Sophie Thurner is back! We asked her to shed some light on the best ways to stay healthy at Christmas – it’s tricky, but with Sophie’s tips we can stay on track!
It’s difficult to know how to stay healthy at Christmas time. Christmas is in many ways a special time of the year. Even more so from a nutrition perspective. It certainly gets us out of our routine.
Whether it’s the numerous boozy Christmas parties, the plentiful festive dinners, or the likelihood of eating more chocolate, cakes and sweets than in all the other months combined, it’s disruptive!
Nonetheless, many of us come out of this season with a sluggish, uncomfortable and guilty feeling of having drunk too much, eaten too much, and moved too little. While there should never be guilt around enjoying all parts of Christmas – including the festive eats and the jolly drinks. There are some hacks that can help us feel more at ease on the other side.
This mainly applies to the Christmas parties that turn a little too boozy. Switching every second drink to a glass of water rather than another round of vino has a number of benefits:
It gives the liver more time to metabolise the alcohol and prevents dehydration, which both have an effect on the extent of the hangover the next day
Water helps us keep in the range of up to 0.05g/dl, which has the positive effects of being more relaxed and more talkative
It helps prevent slipping into the range of 0.5-0.8g/dl, which is when judgement and finer movements are affected, and things generally turn rather pear-shaped
Increasing water intake is particularly important for ladies. Females metabolise alcohol significantly slower than males because females have less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, and because females usually are smaller in stature.
Don’t Succumb to the “Screw-It” Effect
We’ve all been there. We have a burger with fries and mayo / a cake the size of our face / a sharing cheeseboard except we didn’t share… and here we go again. Screw it, I’ve already “been bad” so I might as well go full throttle. I’ll “start eating healthy tomorrow”. Except sometimes “tomorrow” never comes, and all of a sudden it’s 1st January.
We all know that this isn’t a very healthy attitude towards food. Especially if this is followed by something like “I’ll just not eat anything tomorrow” or “I’ll do an extra-long gym session“.
Going overboard with food or drink will most probably make us feel bad, both physically and mentally. So keep that in mind next time you can see the “screw-it” mentality creeping up.
Don’t Deprive Yourself
Why do we have this “screw-it” mentality? Because we restrict ourselves from eating the things we love but consider “bad”. Restriction almost always leads to feelings of deprivation, which in turn cause us to fixate or obsess on those particular foods.
So, when we do encounter said food, we either feel bad, or go overboard and binge. Or sometimes both. If this happens time and time again, we’re at risk of developing unhealthy binge-restrict cycles.
Therefore, completely restricting yourself of something has little point. Enjoy some of that chocolate (or whatever that food is for you), probably more than usual, but it’s ok. At some point you’ll also enjoy a plate of vegetables or turkey, more than another piece of chocolate.
Eat Slowly and Take a Satiety Level Check
Thoroughly chewing our food, taking smaller bites and pausing between bites lets us savour our food more. Not only does it increase our enjoyment it also slows us down. This is helpful because it takes some time for satiety signals to reach our brain, which is why eating too quickly often leads to overeating.
Another way to be more aware of internal hunger and fullness cues is to proactively gauge how full we are. We can do this by taking a little break part of the way through a meal and think of where we are on a scale of 1-10. 1 is absolutely starving and 10 is uncomfortably full. We should aim to stop eating at around level 7 in order not to feel overly full.
We often end up overeating foods we may not even enjoy because we find ourselves so hungry that we eat the first thing we see. On the above-mentioned scale, we should start eating at around level 3 and not wait longer than that. If having a meal at that time isn’t possible, being prepared with a healthy snack available can be extremely helpful.
For instance, if we’re at level 5 and have some time to go until Christmas dinner, having a healthy snack like some carrot sticks and hummus, will keep us going. That way, when we arrive at the Christmas dinner we won’t be ravenous and devour the bread basket or scoff down the deep-fried chicken canapés the minute we get there.
Despite the fact that Christmas is a special time of the year, it’s important to keep a level head about it and neither deprive yourself, nor go crazy on all fronts.
Eating a little more than usual a few times is totally fine. However overeating and over-drinking from now until January 1st will most likely not leave us feeling our best. Eating more slowly, more mindfully, taking breaks by drinking water, and being prepared with healthy alternatives can help prevent this.
The most important point, however, is to enjoy ourselves. This means not obsessing or feeling guilty about food. Not letting somebody else urge us into having one more drink or one more serving of food. But rather listening to our needs and preferences.
You are the only one that knows how you feel, remember that you’re in control of what you consume, and aim to eat and drink in order to feel at your best. And that is how to stay healthy at Christmas time.