We want to party like it’s Christmas without having to cry into a boring purging regime come January. Basically we want to drink and dance and eat but not gain and perhaps even lose a bit of weight…We set nutritionist May Simpkin the challenge
With Halloween, bonfire night and the half term holidays now behind us, the loom of Christmas is worryingly near and the next focus of the marketeers desperate for us to indulge to excess.
With less than a month to go before the festive party season kicks off in earnest, you’ll thank yourself for prioritizing your health right now, making sure you’re in the best possible shape so you don’t put on weight over Christmas.
Adopt these 10 diet and lifestyle tips over the next month and you’ll find you will boost your resilience to temptation when the busy period begins and effortlessly ward off unwanted weight gain.
1. Build up your exercise routine
Cold weather and shorter days are not so enticing when it comes to venturing outdoors and it is surprisingly easy to end up doing very little or no exercise at all during the week. With excessive calorie consumption ahead, your daily routine of exercise is crucial.
Firstly, look in your diary and work out a slot each day to incorporate some exercise. This can be either a gym session or a more formal exercise class, such as aerobics, spinning or yoga/pilates but you can also wrap up warm and simply head out for a walk or gentle jog on your own or with friends.
If that doesn’t appeal, then there are plenty of free exercise videos on YouTube that you can do from the comfort of your living room. If you have a regular commute, this is the ideal time to factor in additional activity, as it is something you do every day. Consider whether you can get off your train or bus a stop or two earlier and walk the rest of the way to work. In any case, as a rule, always take the stairs and walk up escalators instead of the lift. Over the weekend when you have a little more time, try to allow for a longer walk or other exercise activity. If you can muster up even the slightest motivation, you are unlikely to regret your decision to exercise!
2. Focus on your meals
Try to avoid going out for meals and takeaways for the coming weeks in the lead up to the festive season. Whilst you have a little more time in the evenings, this is an ideal time to consider your meals more carefully. Cooking from scratch will help to you to prepare more balanced meals with good quality protein, like meat, fish chicken, eggs, tofu or beans and pulses and at least 2-3 portions of vegetables. These don’t need to be fresh; frozen are equally nutritious and offer great convenience. Try this healthy vegetarian Aubergine and Chickpea Moussaka, which can also be frozen for the busy period ahead.
3. Ensure your stocks are filled up
You may have good intentions to cook from scratch but you haven’t had time to shop. With the colder evenings, the thought of venturing out may not appeal and you might be tempted to order a takeaway instead. Make it easier for yourself by ensuring that your larder, freezer and hopefully your fridge are well stocked with healthy staples, so you can easily put a meal together. For example, you can cook many foods like fish fillets and vegetables directly from frozen, whilst you prepare some quinoa to accompany them. Always keep onions and garlic in stock and if your larder is full with tinned tomatoes, beans and healthy grains like quinoa and brown rice, you can prepare a sauce easily. Batch cooking and keeping meals and soups in the freezer are always a welcome choice if you’re pressed for time and want to ensure you are eating healthily.
4. Swap your coffee
You will be inundated with cleverly marketed warming drinks from many of the chain coffee shops and with a chill in the air, you may find yourself tempted to indulge. Containing up to around 350 calories per drink, these should be completely avoided! These unnecessary calories will sabotage your efforts to establish a healthy routine and as they’re loaded with refined sugar, will also encourage cravings for even more sugar.
Instead, if you’re on the go, order a regular tea or coffee or herbal tea, which will last a lot longer and provide the hydration you need to feel satiated. Otherwise, stick to water or warming herbal teas at home, which you can sip throughout the evening.
5. Avoid desserts
One of the easiest ways to avoid dessert is to get out of the habit of eating them. It may seem obvious but many a time, you can be opting for dessert simply out of habit whereas in reality, you’re full and satiated after you meal and would be quite happy without it. Try to put mind over matter at that crucial decision making moment and let a big “No thank you” leave your mouth before you’ve even had a chance to consider the options! Once you’ve lost your taste for sweet treats, you’ll find it them a lot easier to avoid as the festive season presents its many offerings and you’ll thank yourself for preparing yourself from now.
6. Aim for a minimum of 4 “dry” days per week
As with desserts, allowing your body to adjust to less alcohol will make it easier for you to continue to limit your alcohol intake longer term, as you find you prefer feeling more energized and less tired and lethargic the following day. Take a look at your social commitments over the next few weeks and note at least 3, but preferably 4 days each week as “non-drinking” days.
Alcohol is considered a toxin by the body and your liver, which is the organ responsible for detoxifying; in other words, removing all toxins and “nasties” from our body, will prioritise the removal of the alcohol. In doing so, removal of other toxins such as environmental toxins, used up hormones, medications or waste products naturally produced as a result of the body’s natural processes will be compromised and you will feel tired and lethargic as a result. Restricting your intake to certain days only will allow your liver a chance to rest and repair, so you are more resilient to the excesses over the festive period.
Rather than switching to high calorie sweeter soft drinks, opt for naturally carbonated fizzy water with lime cordial or orange juice if you’re out socializing or enjoy a hydrating and warming herbal tea during the colder evenings at home.
7. Lose that niggling 2-3lbs
If you’ve yet to lose those few pounds you gained over the summer and your clothes are straining a touch, the last thing you want is to add on a few more pounds as you’re exposed to the many festive treats you’re likely to be tempted with.
It’s time to focus in earnest of reducing those unwanted pounds and embarking on a healthy eating programme now will ensure the weight drops off but more importantly, you’ve instilled some good habits to help curb the excesses over the Christmas period.
When meal planning, start with which vegetables to include and then consider a good lean protein. You should aim to include at least 7 portions of vegetables and fruit (max 2) per day. As a guide, your plate should be made up of half vegetables, one quarter protein and the remaining quarter complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables or wholegrains. For example, for breakfast, try 2 eggs, sautéed mushrooms, some wilted spinach and a grilled tomato. This secures 3 of your 7-a-day and that’s just from one meal. A vegetable soup with a matchbox size piece of cheese or a chicken salad for lunch are also good choices. For a protein rich Spicy Shakshuka is a perfect sharing brunch and will keep you fuller for longer.
If you’re out and about for the day, consider a protein shake supplement using Healthista’s Lean Energy Protein Powders, which will fill you up and provide the nutrients you need to keep you energized during the day. You could also consider a healthy energy bar that’s packed with nuts and seeds if it’s a particularly busy day and you’re likely to miss a meal.
8. Enhance your immune health
The Christmas period is a time when you are more likely to eat foods that are less nutritious and your meal planning can be more haphazard. Along with less sleep and busy work/family schedules, your immune system will be under pressure to defend you against falling sick. Your immune system relies on an array of vitamins and minerals and ideally these should come from the diet. If you are to boost its ability to protect you against illness, you will need to boost your nutrient intake.
Eating foods high in antioxidants will help to combat the free radicals produced as a result of stress and in turn will leave your body able to fight germs. Essentially eating a balanced diet high in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and healthy fats will bolster your nutrient levels but opting for those with deep, rich colours which will provide good antioxidants. For example, the red pigments found in tomatoes are due to the antioxidant Lycopene, dark blue/red berries such as blueberries and raspberries contain Anthocyanins, whilst foods high in the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E will also help to enhance your immune systems. This antioxidant rich Kale and Courgette soup is the ideal immune boost. Try Healthista’s Glow Food packed with antioxidant rich red berries, lucuma and macqui berries £18.95 from Healthista Shop
9. Boost your gut bacteria
There is growing understanding of the influence of a healthy gut and our general health and ensuring adequate levels of good bacteria is key. Symptoms related to IBS, fatigue and headaches can all be attributed to an imbalance of gut bacteria and if not addressed, can lead to worse, often debilitating symptoms.
Gut bacteria is all about balance and the good bacteria will flourish if they are provided with the right “food”; fibre. Eating fibre rich foods such as vegetables, oats, beans and pulses will starve the bad bacteria, which would otherwise proliferate on a diet high in refined sugars, alcohol and refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta.
At the outset, alongside these dietary changes, you may like to consider re-inoculating the gut with a good quality probiotic supplement, to boost the levels of good bacteria. Biocare Bio-Acidophilus £45.95 (from Healthista Shop) is a high quality, high potency blend containing 10 billion probiotic organisms per capsule.
Unsurprisingly sleep has a significant role in encouraging weight gain. Research shows that a lack of sleep can play havoc with the appetite regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin.
Despite hearsay, it is a myth that you can make up for lost sleep during the week over the weekend. Ideally, getting into a regular sleep routine from now and ensuring at least 7-9 hours sleep from now will help to balance these hormones so that they are not sabotaging your efforts to avoid weight gain. Good sleep allows your body to rest and repair efficiently, boosting its resilience, in preparation for more erratic bedtimes as the party season kicks in. Healthista’s Night Food £18.95 from Healthista Shop is a potent blend of nutrients and herbs proven to aid sleep including the amino acid L-theanine which can help calm the nervous system, camomile and passiflora, powerful herbs to aid sleep.
May Simpkin is a UK registered practitioner with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition. She is an experienced clinician, practicing functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition. She is bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHC, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT. In addition, she is registered with IFM, The Institute for Functional Medicine and a member of the RSM, The Royal Society of Medicine.
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