By Erica Eberl & Jessica Turton
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but not necessarily for your waistline! Christmas time means work parties, summer barbecues, and countless celebrations with family and friends. With all these events packed in to one month, those delicious “sometimes foods” can start turning into “everyday foods” and it doesn’t take long before you end up with a “Santa belly” of your own!
So, here are nine tips to help you enjoy all the get-togethers without the guilt, bloat, or unwanted kilograms:
1. START YOUR DAY WITH PROTEIN
If you are someone who usually eats breakfast in the morning, then there is no need to skip it to “make room” for Christmas lunch. Sure – food tastes better when you’re hungry, but not when you’re ravenous. Once you reach “ravenous hunger”, mindful eating goes straight-out the chimney! You are also more likely to gravitate towards those nutrient-poor “sometimes foods” which hardly tug the ropes of satiety and can leave you feeling tired and irritable an hour or two after Christmas lunch – which is no fun for anyone!
If you’re a breakfast person, we suggest starting your day with a good source of protein, such as eggs, smoked salmon, cheese and/or plain yoghurt. Why not try an omelette made with eggs, cheese and non-starchy vegetables, like mushrooms and asparagus? You might also include some healthy fats, like avocado or butter. You’ll be heading into Christmas lunch with stable energy levels, a clear mind and it will be 100x easier to make conscious food decisions that you will enjoy – but won’t regret!
2. SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
Let us not forget that special celebrations are there to bring people together. While food is provided, it doesn’t have to be the focal point. Instead of stressing about how much food you should or shouldn’t eat, try shifting your focus toward the people you would like to spend time with and the activities that you can engage in together.
It’s easy to get wrapped-up in the excitement of the food but take a few deep breaths and remind yourself of what’s really important. You will eat again the next day and the day after, but it might be a long time before you see all your family and friends together again.
3. STAY HYDRATED
Good hydration is crucial for maintaining stable energy levels and mental sharpness throughout the chaos of the festive season. And with increased alcohol consumption being common, it’s even more important to prioritise hydration.
When it comes to staying hydrated – there are two things we need to think about: #1 water and #2 electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium). Most people realise that water is important, but not a lot of people understand the value of electrolytes. Your body needs adequate electrolytes (which are essential nutrients) to properly retain and use water. So, consider adding some mineral water to your Christmas esky! San Pellegrino mineral water is a good option because it contains plenty of those much-needed electrolytes without any added sugar. Add a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt and some crushed ice to your glass of San Pellegrino for refreshing margarita vibes that won’t leave you with a hangover!
4. IF YOU DON’T LOVE IT, DON’T EAT IT
Having an apple when you really want pavlova will most likely lead to emotional, mental and physiological dissatisfaction. You will probably find yourself beating around the Christmas bush hunting down all the other “low-calorie” alternatives before you eventually succumb to eating the food you really wanted in the first place.
Don’t be afraid to eat the foods you really want at Christmas time. After all, it only comes around once a year! When there is an abundance of food presented to you, take a few tips from Goldilocks. Choose something you are really going to enjoy – like really really! To help you decide, you might like to focus on the different senses. Ask yourself some questions: do I want something sweet or savoury? Do I want hot, cold or temperate? Do I want something light or filling? How will this food make me feel after I finish eating it? Once you’ve made your selection, try to pause after you’ve had the first few bites and ask yourself: is the taste, texture, and temperature how I want it to be? Will it still be satisfying if I continue to eat it? Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to eat it. In the same way, you’re not obligated to finish something just because you took a bite out of it.
5. IF YOU LOVE IT, SAVOUR IT
Once you’ve picked the dish or dessert that you love, remember to savour it! Your taste buds are on your tongue, not in your stomach. Racing through your meals just teases your taste buds and doesn’t allow you to experience full enjoyment from the foods you love! Food is more satisfying when it’s eaten slowly and sensually, such that every bite is savoured.
6. RESPECT YOUR FULLNESS
Maybe you were taught from a young age to finish everything on your plate, or you live by the motto “thou shall not waste”. Either way, eating beyond fullness might satisfy the chef and economics of food, but it is not respecting your body.
Remember you have the right to say “no thank you” to a second helping or another course if you know it will make you feel sickly full afterwards. If you have trouble wasting food or if your family is incredibly pushy, ask if you can take home the foods you didn’t get to try or didn’t get to finish, or see if you can share a dessert with another person if you know it will be too much.
7. MOVE AND GROOVE
There are so many benefits to staying active, much more than just working off your Christmas meal! Just 10 minutes of movement can improve your digestion, mood and energy levels, as well help you to get a better sleep at night. It can also improve your appetite and satiety cues which will allow you to have a better experience during the Christmas celebrations.
Are you a dance floor junkie? A gardening extraordinaire? A bush walker? Or a high intensity gym lover? Whichever activity or exercise you enjoy, focus on how it feels and what you like about it and try to maintain it throughout the festive season.
8. KEEP THE SLEEP
Skimping on sleep won’t serve you well. Studies have shown that sleep-deprivation causes ghrelin (hunger hormone) to spike and leptin (satiety hormone) to fall, even when your body doesn’t need food. The consequence is a false sense of hunger and an increased likelihood to overeat. Couple this with endless amounts of highly palatable foods and you have yourself a recipe for that “Santa belly”!
If your Christmas celebrations extend throughout the night, prioritising sleep can be difficult. As much as possible, try to maintain your usual sleep routine throughout the holiday period and give yourself some screen-free time before shuteye. This will help you wind-down and get the deep rest you need to be the best version of yourself throughout the silly season.
9. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Finally, we are realists… If you find yourself with a food baby, twins, or triplets after the festive season, it’s really not the end of the world. What you do or don’t eat over Christmas is nowhere near as important as what you do and don’t eat on a regular basis. There’s no need to succumb to crash diets to “burn off” the holiday kilograms, just be patient and kind to yourself and ease back into your normal, healthy routine.
You might like to plan ahead and set some calendar reminders throughout January to return to habits you know make you feel good. For example, on January 3rd – set yourself a reminder to aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. On January 6th – set yourself a reminder to eat more whole foods (e.g., meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, vegetables, and fruits). On January 9th – set yourself a reminder to drink at least 6 cups of water daily. On January 12th – set yourself a reminder to clear your house of the highly processed foods you accumulated over the holidays. Set yourself realistic, achievable tasks that are spaced out enough to prevent overwhelm. We don’t need to punish ourselves for enjoying a little too much food and drink over Christmas, but it’s important to set some strategies for returning to your usual healthy habits.
Consistency (not crash dieting) is key to feeling and looking your best in the new year!
Each celebration is an opportunity to practise these tips, but you could also use them in your day-to-day life! Hopefully this helps you to stave off those unwanted kilos, feel good about your food decisions, and most importantly - have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!
About the Co-Author
Erica Eberl is a new-graduate dietitian from the University of Sydney. Follow her on Instagram @ericasappletite for more useful tips & tricks!
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