By health and wellness expert Jeannie di Bon
After every Christmas comes the inevitable January panic. Armed with fresh gym gear, shiny new Fitbits and new resolutions, we flock to the gym or sign-up to fad diets, desperate to counteract the over-indulgence of December. And, equally inevitably, such grand plans tend to have melted away by the end of the month, disappearing in a swirl of busy lives and frosty evenings.
For many, going from weeks of unrelenting indulgence over the Christmas period to embracing a stringent diet and exercise regime is just too hard to sustain.
But instead of beating ourselves up and feeling guilty for yet another year in a row, the answer could be right under our noses. And it’s all about looking after your health over the holiday period.
A ‘healthy Christmas’ may conjure up visions of lettuce replacing turkey and running shoes rather than stockings but, done right, it really doesn’t have to involve you becoming the scrooge of your household. Many of the ingredients for a healthy Christmas are already part of our favourite traditions and recipes.
Here are my tips for feeling energised and positive throughout the festive period:
Start Christmas day off right
Christmas day, and Christmas lunch in particular, is often a time of great excess that can leave us feeling bloated and uncomfortable; however, a few simple tricks can change this. Start the day off right by having a proper breakfast such as porridge or eggs, rather than grazing on treats and snacks throughout the morning. This will prevent spikes in your blood sugar which leave you feeling lethargic before you even start the main meal.
Go for the turkey
Turkey is a relatively lean meat, and even more so if served without skin. Smaller portions with a better balance of vegetables could make all the difference to how you feel, and will mean you won’t be falling asleep during charades.
If you have any leftovers it will also make for some healthy meals in the week following Christmas that will have you feeling great - a turkey curry with lentils for example, or with roasted vegetables as part of a salad.
Make the most of the seasonal veg
A lot of our winter favourites are actually fantastic nutritious choices, and many make up part of the traditional Christmas meal. For example, carrots and parsnips are a great source of vitamin K and folate – they’re even better for you if you steam or boil them rather than roasting. Brussel sprouts are another Christmas classic; they contain absolutely no fat and a vast array of nutrients, including fibre, iron and tonnes of vitamin C. These vegetables shouldn’t be relegated to the status of a glorified garnish; they should feature prominently in your Christmas meal!
Don’t ignore the clementine at the bottom of your stocking
Citrus fruits contain plenty of helpful antioxidants, among other vitamins. Cranberries are another wonderful seasonal fruit, likewise rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds – ideal for fighting off colds and flus.
Additionally, vegetables like celeriac and red cabbage are healthy and plentiful at this time of year. A celeriac soup, or red cabbage cooked in orange juice, makes a delicious and wholesome contribution to a winter meal.
Pick your tipple wisely
Whilst it’s lovely to raise a glass with friends and family during Christmas time, alcohol contains an unhealthy number of empty calories and can leave you feeling sluggish during the day. So, if you’re looking forward to having a tipple on the big day or in the run-up, try and stick to low calorie tonics and spirits, rather than calorie heavy wines or sugary options like Bailey’s. Drinking early can also be tempting, but if you can save yourself until later on in the day, you will have more energy to join in the festive fun.
Make nuts your nibble of choice
And I’m not talking about the chocolate covered variety! Rather than bowls of crisps and other calorific foods, stick to whole foods such as walnuts, cashews and dry roasted peanuts. They may be high in fat, but they are more filling and nutritious than some other snacks and release energy slowly, giving you the stamina to make it through long days of organising, socialising, and grabbing last minute presents.
Possibly the most important thing you can do to maintain your health over the festive period is keeping active. This doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or going for long distance runs: simply making time for a short walk every day will keep your muscles active. A little movement will go a long way, making all the difference if you’re looking to head into the New Year feeling fresh. I’d especially recommend a walk after Christmas lunch with whichever members of the family you can persuade to join you! The fresh air and exercise, even if you’re just strolling around the block, will do wonders for your mood.
Give yourself space to breath
The holidays can be a very stressful time: be it money worries, the pressure of organising, hosting in-laws, or the drop in mood some of us experience with the shorter days and longer nights. It’s more important than ever to look after yourself at this time of year.
We so often neglect mental health, despite it working hand-in-hand with physical health. Make the most of the time you get with your loved ones, and embrace every opportunity to relax. Whether it’s taking a few minutes to sit quietly and practice some deep breathing exercises, fitting in a calming bath, or taking 5 minutes to get some fresh air on your own; try and remember to catch your breath whenever you get a chance.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is underrated, particularly at a time of year when Christmas parties and festive drinks with friends often dominate the social calendar. Enjoy yourself by all means, but keep an eye on the number of late nights you’re having, and make sure you give yourself a break. Eight hours is the optimum, and not enough sleep on too many consecutive occasions will leave you feeling groggy, tired and run down at a time of year when you want to be feeling spritely and festive! Without proper sleep, our bodies simply can’t function at their optimum level.
Don’t wait until January 1st to implement your resolutions
Do you want to do more exercise, eat less meat, be more selfless or take up a new hobby? Why wait until 1st Jan to get the ball rolling on your resolutions? Seize the day and start working toward your goals right away. You’re far more likely to stick to them if you get into good habits now, rather than making them seem like a fad by labelling them a new year’s resolution.
Overall, it’s about making a few sensible choices. So load up on the seasonal veg and get the family out the door for a frosty walk. By the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be feeling ready to take on 2018.
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