Surviving Christmas with a Sweet Tooth
The most important thing to understand and accept is that Christmas is a marathon not a sprint. Disastrous news for us classic ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ types, who love a good spread and feel eased in to all parties after three drinks not one. Perfect news for those cool and composed ones, who can sip their champagne before moving to water. Not only do these people always glide gracefully through to the next day’s festivities, but they annoyingly manage to keep their lipstick on all night.
There are many catches to this whole ‘drink and be merry’ season. Not least that drinking and being merry is simply marvellous at first, but like the party girl’s lipstick, it wears off pretty quickly.
Having used alcohol and sugar to manage Christmas for many years, I have finally got the food and drink thing fairly buttoned down. I think it’s about accepting that you’ve got to be on your game again and again at Christmas. If you set off too fast at the start, you may have to trundle through the days with crutches of caffeine and sugar, braving back up to alcohol from cocktail o’clock onwards. It’s a pretty snazzy plan at the start, but when you finally crawl over the finishing line to the New Year, you feel heavier, sadder and more inclined to hibernate than embrace new beginnings.
It may seem impossible, but here are a few tips to help you not only survive the season, but keep up your Christmas spirit from start to finish:
1: Follow an 80/20 rule
You know what you love about the food at Christmas. One person’s Christmas pudding is another person’s brussel sprouts. If the idea of avoiding the treats that you love makes you feel miserable, then try to adopt an 80/20 rule. Make a note of what delicacies you need to make Christmas feel as it should, but also recognise in advance those extra things you just eat because they are there. Make a pact with yourself to stay healthy for 80% of the time and then indulge in the things that count for 20%.
2: Plan it out
The more upfront planning you do, the more chance you have of sneaking in some down time and a couple of breaks from the over indulgence. Now is the time to map it all out. Don’t say yes to everything, carefully squeeze a few planned ‘windows’ into the diary. The trick is to then use those windows wisely. Avoid cracking open the wine and the banquet worthy platter of grand fromage and biscuits. Try to step away from it all so you can give your digestion and liver a quick pit-stop before the next event.
3: Don’t super-size your Christmas
We manage to spend around four times as much on food and chow down on festive food in illogical volumes over the season. Our bodies don’t need any more food than normal, especially not the 4000 extra calories most people load in on Christmas Day alone.
This year do your food shopping on a full tummy and stick to a list that makes sense for the numbers you’ve got to feed. OK maybe it’s an obligatory custom to pop some After Eights in the trolley, but you might not need the mammoth panettone, the tin of shortbread biscuits, an assortment of sugared almonds and an extra 4 selection boxes – ‘just in case’.
4: Stay hydrated
Ok, so this sounds a bit too obvious. We know that drinking one to two litres of water a day is important for our energy levels, cell repair and for skin tone. However, we switch off all sorts of logic when we step away from our daily routines.
The reality is that water is actually more important in the party season. The more alcohol we drink, the more water we need because alcohol interferes with the brain and kidney communication. It causes excess excretion of fluids which can then lead to dehydration. Try to find a way to make it happen. Maybe buy a one litre bottle and put it in your bag, or keep it with you wherever you go. Drink that throughout the day and then make sure you manage another over the evening.
5: Change your breakfast habits
Change to a simple protein based breakfast such as smoked salmon and eggs, omelette, avocado and seeds or mackerel. It might feel like an uncomfortable shift from sweet to savoury, but it’s a sure fire way of starting off the day on the best foot. Proteins fill us up for longer, which is ideal over the Christmas holidays when lunch time may fall later or arrive at all. By removing sugar at the start of the day, you’ll see a massive change in your need for sugar as the day progresses. The positive impact is remarkably quick to notice.
6: Savour your cocktail and then move on
There’s nothing like a whopping great Pornstar Martini to get your party juices flowing, but the fruit syrup and table sugar will also send your insulin levels sky high and do you no favours the next day. It’s smart to enjoy one or two cocktails and then move on to something else. A regular glass of wine has around 120 – 150 calories, which is a far tamer tipple than the average cocktail, which contains between 250 – 500.
7: Eat before a party
If you want to keep some control over the Christmas party period, don’t go out hungry. A small protein based meal will fill you up and give you more strength to avoid the dangerously appealing cheese straws and mini burgers as they waft their way around the room. We tend to be less conscious about what we eat when we’re in social situations. We spend most of our lives thinking about food, what we will eat and when, but often in a social situation we just shovel it all in and regret it later. Make a promise to yourself to engage your brain when you see the food. Take a few seconds to think whether you need it or even want it before you dive in.
8: Walk it off
For your sanity’s sake alone, get some fresh air and some back-to-basics exercise over the holiday season. Plan in a daily walk after or before the family meals. A twenty-minute walk of around a mile, will typically burn off 100 calories. It’s a good way to bring the family together, or simply to make a break to clear your head.
9: Take a step back and smile
Above all else, for the sake of your health, don’t take it all too seriously. If we’re not careful we temporarily abandon our sanity at Christmas. Supermarkets turn into freakish displays of shopping insanity. Normally calm and rational women develop terrifying shopping trolley rage, careering around with overflowing trolleys and panicked faces as they approach the empty fridge display where the pigs in blankets once resided.
Try to avoid undue stress by accepting that some things will go wrong. Stuffing may disappear, to be found at the back of the AGA in March, family guests will be late and then overstay their welcome, the kids will behave two years younger in front of people and you may be bought the wrong size underwear – again.
Christmas is the happiest time of the year, and guilt should never be an emotion we entertain at this time of year. So whatever happens, however much you eat or drink, remember to breathe, smile, stay sane and have a happy healthy Christmas.