I’m a dietitian as you might know (or might not?). I work in a private practice setting across several locations in Brisbane, Queensland. Recently, several of my clients have asked me for my advice or recommendations for staying healthy over the festive season. I’ve even had some clients avoid booking in a review appointment with me at this time of year as they are afraid what the scary dietitian will tell them to not eat. So I thought I’d summarise my thoughts in a post. How do you stay healthy through the festive season? Read on! (It’s not as scary as you think). You might not be looking to lose weight, or have a specific health-related goal, and that’s absolutely fine. My tips are quite general, and to be honest, could be used for any other celebratory time of year, whether it be a birthday, or Easter or something similar.
I think it is important to remember that Christmas is a celebration, and at this time of year a lot of people are looking forward to relaxing, having a break and hanging out with friends and family. That being said, Christmas presents way more opportunities than normal to indulge, whether it be family dinners, work parties or the like.
1. Don’t be unrealistic
I think talking about being realistic is a great way to start. Christmas is not really the time to focus heavily on weight loss. Instead, if you are looking to lose weight, or are on a journey of weight loss, a more realistic and achievable goal would be to maintain your current weight during this period. This goal places much less pressure on yourself, and means you can still enjoy the delicious food and great company without having to constantly worry about calories and dessert, and all the things that make Christmas great. We can’t eat perfectly healthy 100% of the time and I think that restricting yourself at Christmas is not good for the soul. That being said, there are some better choices, or healthier swaps you can make.
2. Be selective with your food and drink
For myself, and other Australians, Christmas is mid-summer, so our dining table usually consists of plenty of barbequed meats, hot or cold ham, and lots of fresh salads and cold seafood. On the other hand, if you are from a colder part of the globe, you might have choices like warm vegetable side dishes, hot ham or turkey, roast pumpkin and potatoes. Wherever you are from, being selective with your food and drink choices is a great way to be a little healthier. Try and fill your plate with lots of vegetables or salads, a portion of protein, and then a little bit of carbohydrates, like potatoes or a bread roll. Trying to make sure that the vegetables on your plate is the largest portion, means you can still enjoy all your favourite foods but your plate is portion-controlled.
3. Don’t overdo the booze
It’s very easy to over-drink during Christmas celebrations, but too much alcohol can make such a big difference if you’re wanting to stay a little bit healthier this festive season. While staying healthy is not just about calories, if you are looking to maintain your weight, drinking calories seems to slip under the radar, and indulging in a little too much drink can really outdo all the progression you’ve made with your food intake. Try mixing your spirits with diet soft drinks and serve them in a large glass: I know that a lot of people don’t like diet soft drink, but from a calorie perspective they are a much better option than regular soft drink, and if you really don’t like it that much, you’ll probably drink much less of it anyway – which is still a good thing. There are also some nice alcohol alternatives, such as iced tea, fruit-infused soda water or a homemade fruit punch made with mineral water and some sugar-free lemonade.
4. Keep to one festive meal on the day
Some of us are driving back and forth across the city on Christmas day to celebrate the day with different sides of the family. If you’re trying to stay healthy, try and limit your festive meal to one per day. This is not to say you need to sit at home while the rest of the fam enjoy Christmas breakfast with the relatives! Enjoy your meal with friends and family, but don’t overeat. Being mindful is incredibly important.
Similarly, remember that Christmas is one day of the year; so is New Years Eve. While your Christmas festivities may have begun in early December (with your work Christmas parties and what not), letting lose for 31 days straight is not ideal. Keep your festive meals and treats to the days where you have something on, don’t indulge in rum balls and shortbread for the entire month.
5. Enjoy one serve of dessert
Christmas dessert is definitely one of the joys of the festive season. For me at least! I absolutely adore pudding and custard, fresh fruit pavlova, white Christmas slice, rum balls, shortbread… the list goes on. With all of these decadent treats available, it is very easy to fall into a trap of just snacking on dessert dishes for hours on end. Days on end even. I always say that food is not just about nutrition, and I do believe that dessert – especially Christmas dessert – is nourishing for the soul. In saying that, your soul doesn’t need a bucketful of pudding. Enjoy your serve of indulgent festive goodness, practice mindful eating, and feel happy knowing that you’ve not once deprived yourself of anything, but you’ve also exercised self control. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Christmas is a time to enjoy yourself, and after a long year, you deserve to do just that. A whole year of hard work does not need to be wasted, and despite what some may think, it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the indulgent offerings that surround you.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year friends, thank you for reading my thoughts and recipes for the past 12 months. Looking forward to bigger and better things in 2017!0