This time of the year can be a challenge when it comes to staying on track with your health and fitness goals. There are a lot of dinners out with family, lunches with friends, work drinks and Christmas parties. It is a great opportunity to have a break from routine and connect with family and friends. Eating throughout the Christmas and New Year period does not need to be complicated and it definitely shouldn’t leave you feeling guilty. How often do you get to spend time with all of the people that are closest to you?
Make smart decisions and enjoy yourself.
Of course all of the festivities can be a disaster for your usual eating habits and exercise routine leaving you feeling full, bloated and sluggish with the common thought of “I’ll start fresh in the new year.” But I am here to simplify it for you. Here are some of my top tips to handle the silly season so that you end the year feeling healthy, happy and relaxed without the excess weight gain.
It can be an easy time of year to overdo your portion sizes, try using a smaller plate at meal times and avoid going back for seconds. Listen to your body’s cues that you’ve had enough - eat slowly and mindfully. You can do this by chewing each bite multiple times, putting your cutlery down in between bites and enjoy the conversation with those around you. Your relatives and friends may encourage you to eat or drink more but you can respectfully decline “I’m full” or “I’m taking a break” usually works wonders for me (it also gives me time to decide if I’d actually like more). Loading your plate up with vegetables and protein can help you feel fuller for longer, just be sure leave some room for a treat or two.
Here in New Zealand it is summer over Christmas so it’s heating up and you’ll always catch me with my water bottle. Hydration is very important for maintaining the function of every system in your body. It’s also useful in helping you curb cravings. Before grabbing something to eat, check whether you're really thirsty rather than hungry. It's easy to confuse thirst and hunger with the result that many people grab a snack or fill their plate for seconds when what they really need is a glass of water.
Following on from hydration… Water is a calorie free drink, alcohol and the usual fizzy drinks are not. The holidays are a time of year when alcohol, soda and other sweetened beverages seem to be unlimited. These drinks can add empty calories and plenty of sugar to your day. Alcohol consumption is also often linked to an increase in appetite*1. I know, I know, you’ve had a big year and want to celebrate. That is more than fine, just try not to overdo it - eg: a glass of wine with dinner. If you’re trying to control your weight, it’s best to limit alcohol throughout the year.
Our bodies were designed to move. This doesn’t mean that you have to go to the gym, there are many other ways to exercise. Some activities include hiking with friends, playing in the park with kids (or nieces & nephews), taking the dog for a run, biking with family. Make a conscious decision to get more steps into the day by taking the stairs or parking the car further away from the grocery store entrance. I personally love getting outdoors and lifting weights in the gym. Around this time of year I make sure that I don’t skip my early morning workouts! I love starting the day with exercise before most people are awake (this means that you don’t miss any festivities with loved ones). Exercising in the morning can help ensure better behaviour all day long, according to a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. I find that on the days I workout, I am more inclined to fuel my body with “less cheeky” foods.
Foods high in protein can help improve satiety which can help you maintain a healthy weight as it may help prevent overeating whilst helping you feel fuller for longer (less snacks in the day). Make sure to serve up some turkey, roasted chicken, or prepare animal-free alternatives like quinoa, lentils, or beans. Pair that protein up with vegetables and healthy fats for a winning combination! Bringing a healthy dish to share at any festivities means that you always have a healthy fall back option if needed. I usually opt to make a chicken salad with some healthy whole grains, vegetables and fats (think chicken, spinach, quinoa, pumpkin and almonds or avocado). Delicious!
Look at your calendar and list all the events that you have coming up. If possible, look up the restaurant’s menu before going so that you can plan in advance what you are going to have instead of just picking without thinking when you arrive. There are bound to be a lot of eating out situations during this time of year so knowing when they are and planning can help you stay on track. Where possible, bring your own healthy dish. If you know that you have a carb heavy meal out with friends you can control your portions in the day to ensure that you have some “wiggle room” with your calories.
Boundaries & Control
Many people have an "I'll start tomorrow" mentality, which can end up being a negative cycle of unhealthy habits. If you are serious about controlling your weight, it may be helpful to set limits for yourself and stick to your goals regarding food intake. Have a friend, partner or coach to hold yourself accountable to. I try to be picky with what I eat - calories count but so does taste. Decide which foods are worth it to you and which ones are not. There is no point in filling your plate up with foods you don’t like or wouldn’t usually eat just because it’s there. Food will always be there and most supermarkets stock Christmas treats for weeks after Christmas so if you still really want Christmas mince pies or brandy snaps in the new year, you can find them. Remember, it’s okay to say no to certain foods and habits that don't align with your goals. Remember your goals and that you are not depriving yourself of anything. You can have anything you want daily but you CHOOSE to eat foods that take you closer to your goals.
Relax & Enjoy (AKA Reduce Stress)
Don’t let yourself regret not enjoying this time with family and friends because you are “on a diet.” You can limit fat gain and even lose it when needed but you can’t go back in time to create the memories that you missed out on. This time of year can be stressful and busy which can lead to a lack of sleep. High stress and minimal sleep will make controlling your food intake very tough due to the changes in hormone levels such as cortisol (response to stress), leptin (appetite control) and ghrelin (tells the brain that you need to eat). Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep in order to allow for your body to recuperate from all the festivities and work. Do something that can help you wind down. Some ideas include walking your dog, reading a book, journalling, meditation, yoga or even treating yourself to a massage.
The best advice I can give anyone on their fitness journey is to adjust their mindset and perspective. If you attend all events with a negative attitude in which you are convinced that you’re missing out, you will feel like you are missing out. Rather than focusing on what you 'can’t' have, focus on your goals. You are choosing to have healthy foods because your goals are more important than the treats available. Take a moment before each gathering to remind yourself what Christmas is all about. Choose to enjoy this time with family making healthy happy holiday memories. On the flip side - if you are going to eat the food and drink alcohol over this period - consciously choose to. You are in control!
With all these tips in mind, you may still eat more than you planned to. That is OKAY! No guilt, no excess cardio or negative self-talk. Just make sure that the next meal that you have nourishes you and takes you closer to your goals. Don’t put it off to the next day, week or the new year - just get back on track as soon as possible.
HAVE AN AMAZING CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!