The Christmas holidays are looming, and 'tis the season to be jolly, gobble up fruit mince pies and play 'All I Want for Christmas is You" on a repeat loop because, well, it's socially acceptable.
Keeping to healthy habits over Christmas can be challenging - it's not called the silly season for nothing! At the commencement of December, our calendars start to fill with an endless stream of end-of-year celebrations often centred around bubbles and delicious food. Toss in the stress of impending work deadlines and a rush to get Christmas shopping done and presents wrapped, and it's easy to send healthy habits out the window with a shrug of the shoulders, because 'meh' it's Christmas, and January and new year resolutions are right around the corner.
Enjoying the silly season, and glorious food, is part-and-parcel with this special time of year - it is Christmas after all! But without striking some balance, it's quite easy to overindulge on alcohol, excess food and Christmas treats, which may leave us entering January feeling a little worse for wear.
Here are my tips for keeping healthy over the silly season:
Avoid the December "Hall-Pass" mentality
When the festive month begins, gluttony temptation is at an all-time high as delicious things suddenly appear everywhere - a tray of mince-pies at work 'just because it's Christmas', bubbles and canapés galore at work parties, and candy canes dangling on the tree at home. Without realising, it's easy to adopt 'anything-goes' mentality, as we tell ourselves "Christmas only comes once a year" and so enjoy ALL the goodies.
We should absolutely not deprive ourselves of any of our favourite foods over Christmas - if you feel like Christmas mince pies, have some! But just because it's the festive month doesn't mean good habits should be sidelined for the duration.
- Throughout the festive season aim for overall healthy habits. Our health is built on what we do most of the time, not some of the time. Keep to your usual routine for the majority of meals.
- On special days indulge responsibly and enjoy it! Spending time with loved ones, around a table of delicious food to share, is good for the soul. Enjoy the moment.
Work with your environment
One of the biggest struggles with the silly season is that many food environments (e.g. work parties, friends houses) are out largely out of our control, and if we've got health and wellness goals we're working on, this may be tricky at times. In this case, work best you can with your environment.
- If you're a guest somewhere bring along a healthy plate of food to contribute. Try a big leafy side salad, colourful coleslaw, or a platter of veggie sticks and hummus/guacamole for snacking!
- Where eating out, aim to stick to a balanced plate at meals - aim for at least 1/2 plate veggies, 1/4 plate protein foods (e.g. chicken, turkey, fish, legumes) and 1/4 plate starchy carbs (e.g. potato, rice, kumara, bread).
- If you're the host strike a balance by serving up a delicious healthy feast, along with some Christmas indulgent treats. Celebrate seasonal fruits and veggies!
- And finally, if you can't work with your environment - just enjoy the food available! Hope back on the bandwagon at your next meal. No stress.
Listen to your hunger cues
Oh, the incredible food at Christmas - an array of mince pies, pavlovas, fruit cake, seafood galore, ham on the bone, bubbles, and all that yummy seasonal stone fruit. It can be incredibly easy to overeat, especially as we don't often enjoy many of these foods all year round.
Paying attention to hunger cues helps prevent overeating. This can be easier said than done at first, as physical hunger can be easily overshadowed by habits and emotions, so be gentle with yourself.
- Eat until you feel comfortable and satisfied, rather than stuffed. If food is losing its appeal and eating is becoming a little mechanical then it's a good time to pause.
- Check in with your appetite before eating. Ask yourself "am I really hungry? Or am I eating because it's there?".
- Practice mindful eating habits. Eat slowly. Put your fork down between mouthfuls. Chew your food - really chew it. Chew until it's a puree. Enjoy treats - notice their smell, the taste and texture in your mouth. Eating mindfully helps prevent overeating.
Keeping active over the holiday period carries many perks - it's a great stress reducer and energy booster, it keeps our metabolism whirling, and helps offset the extra treats we might be eating or drinking. Aim to keep up exercise throughout the pre-Christmas rush and lazier holiday break.
- Tick off exercise early in the morning. If we leave until later in the day, it can be easy to forgo!
- If you're feeling really busy in the lead-up to Christmas, schedule exercise sessions in your diary as you would everything else, and prioritise it as 'you-time'.
- Head outdoors. We're lucky to have our Christmas holidays over the summer period, where the weather is gorgeous and warm! Pop on a hat and sunscreen, and move your body outdoors. Try a beach walk or hike.
- Exercise with loved ones. Instead of the traditional post-Christmas feast food coma on the couch at family or friend get-togethers, why not suggest a fun activity group activity? Try an afternoon game of cricket, footie match or beach walk!
Be mindful of alcohol
It's easy to overdo alcohol over the silly season, and too much can take a toll on our head detox organ, the liver. Make sure to drink responsibly.
- Eat before you drink. This will help slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic, ideally water. Remember to track how many you've had.
- Pre-plan a sober driver, or offer to sober drive yourself - you'll be a crowd favourite!
Have a very Merry Christmas - stay safe and have fun! x