The festive period is wonderful and a time for people to come together and enjoy each other’s company but with all the temptation everywhere it is highly likely that you are going to indulge and eat unhealthy food or more alcohol than you intended at some point. It can be a particular challenge for those with healthy living targets. It is therefore useful to have some thought out strategies before it kicks off to help you to stay on track towards your goals – I’ve done some of the hard work for you and provided some suggestions below for you to try.
I think we can say that it would be impossible to go through the festive period without eating any ‘highly rewarding’ food (food with high salt, sugar, fat or any combination of these). In order to manage this, and being realistic, try and eat these foods in moderation. Try and stick to ‘normal’ portion sizes – a palm sized amount of protein, a handful of carbohydrate and 2-3 handfuls of vegetables (excl. potatoes).
I wouldn’t recommend trying to say no entirely to sweet treats, in my view it breeds feelings of deprivation and resentment and leads to guilt and shame if you do have something you hadn’t intended to, and increases your chances of throwing all your good intentions out the window. So allow yourself some treats but moderate the amount – have dessert but a small piece, take smaller pieces of cheese from the cheese board, choose one indulgence, your favourite, in the day and really enjoy it.
Don’t stock for a month
Remember that the main holiday is only two days and shops are often only closed for one of those days. There is no need to stock your cupboards full of enough goodies to last a month – they will last a month and you’ll have that temptation around for all that time making it harder to stick to your healthy goals. Stock for a day or two only.
Keep temptation out of sight
It’s common to have bowls of chocolates and other goodies around over the festive period but these are difficult to resist and it’s too easy to graze on them, eating them mindlessly as you pass, whether you are hungry or even really want them or not. Leave goodies out of sight, bringing them out to enjoy, but then putting them away again.
The same goes for leftovers and the cheese board (a personal weakness of mine!), avoid leaving them out for long periods of time to graze on. Get the leftovers packed up and in the fridge once they are cool. Put the cheese board away once everyone has had what they want.
We often load our plates full on special occasions and then plough our way through it to clear our plate or say yes to every item of food offered to us/available. Take a moment of mindfulness before you put something in your mouth or accept food; pause and ask yourself: Are you hungry? Do you really want it? Are you actually thirsty? Are you still enjoying what you are eating or actually have you had enough/are just on automatic pilot finishing your plate?
Prioritise your veggies
When loading your plate prioritise your veggies and minimise your carbohydrates. Eat your veggies and protein first so you are fuller when you get to your carbohydrates and are therefore likely to eat less. Ensure that you have some plainer veggies too so not everything is stacked in butter and/or cream.
The workplace and parties
These can be really difficult over the festive period and people do have a tendency to try and push others into eating. Think through the areas of temptation beforehand to devise strategies to deal with them. For example could you drive to avoid drinking alcohol? Could you ensure that if there are sweet treats in the office they are put out of the way e.g. in the kitchen, or at least out of your line of sight? Could you ask your work colleagues or friends to respect that you’re changing your lifestyle and not to push you to eat or drink?
Alcohol contains a lot of calories and they are very easy to consume! As an example, if you had a gin and tonic and a glass of champagne before dinner, 3 glasses of wine with dinner and a glass of port, it totals over 750 kcal – around a third of your daily recommended intake if you are not trying to lose weight, and that’s before all the food!
Not only does alcohol itself contain a lot of calories but it leads to poorer food choices (when inebriated and the morning after!), disrupts sleep, is harmful to your gut bacteria and disrupts the hormones that regulate how full you feel and your hunger levels.
Starting drinking later can help, or sticking to, for example, just wine with the meal can moderate the overall amount. Drink plenty of water to rehydrate and avoid drinking alcohol because you are thirsty.
Fruit juices, sodas and non-alcoholic beverages can also be high in sugar so watch how much you of these you are drinking too.
You can make sparkling water feel a ‘special’ drink by adding fruit/pink peppercorns/cucumber to it (like a fancy G&T) or add a little good quality cordial (e.g. elderflower presse) for flavour.
Intermittent fasting can help to reduce overall calorie intake during the day and also ensure that your gut gets a decent rest before the unusually busy festive eating window. Ensure that there is at least 12 hours between what you last eat at night and your first food in the morning (excludes water, black tea and coffee, herbal infusions etc), ideally leave 14 hours.
And if you do over-indulge?
If you do over-indulge it helps to go for a brisk walk within an hour of eating. Using your muscles helps use some of the additional glucose in your bloodstream and makes the blood sugar spike easier for your body to handle. It also helps your digestion which can be overloaded at this time of year leading to bloating, gas and constipation.
Bring attention to the way you feel when you have over-indulged. We learn by associating actions with consequences so by paying attention to having a sore tummy, gas, lethargy etc after over-eating we are starting to teach ourselves that it’s something we don’t want to do and the decision to stop when you have had enough should be easier next time. It goes the other way too – if you feel great because you have not drunk so much alcohol or over-eaten, pay attention to the good feelings and you will learn to make the same decisions again.
Most of all, don’t beat yourself up about it and avoid thoughts of ‘there’s no point now I might as well go for it’ or ‘I’ve failed today so I might as well wait until Monday to start again’. Think positively, the sooner you get back on track, the less impact any over-indulgence will have and the better you will feel.
If you would like to talk through any strategies or would like support getting on track after the festive period I’d love to hear from you. Please contact me.