Christmas is all about families spending time together, and food and drink are of course a major component of our biggest holiday of the year. There’ll be mince pies and ginger bread, salmon, turkey and stuffing, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots, Christmas pudding and brandy butter, Stilton and cheese biscuits, champagne and port … Who could possibly say no? I’m not expecting you to – I’m sure you’ve already been following my tips for the party season, so you’re all set up to get back into your healthy routine in January without any effort – but here are some last minute tips on how to survive Christmas itself:
Have breakfast on Christmas morning, even if you are tempted to skip it, with the calories of Christmas dinner in mind. Your blood sugar levels will be low first thing in the morning, and having a healthy breakfast helps balancing your blood sugar, so you won’t end up starving and overeating by the time Christmas dinner comes along.
Make it a low-carb breakfast as chances are that there will be more carbs than usual coming your way later in the day: low-GL granola with berries, poached eggs with steamed asparagus soldiers, or a good old-fashioned fry-up with sausages, bacon, egg, mushrooms and tomatoes, but without baked beans, toast or fried bread.
Fill half your plate with non-starchy veg
Non-starchy vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower, should cover half your plate – always, not just at Christmas. You can even pile those high! Your source of protein – most likely turkey – should only take up a quarter, with the other quarter being shared by starchy vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and carrots (not piled high!).
Your stomach has no teeth, and neither does your small intestine. Chewing increases the surface area of your food, giving digestive enzymes better access, thus improving digestion. It’ll also cause you to eat more slowly, so that you have a chance to notice when you are full.
Make it worth it!
If you are going off your healthy eating plan on Christmas Day, make sure that it is worth your while and don't just tuck in because it's there. Be mindful and ask yourself: "Do I really, really want this?" If you love your Mum's homemade mince pies or Christmas pudding, go for them and make sure to enjoy every mouthful. If what's on offer is not all that enticing, it might be easier to just give it a miss rather than regret it afterwards.
Go for a walk – come rain or shine Getting out of the house – even if briefly – has got to be a good thing. With the gym closed, you’ll miss out on your exercise, but a brisk walk in the fresh air will make up for some of that. Find a walking buddy – sometimes the best conversations happen when out walking.
There might be alcohol on offer over Christmas. Alcohol has a diuretic effect, and it is dehydration that is ultimately the underlying reason for hangovers. Make sure to drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks. That way, you can ensure to remain hydrated and pace your drinking at the same time.
Take a break
With all that rich food at Christmas, sugary snacks and alcohol, your liver will be working hard over the next few days, and with New Year’s Eve in sight, it soon will again. Why not use the few days between Christmas and the New Year to give your liver a break? Try saying no to alcohol over those days and top up your antioxidants by adding a green smoothie and/or a raw salad per day to your diet. The more colours you can get into your salad, the better, as different colours represent different plant nutrients. Go to bed early to give your liver the opportunity to detox – as it's while you sleep that it does most of its work.
Schedule your return to the gym - and your healthy diet
It can be hard to get going again after an exercise break – whether that’s due to a cold, a holiday or the Christmas break. According to the American happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, it helps to schedule your return to the gym, to literally write it into your diary. If you need something even more compelling, consider booking a personal training session or arrange to go with a friend.
The same strategy might apply to your diet: While I wouldn't advise you to throw all your healthy habits overboard for the festive period, you could set a date on which you will return to healthy eating.