Each year, the Christmas period seems to start earlier and earlier. Be it Starbucks’ latest insulin-spiking latte, the supermarket’s Christmas sarnies or just the general air of gluttony, it can be difficult trying to maintain any kind of dietary decorum. Thankfully all hope is not lost.
Most of us can agree that indulgent food and drink is a given this time of year. While we’re not about to suggest fasting through the turkey and trimmings, we don’t think stuffing yourself into stupor is a good idea either. Regular readers will know we’re big advocates of balance, especially when applied to healthy eating and exercise. Studies show that denying oneself or adhering to an overly restrictive diet is often setting up for failure. The solution comes from the oft-quoted adage – a little bit of what you fancy. While that’s sound advice most of the year, things get more difficult at Christmas. All those little somethings can add up.
Recently, dieticians, nutritionists and health influencers alike have adopted a back-to-basics approach, searching for balance, yes, but also offering people practical easy-to-follow advice. This includes doing away with calorie counting and instead using simple, reliable measures to ensure that every plate is balanced and nutritious. Next time you find yourself obsessively counting calories and feeling miserable, just remember there’s better way. The size of your palm determines protein portions, while your fist determines veggies. A cupped hand, meanwhile, is your carb allowance with fat determined by your thumb. It’s a quick, easy to remember method that you’ll always have to (ahem) hand. And it’s a formula that can absolutely be applied to the Christmas dinner.
Let’s be honest here, the Christmas dinner, however delicious, is a glorified roast. One of the best things about roasts, though, is that they typically boast a lot of vegetables. Indeed, some of our festive favourites are veggies, from roasted parsnips and mashed squash to the much-maligned brussels sprouts. Traditionally, turkey is the protein of choice for the big day and, being as it’s a lean low-fat meat, it’s one of the healthier choices available. However, with a third of Brits now living a vegan or flexitarian diet, turkey might this year be replaced with a nut roast or plant-based facsimile. For some, though, it’s not a Christmas dinner without pigs in blankets. Here’s where the ‘little bit of what you fancy’ comes into play. Adding a few little indulgences to a plate loaded with veggies and lean protein is no bad thing. Things get trickier with all the tasty snacks and those decedent desserts, but portion size is the important thing to bear in mind. Try eating slower too, because you don’t immediately feel full when you are.
But for many of us, it’s not so much the food, but the drink. It should come as no surprise that alcohol has a lot of calories. Fortunately, not everything is as calorific as the typical port and sherry we enjoy this time of year. Spirits, while higher in alcohol content, are often a lot lower in calories. Mixing them with a diet sodas and tonics means you can enjoy a tipple without piling on the pounds. Try using half measures and spacing your drinks out. This has the added benefit of not getting too drunk and embarrassing anyone.
If avoiding eating to excess is a challenge this time of year, then getting enough exercise in can feel like an impossibility. It’s best to do away with this guilt however, because it will only create a downward spiral. Say you haven’t exercised for a week, you may wind up thinking that you’ve blown it so what’s the point in starting now. There is always a point and for a lot of us, it’s never too late. A simple way to start is by enjoying a walk after your meals, be that breakfast or dinner. There’s nothing quite like wrapping up warm and braving the cold. In many houses, the post-Christmas dinner walk is a tradition. If it’s not already, make 2018 the year you start.
There are a few clever little ways you can inject more exercise over the festive period. An easy one for parents is to buy the kids some sporting equipment or, perhaps, a new bike. Not only will this encourage the little ones to get moving, but you’ll also be inspired to get out there with them. Similarly, you can gift loved ones and relatives with sporty goods or even a gym membership to kickstart their own exercise turnaround.
Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that healthy eating and exercise are forfeit. You can celebrate, have a little of what you fancy whilst also being sensible. Too many of us chalk Christmas up as being an inevitable indulgence but as we’ve already shown, it doesn’t have to be. You can enjoy the best of both worlds. We’ll drink to that.