Christmas

Who says it's got to be turkey?

Don't get me wrong: There's nothing particularly wrong with turkey and all the trimmings - at least nothing you don't already know. Yes, it's usually too much, and yes, it can be a bit high on the carb side (but doesn't have to be), but hey, it's Christmas! Nobody eats like that all the time, and in any case this particular post is not about the calories. 

If you know me, you'll know that I'm not British. I'm German, and I have always been fascinated by the fact that apparently every family in a whole country (and some other countries) eats the exact same thing at Christmas, every Christmas. In Germany, we don't do that. 

Christmas, turkey, Christmas Dinner, trimmings, weight loss, weight, fat

Christmas Dinner is something you see on restaurant menus everywhere right now and in fact many Britons have had three or four Christmas Dinners already before Christmas even arrives. Many of you – as I know from asking friends - don’t even care all that much for turkey with all the trimmings. “It’s bland,” some say. “Turkey is such a dry meat.” – “You have to keep eating it until the New Year, when it’s FINALLY gone!” Many truly HATE Brussels sprouts, and yet they’ve got to be bought, cleaned and cooked, even if they are destined for the bin.


Our 'big day' at Christmas is Christmas Eve - at least that's the day when we open our presents. Some choose to have their big meal then, others have it on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is not a bank holiday, so shops are usually open in the morning, and some offices are, too. Growing up, we had a grocery shop and of course Christmas Eve was very, very busy and our dinner was kept simple: potato salad and Wiener sausages - and that's actually a very common meal on Christmas Eve in Germany. 

WHEN the main Christmas meal is may differ, but so does what we'll eat. Yes, there is a traditional German Christmas Dinner: goose, potato dumplings, braised red cabbage with apple, gravy - but I honestly don't know anyone who would ever actually have that at Christmas. For many families a whole goose is too big a bird anyway. But it's something that is on offer in restaurants around Christmas time and - like the Christmas Dinner here - a popular option for work Christmas lunches. 

So, what do we eat? Whatever we fancy, is the answer. Christmas is a time when we might cook something that’s perhaps a little expensive and luxurious, something we wouldn’t normally allow ourselves to have. Or maybe it is something more elaborate and time-consuming, too special to have on a ‘normal’ day. Or it’s something easy, yet social, such as fondue or raclette – which can mean many happy hours around the table.

Yes, Germans overeat at Christmas, too, and yes, the Christmas meal is not usually the healthiest, there is plenty of alcohol flowing and desserts, biscuits, Lebkuchen and chocolate are on offer 24/7. We, too, flop on the sofa after the meal, waistband taught, watching the usual Christmas TV offerings. There’s no difference there at all, but this post is not about health (for once), but enjoyment: Who says that you have to endure a dinner you don’t really like? Would the world end if you didn’t have a traditional Christmas dinner? Wouldn’t it be exciting to rebel and cook something different?

Push the boat out! Be brave! (And while you're at it, you could theoretically even have a healthy Christmas dinner. Only saying.)

Have a merry, yummy Christmas!

Last Minute Tips for a healthier Christmas

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:

Breakfast

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. 

Christmas tangerines
Christmas tangerines

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!).

Chew!

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.

Stay hydrated

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.

Fresh into 2016

With Christmas and the Christmas Party Season behind us, most of us have by now had their fill with rich food and alcohol. But one great party night – New Year’s Eve – is still ahead of us. Yes, most of us will have a few drinks – again -, but armed with a few tips, you may be able to welcome 2016 as fresh as a daisy anyway. Tired woman sleeping on the coach at office Probably the most common symptoms of a hangover are headache and thirst, closely followed by tiredness, listlessness and sensitivity to light and/or noise. Many feel nauseous and dizzy, some experience diarrhoea. Other possible symptoms are anxiety, depression, moodiness and irritability, not to speak of the very common ‘blackout’ – alcohol induced temporary amnesia. Altogether not a pretty picture. Nobody wants to feel like this, and yet we keep inflicting this avoidable condition on ourselves time and time again.

Needless to say: The only true cure is not to drink alcohol in the first place. You could volunteer to be the designated driver – although it can sometimes be taxing to be the only sober person in a group of revellers who are getting more and more inebriated …

If you are going to drink – and let’s face it, most of us do like a few drinks on New Year’s Eve – try the below.

On New Year’s Eve

Eat before you drink. Alcohol is absorbed straight through the lining of the stomach. If your stomach is empty, that process is very fast. So, have a proper dinner first, ideally one containing fat and protein.

Drink water throughout the evening. Alcohol makes us go to the toilet more often and we can end up dehydrated. Did you know that hangover headaches are caused by your shrinking – dehydrated – brain tugging at its tendons? Apart from helping us to stay hydrated, alternating alcoholic drinks with water means that we will drink less alcohol.

You may come across advice to take a painkiller, such as aspirin or paracetamol before bed in order to avoid a hangover the next morning. However, aspirin can irritate the intestinal lining and therefore make gastro-intestinal symptoms more likely and/or worse. Paracetamol puts extra strain on the liver, which will be busy enough trying to process the alcohol. So, my advice is to stay away from such drugs. It might be a good idea, however, to support your liver with milk thistle (e. g. by A Vogel) on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

When you go to bed, take make sure that there is water by your bedside.

The morning after

You will have heard of ‘the hair of the dog’ as a hangover cure. You won’t need me to tell you that drinking more alcohol is not the way to relieve a hangover. You’ll only suffer for longer.

While many crave caffeine to wake them up after a night of drinking, this is just another toxin you are asking your liver to handle. Take a break from caffeine today and stick to water or herbal teas.

All those trips to the toilet the night before didn’t just mean a loss of water, but also of ‘electrolytes’. Electrolytes are minerals that control nerve and muscle function, blood pH, hydration, and the repair of tissue after injury. Both dehydration and over-hydration lead to imbalanced electrolytes and some of the symptoms of hangovers are attributed to them.

Top up your magnesium by tucking into green leafy vegetables. A green smoothie would be a perfect drink. Just this once, add a pinch of good quality sea salt to replenish sodium levels as well.

Other nutrients you lose with water are water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C and those of the B-complex. B vitamins are involved in energy production, and low levels can leave us feeling dizzy and tired. Foods rich in B vitamins are eggs (also a good source of magnesium), avocados, mushrooms, brown rice, wholegrain bread, cauliflower, fish, seafood and nuts

great breakfast would be a slice of wholegrain rye bread topped with eggs Florentine (eggs on a bed of wilted spinach) or a spinach and mushroom omelette. If you are really hungry – and hunger can be another symptom of hangover – you may find room for some avocado there as well.

After breakfast, go back to bed if you can and rest. Sleep and rest is the best cure for a hangover.

Maybe on New Year’s Day you’ll resolve to give your body a break and take it easy for a few weeks in January. Chances are, you won’t really like alcohol much after the party season anyway. If you would like some extra support, why not join me for my Gentle Online Detox ProgrammeGentle Online Detox Programme beginning on 17 January (Day 0 – with meal plan and shopping list)? You will be receiving one email per day with valuable nutrition and detox information for just £1.50 per day. That’s less than even the simplest coffee from a fancy coffee shop!

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