1. Move! The festive period can involve a lot more sitting, whether driving, visiting friends and family, or just watching Christmas TV. Aim to do some exercise on every day of the holidays, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Make sure it involves raising your heart/breathing rate – a brisk walk, short HIIT session, quick run or bike session. It’ll help focus your planning for the day, avoid the sluggish post-meal feeling and help offset the calories consumed. You’re also likely to drink more water during/after exercise, and often make better food choices later in the day too.
2. Christmas doesn’t have to be about rubbish food intake: limit beige foods (sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, pork pies, pastries) and look for foods which are naturally colourful (so that doesn’t include Quality Street!). Satsumas, red cabbage, figs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, green leafy veg, celery and apples all provide immune-supporting vitamins and minerals, as well as containing anti-inflammatory compounds to help moderate the effect of the trans fats, additives, colourants, high sugar and salt in the typical ultra-processed Christmas treats.
3. Think protein! Protein is the building block for many structures in the body and vital for all physiological functions. It also helps us to keep fuller for longer. Lentils, chickpeas, beans and other pulses, lean meats and eggs are all good sources.
4. Use the ‘halo effect’. I don’t normally advise this but it’s a motivating strategy to use at this time of year. Make sure you do one positive thing a day, to ‘allow’ you an indulgence. This might be some exercise, drinking more water, forgoing your pre-dinner drink, or skipping breakfast in order to enjoy the main Christmas meal. Just remember, one ‘good’ equals ONE indulgence, not several.
5. Drink more water. As boring as this sounds, it’s so easy to do and provides so many benefits: it stops us from feeling sluggish, helps avoid the constipating effects of rich foods and can offset hangovers, to name but three. Drink a small glass of water every time you boil the kettle or drink water alongside your wine - actually pour a glass for everyone sitting down to eat, don’t just have a jug of water on the table. If it’s in the glass by you, you’re more likely to drink it! Choose unflavoured sparkling water and add slices of lemon, lime and cucumber, some berries or a handful of mint – you’ll be increasing your nutrient intake too.
6. Watch the alcohol – NHS recommendation for alcohol intake is 14 units a week, but it’s so easy to drink more over the festive season. Offer to drive, alternate your alcohol with sparkling water, or opt for the growing range of non-alcoholic drinks instead. Remember, ill-health isn’t put on pause just for Christmas: alcohol is highly inflammatory, adds calories and provides no effective nutrients for health. Moderate your intake and avoid the dreaded ‘dry January’.
7. Choose your treats wisely. We tend to have a whole host of nibbles and treats in the house over the Christmas period, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat all of them every day! Pace your treats and choose one a day.
8. Savour your food! Don’t eat mindlessly - eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly, to help avoid digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, acid reflux and gut pain. You’re also likely to eat less - eating slowly allows time for gut hormones to signal to your brain that you’re getting full. You’ll enjoy the flavours more too! If you’re having a glass of port, a plate of cheese, rich dessert or chocolates, sit and savour them. Give these treats the attention they deserve!
9. If you know which festive foods you find impossible to resist, either don’t buy them or keep them mostly out of sight. Put ONE portion on your plate or in a bowl, and then put the pack back in the cupboard. Move away from the buffet selection and DO NOT go back for more.
10. Use time-restricted eating (if you don’t have any medical reason not to). If you’ve eaten a heavy, rich meal late in the evening or gone out for a boozy binge, skip breakfast the next day - you won’t need the calories. But you will need to drink lots of water and/or herbal teas. Avoid too much caffeine as this can aggravate digestive issues and headaches. When you next eat, have a light meal, with plenty of colour and protein (see earlier points).
11. In the winter months, and especially over Christmas, we tend to eat fewer raw foods. Raw foods provide a number of natural enzymes which the body uses to aid digestion. They can really help offset the festive overindulgences causing heartburn, reflux, wind and flatulence, bloating and gut pain, and a general feeling of tiredness. Eating rich, heavy meals, snacking all day and late at night, plus too much alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods and chocolate, all put a serious strain on our digestion. Include bitter foods such as rocket, watercress, chicory leaf, celery and avocado, bananas,
kiwi fruit, pineapple, as well as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, rather than reaching for the Gaviscon or Rennies.
12. Moderation may be boring but it’s a fact that the body doesn’t like extremes, whether it’s excessive Christmas food or the latest, new year restrictive ‘miracle’ diet or training regime. So – how about starting January 2024 in a healthy state!!!