion of healthy eating out of the window?
With January as the traditional month of clean and healthy living, it’s easy to take a sod-it approach to December, and see it as a final hurrah before our well-intentioned resolutions in the new year. But why? Unless you’ve been starving or depriving yourself all year, the only thing that’s different is that the foods you might eat occasionally are now everywhere - with far more opportunities to eat, drink and be merry.
There are of course healthy food choices we can make during this time; but perhaps the most fundamental thing we can do in December is to tweak our mindset.
All or Nothing
If (like many of us) you’ve been a serial dieter in the past, or perhaps are still stuck in this cycle, you may have developed an all or nothing approach to healthy eating, which can be a nightmare at this time of year! Even if you start the day with a healthy breakfast, and good intentions, as soon as you help yourself to the mince pies or chocolates being passed around, it can be easy to feel like you’ve gone way off track, and that you may as well write it off as a “bad” day. On the other hand, it can be difficult, not to mention miserable, to pass up every single treat that comes your way.
I’ve talked about the 80:20 concept before when it comes to healthy eating, and this can definitely be applied over the holidays. Essentially this is where you eat healthily for 80% of the time but allow yourself some leeway for the remaining 20%. This realistic approach is more likely to support sustainable and long-term weight maintenance better than a regimented all-or-nothing approach to healthy eating. There’s no reason why you can’t apply this strategy to the festive season too.
It also brings up another consideration – if your current way of eating is leaving you with a real feeling of deprivation, maybe it’s time to get some help in making changes?
Fill Up with the Good Stuff
As enjoyable as eating is, remember, its primary purpose is to nourish your body –the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive! Focus on including a range of healthy foods that your body needs, and that you enjoy. As a basic foundation, aim for a good balance of proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, with at least half your plate taken up with different coloured vegetables in each meal. Once that base is covered then you have some leeway for festive treats.
In short – fill up with the good stuff and there’s less need (or room) to fill up with the “not so good”. This can be particularly relevant if you’re headed out for the evening with buffets and nibbles to hand. It might be tempting to skip a meal, knowing that you’re likely to be indulging later on; but this can be counterintuitive.
So what exactly does a healthy foundation look like? This is the Alliance for Natural Health food plate, which works as a great visual guide for putting your meals together.
Christmas lunches offer loads of opportunity for delicious vegetable dishes – red cabbage, brussels sprouts etc - so it’s easy to fill up half your plate with these.
Eating a meal that resembles the food plate above, before you head out for an evening makes it easier to keep the mince pies and other treats in moderation too.
A Little of Everything
Mini hors d’oevures, mini mince pies and cake bites are great for entertaining, and for treat portions too. If only full-sized options are available, then cut them in half. Yes, it’s okay to be that person who cuts and takes half a mince pie! This can be really helpful for buffets – allowing yourself a little taste of everything without feeling guilty, and without feeling like you’re missing out! And if anyone complains about that half mince pie? Feel free to blame me ;)
Mindful eating can be really helpful with small portions too. Take the time to savour each mouthful, chewing it thoroughly – the slower the better to help you feel satisfied more easily.
With so much socialising over a short period, it’s easy to exceed our weekly alcohol guideline limits (now 14 units for both men and women) meaning that our liver and detox systems can take a bit of a December beasting.
Keeping hydrated is important for health overall, but even more so when alcohol is in the equation. Alternating each alcoholic drink with a glass of water could help to ease a hangover, plus help prevent you drinking excessively.
Bonus tip: For additional liver support, milk thistle extract can be taken before and after a night out. (Note – this does not cancel out a hangover, or make it any healthier to drink excessively!)
Save it for Later…
Along with the all or nothing mentality, there can also be a temptation to eat everything now to clear it out the house for your super healthy January, especially when it comes to edible gifts. No need – store them away for your future 20% leeway. If you’ve hosted a do, and have loads of indulgent left overs, work out what can be frozen or send your guests home with take away! Who doesn’t love a food party-bag?!
Make the Time to Exercise
Social engagements and general holiday season stress can make it difficult to find the time for, or even to prioritise exercise. Ironically this is the time when exercise can be most beneficial – not just for helping with weight maintenance, but to help with stress management. Those endorphins can be very useful at this time of year!
Even if you can’t make all your usual classes or training sessions, there’s no reason why you have to miss out completely. High intensity interval training can be a super time effective way to work out, with minimal or no equipment needed. A 10-15 minute workout is just 1% of you day! And as one of my heroes, Tony Robbins says, if you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life… Speak to your personal trainer or instructor for some workouts to keep you ticking over.
What about Healthy Festive Foods?
I’m not suggesting that all Christmas and festive foods are unhealthy- amongst the buffet plates there are healthy options –vegetable crudites etc and by all means go for them! However, it can feel isolating to miss out on everything at this time of year. There’s no reason why you can’t join in without gaining weight, or feeling really guilty.
The holiday season can be stressful in its own right, so don’t add food to your stress load!
Follow the simple guidelines:
• Go by the 80/20 concept – eat healthy 80% and give yourself 20% should you need it
• Use the Alliance for Natural Health food plate as a guide
• Keep treat portions small – use mindful eating techniques and enjoy your food!
• Keep hydrated
• Use milk thistle for added liver support
• Store or give away what you don’t need
• Make time for condensed workouts where you can
• Enjoy yourself! Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy new year! Stay tuned in 2018 for more health inspiration.