Christmas is a special and enjoyable time of the year – but for many, it can also be their biggest downfall with diet and health. With the work parties, family gatherings, end of year celebrations, lunches, dinners and drinks, the festivities of one day can all too easily become a whole month’s worth of over-indulgence – bearing with it unnecessary weight gain and post holiday regrets.
So, to help you stay both at ease, and in control of your nutrition this silly season, I’ve put together my Top 7 holiday survival strategies that will take the stress out of Christmas and ensure you have a happy and healthy end to the year.
Written by Rebecca Gawthorne (BNutrDiet Hons. I, APD, AN) For Noshu Foods
1. Watch your blood sugar and be sugar-savvy
Blood sugar control
Christmas is filled with delicious treats, decadent desserts, lollies, cakes, sweets and chocolate. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying some of these treats, but choose and time them wisely to avoid sudden spikes and drops in your blood sugar levels.
For starters, aim to avoid refined sugary foods first thing in the morning on Christmas Day. Sugary products such as orange juice or sweetened yoghurt will spike your blood sugar, followed by a rapid drop which may leave you craving more sweets to balance your energy. Instead, set yourself up for success by starting your day with a source of protein and healthy fats with your breakfast. Some protein options could include eggs or smoked salmon, and healthy fats could be half an avocado or a small handful of nuts.
Pairing a quality source of protein with fats will lower the glycemic load of your meal and will help keep your insulin and blood sugar levels steady – reducing both the chance and intensity of sugar cravings, and keeping you feeling more satisfied when it comes to socialising later in the day.
Another way to manage your blood sugar levels is to take control of how much sugar you do consume when you choose to consume it. Rather than mindlessly eating every sweet that passes your way in the name of being ‘festive’– be selective! Choose your best quality or all-time favourite treat food at Christmas and enjoy it with absolutely no regrets or feelings of guilt. When it comes to the other sweets and desserts on offer, give yourself the power to say ‘no’, because you’ve chosen and enjoyed your favourite treat already. This mindfulness and positive approach to the way you indulge over Christmas will mean you’re less likely to fall for extremes and over-indulge or over-consume an excess of sugar.
If you prefer to avoid temptation and don’t trust yourself to stop at one, you can also health-ify your favourite festive sweets so they contain less sugar – and can be enjoyed without any compromise on enjoyment and indulgence. You can either make your own healthy treats from scratch, or you can look at finding healthy sweets that have no added sugar like Noshu’s range or cake and
brownie mixes. Check out Noshu’s indulgent lower carb and sugar free Christmas Yule Log recipe here for inspiration!
2: Practice mindful eating
Your brain requires about 20-30 minutes to register that it’s actually full. If you eat faster than this, you’re not allowing your body enough time to feel satiated. This can tempt you to go back for seconds and consume more food than your body actually needs. Aim to enjoy your food over Christmas without the extremes – you don’t need to restrict your diet, but you don’t need to mindlessly overeat for the sake of it either.
Be mindful and moderate with your eating, slow down by chewing each mouthful well (aim for 10 times), put your knife and fork down between each mouthful, and truly make a conscious effort to be present at the table and focus on enjoying your meal.
Smell the food; taste the flavours; feel the texture. You’ll be surprised how satiated you can feel from a meal when you really concentrate on what you’re eating.
3: Manage your expectations and expect some changes
If you usually adhere to a low-carb diet, you might experience some extra bloating and water retention over the holiday season because you’re consuming more carbohydrate-containing foods than you usually would.
For every gram of carbohydrates your body stores, it also retains 2.7 grams of water, so the more carbs, the more water your body will hold on to. While this is completely normal and healthy, if you’re accustomed to a very low carb diet, it could come as a shock and may deceive you into thinking you’ve gained body fat.
Even if you are used to a moderate carb intake, it’s normal to experience some bloating after a larger portion-sized meal (regardless of the carb content) – this is our stomach expanding and shrinking like a balloon to accommodate for the volume of how much we’re eating and drinking. Manage your expectations and accept that it is perfectly ok to experience some normal bloating – you haven’t failed or undone your hard work!
Simply keep in mind that bloating is a normal bodily function, and not something that should trigger emotional eating or compensatory behaviour like over-exercising.
4: Fuel up with fibre and protein
Christmas doesn’t have to mean pushing to the side the importance of micronutrients and protein. Ensuring you still reach your daily intake of protein, vitamins and minerals will leave you feeling more energised and satiated, and will effortlessly keep you on track despite the treats you may indulge in.
Utilise the versatility of veggies and fruit as an easy source of fibre and your ultimate filler over Christmas for relatively low calories. Offer to bring a veggie dish or fruit-based dessert to your parties so you know there’s an option you can easily enjoy and load up on.
Try to serve an adequate portion of salad/veggies onto your plate first, before you serve anything else, and include a source of lean protein at each meal. When it comes to snacks, try to keep grazing under control (this is a trap of unnecessary calorie consumption!), and if you do want to nibble on the goodies on offer, try to stick to the fresh fruit or 1-3 pieces of your favourite cheese.
Stuck for veggie-based ideas? Click here for my Perfect Baked Pumpkin recipe, which works a treat at Christmas Parties!
5: Re-think your drink
It’s fine to enjoy drinks at Christmas, but be aware alcohol and soft drinks are very calorie-dense; they are basically liquid calories, so it’s good to keep an eye on how much you have. A standard glass of wine, for example, contains between 130-160 calories, which can quickly add up if you have more than 1 drink.
Remember, you don’t need to drink at every end of year celebration or dinner party. Choose to have some alcohol free days across Christmas and New Years and aim to have a glass of water for every drink you have.
6: Don’t underestimate stress
The holiday season can be a stressful time of year, so you’ll benefit from prioritising some less chaotic, non-stressful activities. Exercise can be an excellent way to de-stress and you can still easily incorporate this into your daily activities throughout the holiday season. Whether it’s taking the dog for a walk after Christmas lunch, rolling out your yoga mat for 20 minutes before breakfast, or playing at the beach with the kids.
On the flip-side, also remember not to use exercise as a compensatory behaviour (this will just trigger more over-eating, stress and unhealthy mindsets), and allow yourself time to switch off, relax and get adequate sleep (aim for at least 7 hours). Setting yourself up with strategies that keep you feeling calm will help manage your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which in turn will keep your hunger cues manageable, your energy levels high and your motivation to stick to healthy habits stronger than ever.
7: Enjoy Christmas DAY, and move on
Lastly, remember that Christmas is just ONE day, not the entire week or weeks leading up to and following Christmas. So enjoy yourself on Christmas day without too many restrictions.
Eat delicious food, celebrate with your family and friends and enjoy your favourite treats – just keep these to Christmas Day itself. If you do have leftover sweets or alcohol/drinks that are too tempting to keep at home, gift them to someone, give them away or freeze and keep them for another occasion. The quicker you can return to your normal eating routine for the rest of December, the less chance you’ll have at accumulating unnecessary calories, weight gain or negative feelings. Remember, Christmas is not about the extremes or an all-or-nothing approach, it’s a day to enjoy yourself, enjoy good food – and your loved ones. If you do end up over-indulging or regretting having that third slice… don’t beat yourself up about it – tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to get back on track to your healthy routine.
About Rebecca Gawthorne:
Also known as “Nourish Naturally”, Rebecca is a guest writer for Noshu and an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Nutritionist & a member of the Dietitians Association of Australia.