So you’ve gotten through the chilly winter months, and you’ve started peeling off the layers. You may have put on a few warming kilos, or maybe you haven’t. But now you’re about to go into a season of Christmas lunches, Christmas dinners, Christmas drinks and Christmas work functions. And don’t forget Christmas sales. This whole season is about excess, and food is cheap and available.
From a health perspective, a few treats (or as us dietitian’s call them ‘discretionary foods’), aren’t going to derail an otherwise healthy diet. In fact, the evidence supports everything in moderation as restriction tends to lead to overeating. However, you may find yourself in situations where you know you are likely to eat more than usual, or the same portion but the food is more energy dense than usual.
Here are some ways to enjoy the Christmas season without carrying it with you into the New Year.
- Plan for events. Often you will know in advance if there is to be a sit down dinner or finger food. For sit down meals it’s harder to decline food as everyone will be eating, so prepare for this by having smaller meals at your other meal times. When dessert comes around don’t feel the need to eat it or finish it. Respond to rude questions about how much you’re eating with “I’m feeling full thank you.” Finger food is usually higher in kilojoules (think fried chicken, mini pies, and quiches) but also easier to decline. For these situations I recommend having a meal beforehand so you’re not hungry and it’s easier to say no.
- Get a drinking buddy. No not that type of drinking buddy. If you have a mate at the event with you you can keep each other in check with how much you’re having to drink. Grab a glass of water between drinks together, and help each other keep count. Tell your buddy before the event your drink limit, so they can tell you to slow down when you start lunging for the mince pies like they’re the last ones on Earth.
- Pick your cheat meal. Over the holiday season, pick one event where you allow yourself to not worry about what or how much you’re eating. For most people, this will be a Christmas lunch or dinner with family and your favourite foods. Just make sure to drink plenty of water and try to move around after (a game of Christmas charades may be in order)
- Keep moving. On the topic of moving, the silly season is not an excuse for forgetting to move your limbs. You don’t have to do intense PT sessions or 15km runs every day, but try and get 30 mins of moderate exercise a day (you can even break this up into 3, 10 minute sessions). Go for a brisk walk, or look up an equipment free workout video on YouTube to do in the living room. Exercise can also help reduce stress at what can be a stressful time of year for many people. Even getting active with the kids with a game of backyard cricket can help.
- Stay hydrated. Sometimes we can mistake thirst for hunger. To make sure you stay hydrated, try and aim for 8-10 cups of water (2-2.5L) a day. Make water more interesting by adding herbs and fruit to it. A popular mix is mineral water with mint and lime or lemon. It also looks pretty in a big jug to serve to guests.
- Learn how to say no. Christmas can be a time for skilled and amateur cooks alike to show off their culinary prowess on the latest trendy Christmas recipe. The best way to identify this recipe is anything that takes at least two days to prepare and includes more than one ingredient not readily available. Declining the offer of more food after someone explains how long it took them to make can be very difficult. BUT, it is not your job to make someone else feel better about themselves by eating something you don’t want to. It’s your body and your health. Keep a few phrases handy to deal with situations like this “Thank you, but unfortunately I’m feeling very full and anymore would make me uncomfortable” or “Thank you, I’m too full to eat it at the moment but I’d love to take some home with me.
- Be mindful. Mindful eating can be difficult to practice all the time, but try to make a particular effort when eating the foods you only get once a year. Savour that honeyed ham and notice the flavour of that fresh cherry. You’ll eat less but you’ll enjoy it more. Also make sure to wait at least 20 minutes before reaching for seconds as it can take this long to feel full.
The Christmas season is all about enjoying time with loved ones and having a rest at the end of the year. Take time to reflect on the year that has been and head into the New Year healthy and rejuvenated.
Our dietitian Bella consults out of PMPP Tuesdays and Saturdays. To book an appointment click here