Falling within days of the winter solstice, Christmas has always been a time of celebration. This time of year has been home to feasting since pagan times. Communities would come together to eat the fruits of the harvest and fatten up before winter.
The festive season, for many of us, means endless Christmas parties, excessive drinking, disgusting hangover food, days of over indulgence, gorging on mince pies, Christmas pudding, little gold chocolate coins, and a favourite in our family... My Grandad's speciality, bacon fried in dripping on Boxing Day morning.
Then comes the dreaded day when you realise what you have done, you haven't just fallen but LEAPT off the wagon... Oh well, I might as well finish this box of Maltesers / mince pies / chocolate log rolls / cheese breadsticks / insert your indulgent treat of choice here!
So we are left feeling bloated, needing to find a less figure hugging dress for New Years Eve and making New Year resolutions to be better, to stick to the diet, wracked with guilt and a sickening overfilled, bloated feeling. Sound familiar?
What if I told you it doesn't have to be like this?
Get rid of the diet related Guilt!
The first issue I want to address is guilt. Guilt is a dangerous emotion when it comes to food. Guilt, accompanied by blame and feelings of failure often trigger emotional eating habits; either compulsive overeating or (just as harmful) self-starvation.
Christmas is not a time for diets. Diets don't work at the best of times and they definitely do not work at Christmas. So if you fall off the wagon with whatever regime you have yourself on - it is not your fault. The diet has failed you! Not the other way around.
Food, when enjoyed, can be just as nourishing for the soul as it can be for the body. There is something incredibly healing about sharing a meal with your family and friends. Maybe you don't always appreciate the talking, laughing and family bickering, but take a moment to think of how important this meal is to everyone around the table. How often does Grandma get to sit down for a meal with her whole family around her? Probably not all that often.
That friend who brings a gift of freshly baked mince pies has done so with love. So make yourselves a cuppa, or pour a glass of wine and enjoy one together. Be grateful for the gesture, feel good, feel blessed, and allow the love in that food to nourish your spirit.
Ok, so now we know not to feel guilty about enjoying Christmas, we need to know how to enjoy our food and drink without the extreme overindulgence, bloating and discomfort. It's all well and good not feeling guilty but on it's own it won't be enough!
1. Eat real food
At every opportunity go for real, whole, homemade food. If the food or snack is from a packet and you don't recognise, or can't pronounce any of the ingredients, it is not real food. Real food nourishes your body in a way that highly processed, food-like substances cannot. Real food kills cravings because your body doesn't feel like anything is missing.
2. Eat when you are hungry
And stop when you are full - that part will take more willpower! Listen to your body. If you have filled up on nourishing, whole foods it will be easier to stop when you are full. A chocolate-based breakfast, on the other hand, is harder to stop eating. Sugar is seriously addictive!
3. Support your digestion
If you overload your system and don't support it to digest all this food, you will feel bloated, gassy, constipated, lethargic and ultimately put on weight. Follow these steps to keep your digestion in good working order:
• Drink a large glass of water 20 minutes before your main meal. This isn't about making yourself feel full so you eat less. Drinking water hydrates your stomach lining and encourages production of stomach acid to breakdown your food.
• Introduce good bacteria to your gut. Try some fermented food, live yogurt or take a probiotic supplement. Use these good bacteria through the whole festive period ... And beyond!
• Move! Get outside and walk, or run. Or do yoga. Whatever suits you. Chase your kids on their new bikes, take a walk to escape the heated debates between your drunken relatives or turn up the volume on your new wireless speaker system and dance your little socks off. It'll be fantastic for your mental health as well as for your digestion.
• Try to stick to whatever rules you know work for you. I know my weakness is wheat; it really messes up my system. So while I will indulge in other treats I will still work hard to avoid wheat heavy treats. Maybe for you it's cheese? Or gluten?
• Think about where all this food is going... It better be heading down the toilet, because if it's not, it is sitting inside you making you feel heavy, uncomfortable and tired. Go to the toilet at least once per day. If you haven't been for a day or two, think about treating yourself to a vegetable and fibre rich meal to get things moving. And if all else fails, coffee can be a quick remedy (although absolutely not a long term solution!)
4. Plan ahead
It's only natural to want to eat the food in front of you and to drink as much as the person you are socialising with. To say 'no' is hard. But if you plan ahead of time it is easier.
Plan ahead - Socialising
We all know when we are tired and hung-over we eat junk. McDonalds, or that greasy spoon fry up never tasted so good as when we have had far too much to drink the night before. If you are lucky enough to be invited out to a number of social events and parties, the likelihood is you will have as many mornings of feeling awful and making bad food choices. Christmas is a really busy time of year for everyone, which gives you the perfect excuse to say no to some of your invites. As the invites come in, ask yourself: Is likely to be a really good event? Will you love the company of everyone in the room? If the answer is no to either of these questions then consider the alternatives: Can you arrange a coffee or dinner with the host in the New Year? You will have more 1-1 time to really get to see them and catch up. Or, can you 'show your face' with no intention of staying late? Make your excuses with your RSVP, before you arrive so no one (including that glass of bubbly in your hand!) tries to convince you otherwise.
Remember- drinking as part of an amazing night with friends can be worth the hangover. Drinking to pass the night more quickly is always a BAD idea!
So you have whittled down the socialising just enough to avoid too many mornings fuelled by coffee, Pringles and McDonalds. Next...
Plan ahead - Food
If you are hosting and cooking it is much easier to be in control of the food, but with some planning and good communication you can still make an impact. Follow these simple principles to help your self control and will power win!
• Talk to your host about special requirements well in advance. If you are vegetarian, make sure your host knows so you don't get stuck picking around meat and eating a very unbalanced meal.
• Know your weakness. Are you a glutton for mince pies? Or is it the endless supply of chocolate that is your downfall? Do you OD on paté and bread? Or is it your Mum's special roast potatoes? Whatever your downfall is likely to be, offer to be in charge of bringing it. If you make your own you can be in charge of what goes into it.
• If there is a particular food-based treat that is your nemesis, make a point of asking friends and family to find other gifts for you. If work colleagues give you chocolates open them straight away and share them with the whole office. You will be loved for it and you won't be tempted to empty the whole box yourself while wrapping last minute Christmas presents on Christmas Eve!
• And if your Mum always makes extra roasties because she knows you will have triple helpings, ask her to help you on your mission of not overindulging and NOT cook extra. Have a single portion, enjoy it, and stop there.
Avoid baking with processed sugar. Food without processed sugar is much less more-ish and addictive while being just as delicious (sometimes more so) and it is much healthier.
Use organic suet in your mince pies and organic butter in pastries and cakes. Organic and grass fed animal fats have much more healthy ratios of good fats like omega 3's. Fats are important in your diet!
If you follow these principles you will end the festive season feeling well nourished rather than sick and bloated. You will have had some fantastic days and nights with loved ones and you won't feel drained or stretched too thinly.
Let's be honest, you may still put on a pound or two. But you will not have loaded your body with unhealthy options. You will not feel guilty about making bad decisions and you'll certainly be lighter than you would have been otherwise.
5. Load up on antioxidants
Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking combined with late nights all contribute to free radical production. Free radicals cause disease, ageing, poor skin health and more. You find antioxidants in fruits and veggies, especially berries like blueberries. To support your body through the onslaught of alcohol I highly recommend you take a whole food supplement which contains concentrated fruits and vegetables. This will give your body a much needed antioxidant boost and offer some protection from long term damage to your health. To arrange a quick chat about which supplements will help you the most you can book a free phone call with me here.
If you feel good in your body, feel happy, healthy, alive and nourished, DO NOT weigh yourself! The scales do not have the right to tell you whether you should feel good about yourself.