Often, we enter into this point in the calendar with a certain amount of trepidation. It can be emotionally stressful, extremely busy and we know it’ll be harder than ever to eat well and look after ourselves. Between the Christmas parties that may or may not still be on and the return to working from home (and with some of the most indulgent days of the year coming up), it would be almost impossible not to overdo it in the next couple of weeks.
Even with the best will in the world, it’s hard to say no to that glass of fizz and turn down the Christmas cheese board or the afternoon mince pie – and I don’t necessarily think you should. Allow a little balance to come into proceedings. I’ve been telling my clients to give themselves a break and accept it’s going to be a month of indulgence. Secondly, I’m asking them to think about some easy ways they can soften the blow to their bodies, stay healthy, and avoid putting on that “holiday half stone”.
Here are my tips for how not to fall entirely off the health wagon at Christmas.
1) Don’t think all is lost if you start eating badly
Often, at this time of year, our routines are off. We drink a bit too much the night before, wake up and have a big milky coffee and a blueberry muffin or a bacon sandwich and an orange juice, and by the time we’ve done that it can feel the whole day is lost. Some of my patients say they find once they start eating badly they feel they may as well just go for it. Try to remember you can still inject a bit of health into your day. Just because you’ve had chips at lunch, doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up about it and then lean even further into all things sweet and salty and fatty. It’s about balance. You’re fine to have a big Christmas sandwich at lunch if that’s what you fancy. Just allow yourself to have a lighter, more vegetable and protein-centred dinner, or forgo alcohol that night.
Think of every day as a new day. If you eat a high sugar and fat diet every day for three weeks, it’s fair to assume you will end up feeling dreadful and you may have put on a bit of weight. If you do nothing else, just give yourself one whole day every now and again over the Christmas period when you give your body what it needs. Get some of the nutrients it’s probably been lacking into every meal, hydrate, reduce the sugar and increase the protein.
2) Make sure to line your stomach before drinking
Protein is the best thing to line your stomach, especially if you’re off to an event where there are likely only to be canapés. If I go to a dinner party without eating something first, I’ll have hunted down all the crisps by the time dinner is served. Have a boiled egg before you leave the house, a handful of nuts or a bit of nut butter on toast, or some hummus and rye crackers or raw vegetables.
You need something high in protein to line your stomach before you drink as the amino acids (the protein particles) will help your liver as it attempts to process the booze. The protein will also help balance out your sugar levels, whereas if you have a lot of carb before drinking you’re just adding sugar on top of sugar.
3) Find healthy ways to deal with a festive hangover
A hangover is like a state of emergency for your body, which has to prioritise your liver in order to function. Your liver needs lots of different nutrients to be able to work well. Sugar is what you crave when you’ve been drinking because your energy levels have become so imbalanced but the key is to give your body some of what it needs (namely: water and protein) so it can get to work curing your hangover.
If you’re craving orange juice, dilute it so that it's one third juice to two thirds water. If you want a fried egg sandwich, serve it on some good bread rather than a white baguette and add something like a handful of spinach or avocado so your body gets a few of the nutrients it needs too. Don’t be mean to yourself, have the pancakes if you really want them, but add a spoonful of nut butter and some yogurt and berries so you get protein and antioxidants too.
4) Get outside when you can
Try to get out for a walk every day if you can; think of it as a mental health moment. You’re probably not going to get to a fitness class in the next couple of weeks, and that’s OK. But getting outside (whether alone or with the family) will make you feel good and get the endorphins going. It's also fantastic exercise.