The festive season is one of good cheer and I think it is safe to say that after the last couple of years, we could all do with a bit more of that.
Unfortunately, the indulgence of parties or staying in and watching Christmas TV can all put a strain on your waistline, and as a result, your health.
However, this does not mean that you have to deprive yourself and miss out on what everyone else is eating, nor make ‘going on a diet’ one of your New Year’s resolutions.
Christmas is a time to relax and enjoy yourself, but try to keep your health goals in mind and why looking after your heart/weight/blood glucose levels is important to you.
Here are my top tips for enjoying the festive season:
1. Start the day with a healthy breakfast
Starting the day with a wholegrain breakfast such as a bowl of porridge, will help to stabilise blood sugar levels and help control appetite later in the day.
2. Do not skip meals or snacks before a party
Many of us skip meals in the lead-up to a party in order to ‘save’ calories. Unfortunately, what you are likely to find is that when you arrive at a party already hungry, you will struggle to resist any of the food.
Eat meals as normal and have a small snack such as yogurt with fruit, before you go. This does not mean that you cannot enjoy the party food, but you will likely eat a lot less of it.
3. Make healthier choices at party buffets
Buffets can be a disaster zone, so try to fill your plate with salad and vegetables, and the rest with protein-based canapés like salmon and chicken. Move away from the table once your plate is full to avoid non-stop grazing.
4. Choose healthier options when possible
If you’re eating at home, try to plan ahead and eat similar foods to those you would normally.
If you’re eating out, try to choose the healthiest menu options and be aware that you can ask for alternatives eg. potatoes instead of chips/sauces on the side etc. Checking the menu ahead of time can help you to make more controlled choices without being influenced by those around you.
5. Enjoy Christmas dinner – but beware of all the extras!
A traditional Christmas dinner can be a healthier meal than you may think. Turkey is a lean meat, and filling your plate with plenty of vegetables will increase the vitamin, mineral and fibre content. Be mindful of the quantity of roast potatoes, especially if they have been cooked in a lot of oil. Try to limit (limit – not avoid!) the added extras, such as sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing etc.
6.Cut back on Christmas nibbles
Food is seemingly everywhere at Christmas. While it is fine to indulge in the odd mince pie, Quality Street or festive tipple, be aware that too many of these can add a lot of extra calories to your day. Sticking to a regular pattern of meals and snacks will help to keep you full in between meals and help maintain your willpower. Bear in mind that savoury snacks, such as crisps and nuts and crisps are high in fat and calories too.
If, due to COVID-19, your Christmas gathering is smaller than usual this year, don’t forget to scale back the amount of snacks and treats you buy – the less you buy, the less temptation there will be!
7. Be drink aware
It is very easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking when socialising with friends and family. Familiarise yourself with what one unit looks like (current guidelines are 14units per week – spread out), whether that is a glass of wine or a measure of spirits, so that you don’t end up drinking more alcohol (and therefore calories) than you realise.
Try alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic (sugar-free) ones, such as Diet Coke or sparkling water and avoid alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol increases your appetite and diminishes your ability to control what you eat.
8. Get right back on track
After a big night, don’t skip meals, even if you have over-indulged. Just remember that it is the balance of your diet that’s important. As long as you eat well most of the time, the occasional over-indulgence will not have much impact.
9. Pay attention to what really matters
Although food is an integral part of the holidays, put the focus on family and friends, laughter and cheer. If balance is your usual guide, it’s okay to indulge or overeat once in a while.