The Christmas calorie juggernaut is sweeping the nation. Are you ready to party, but don’t want to derail all your hard earned work to be healthy and fit? CLAIRE DONNELLY has a strategy
Rest assured we’re not going to tell you to abstain. You can still enjoy the festivities without compromising your waistline, well-being and most importantly your Christmas spirit.
Below, everything you need to survive the festive food and booze without turning into the Grinch.
1. Cut yourself some slack
At Christmas you are going to eat and drink more than you would usually, especially if it’s party central. And to be fair it’s a once a year celebration so it’s ok to be a little indulgent.
If you fancy dessert, take a few bites and savour. But don’t let a 300-calorie treat deteriorate into a 3,000 calorie blowout. You don’t have to stuff yourself.
There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to food. Research has shown that when you indulge in a treat, the first few bites are the most satisfying. They deliver the most pleasure. So capitalise on the power of those first few bites then stop.
2. Make half your plate veggies at dinner
Christmas dinner is actually a well-balanced meal. It has lean protein, starchy carbohydrates and lots of vegetables. The stumbling blocks are the sides and extra goodies. We’re looking at you stuffing, bread sauce, pigs in a blanket, crispy turkey skin, mince pies, brandy butter, yule log, ….You get the picture.
The trick on Christmas Day is to make sure half your plate is vegetables. Then the other half can be divided between the turkey and potatoes. Finally have a spoonful or two of your favourite sides along with the healthier fare. That way you’ll experience a variety of tastes and won’t feel deprived.
3. Eat the protein first
Whether it’s the turkey or the ham, having the protein part of the dinner first could help you not overeat. Protein is the nutrient that is most likely to make you feel satisfied because it promotes the satiety hormones cholecystokinin and peptide YY which help you feel full. Have the vegetables second. By the time you get to the sides you’ll be less likely to overeat.
4. Put the fork down and wait for aunt Sally to finish talking
Well, maybe not that long – but the point we’re trying to make is to eat slowly and mindfully, ideally putting the cutlery down between bites. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you ignore your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Then wait before piling into seconds. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to register when you’re full. Really do listen to what your stomach is telling you.
5. At the buffets, have the healthier stuff first
According to researchers at the US’s Cornell University, if you eat the healthier food items first at a buffet, you’ll have less room for the mega-calorie offerings. So in practice this means look for some salads and lean protein foods first. Follow up with a modest portion of the cheesecake or other rich dessert of your choice. Then put your plate down and step away from the buffet table. Canapes and hors d’oeuvres are not for grazing.
6. Make ‘small is good’ your mantra
Good things do come in small packages. The following mini size versions of Christmas goodies have built in portion control. With these treats you can still relish modest amounts of your favourite food without going overboard. In other words you get the flavour without the excess calories and feeling deprived. Here are some ideas:
Mini Cadbury’s yule log -120 kcals
Mini mince pie -115 kcals
Mini Asda chocolate orange cheesecake – 83 kcals
Mini Fox’s Christmas pudding-160 kcals
Mini Tesco finest chocolate dessert – 120 kcals
Mini chocolate éclair – 46 kcals
Mini raspberry trifle – 75 kcals
7. Take the lid off the mince pie
Improvise a bit with little things like this, they add up. Remove the pastry crust from the Turkey pie on Boxing Day too. Less pastry means reduced calories and fat. So it’s win-win.
8. Keep them out of sight
Bypass the noshing, nibbling, grazing and munching between meals. Sounds obvious but keep the selection boxes and chocolates in the kitchen cupboard (research has shown that we’re less likely to eat the tempting treats when we can’t see them – so put foil instead of cling film over naughty leftovers too). And don’t make it so convenient to engage in mindless overeating, says psychologist Dr Susan Albers, an expert on mindful eating, in her latest book Eat Q (Harper One £15.81 from amazon)
9. Navigate the booze bonanza
You can drink and be merry, without calorie meltdown and thumping temples the following day.
Best to steer clear of generous home measures of the party punches and the creamy cocktails. Good choices are a white wine spritzer or vodka with slimline tonic. You’ll avoid excess empty calories plus the congeners. These are the by-products of fermentation. Congeners are often found in higher volumes in darker coloured drinks (red wine and dark liquors) and help contribute to hangover hell.
Meanwhile you’ve heard it before. Make sure you drink and eat. Plus alternate each alcoholic tipple with a glass of water or other calorie-free drinks.
10. Don’t get hangry
If you’ve got a major party or dinner in the evening, don’t go to extremes by starving yourself during the day. It’s not good news to think you can ‘save’ your appetite for later. You’ll be so crazed with hungry by the time you sit down to eat, there’s a danger it will turn into a binge-fest. Hellooo ginormous slab of double Death by Chocolate cake.
The smart approach is to pace yourself during the day with healthy, nutritious meals. Think lean protein, wholegrains and fresh fruit and vegetables. Plus consider a light snack (under 200 calories) of say an apple and handful of raw almonds pre-event. Come evening you’ll make better food choices plus your sanity will be intact.
10. Take a daily walk
The days are dark, cold and short. Unsurprisingly you feel utterly slothful. And the thought of the Zumba class doesn’t exactly float your boat. But if you can, keep moving in the run up to Christmas. Try not to get too comfy in front of the TV. Bundle up and make an effort to get out for a walk each day. Even if you can only achieve 10 minutes (30 minutes would be ideal), it will be a mood-boosting energy jolt. You can always record the Eastenders Christmas Special for later. And guess what? If you can manage a 45 minute walk for 45 minutes daily during the break, research from the University of Bath has found that you can eat more than usual, sit around on the sofa more than you normally would and still not put on weight. That’s a result.
And finally …most importantly of all enjoy yourself. Wishing you a happy and healthy Christmas.
CLAIRE DONNELLY is a Registered Dietitian and has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition. She was the 2012 winner of the annual Caroline Walker essay in public health nutrition. Claire is passionate about health, nutrition and well-being, and is an advocate for lifelong learning.
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