Christmas is in many ways a special time of the year, and even more so from a nutrition perspective. It certainly gets us out of our routine, whether it’s the numerous boozy Christmas parties, the plentiful Christmas dinners, or the likelihood of eating more chocolate, cakes and sweets than in all the other months combined. To many of us, it certainly is a magical time of the year. Nonetheless, many of us come out of this season with a sluggish, uncomfortable and guilty feeling of having drunk too much, eaten too much, and moved too little. While there should never be guilt around enjoying all parts of Christmas – including the festive eats and the jolly drinks, there are some hacks that can help us feel more at ease on the other side.
1. Drink Water
This mainly applies to the Christmas parties, dinners and get-togethers that can turn a little too boozy. Switching every second drink to a glass of water rather than another round of vino has a number of benefits:
It gives the liver more time to metabolise the alcohol and prevents dehydration, which both have an effect on the extent of the hangover the next day.
It also helps us keep in the range of up to 0.05g/dl, which has the positive effects of being more relaxed and more talkative.
It helps prevent slipping into the range of 0.5-0.8g/dl, which is when judgement and finer movements are affected, and things generally turn a rather pear-shaped
Increasing water intake is particularly important for ladies, as females metabolise alcohol significantly slower than males because females have less of the enzyme that breaks alcohol down and because females are usually smaller in stature.
2. Don’t Succumb to the “Screw-It-Effect”
We’ve all been there. We have a burger with fries and mayo / a cake the size of our face / a sharing cheeseboard except we didn’t share… and here we go again: Screw it, I’ve already “been bad” so I might as well go full throttle and “start eating healthy tomorrow”. Except sometimes “tomorrow” keeps on being postponed and then it’s Jan 1st.
We all know that this isn't a very healthy attitude towards food, especially if this is followed by something like "I’ll just not eat anything tomorrow" or "I'll do an extra-long gym session".
Going overboard with food or drink will most probably make us feel bad, both physically and mentally. So keep that in mind next time you can see the “screw-it mentality” creeping up.
3. Don’t Deprive Yourself
Why do we have this “screw-it mentality”? Because we restrict ourselves from eating the things we love but consider “bad”. Restriction almost always leads to feelings of deprivation, which in turn cause us to fixate or obsess on those particular foods. So, when we do encounter said food, we either feel bad, or go overboard and binge on it, or both. If this happens time and time again, we’re at risk of developing unhealthy binge-restrict cycles.
Therefore, completely restricting yourself off something has little point. Enjoy some of that chocolate (or whatever that food is for you), probably more than usual, but that's ok because at some point you'll get sick of it and enjoy a plate of vegetables or turkey more than another piece of chocolate.
4. Eat Slowly and Take a Satiety Level Check
Thoroughly chewing our food, taking smaller bites and pausing between bites lets us savour our food more. But not only does it increase our enjoyment it also slows us down. This is helpful because it takes some time for satiety signals to reach our brain, which is why eating too quickly often leads to overeating.
Another way to be more aware of internal hunger and fullness cues is to proactively gage how full we are. We can do this by taking a little break part of the way through a meal and think of where we are on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is absolutely starving and 10 is uncomfortably full. We should aim to stop eating at around 7 in order not to feel overly full.
5. Be prepared
We often end up overeating on foods we may not even enjoy that much because we find ourselves so hungry that we’ll go for the first thing we see. On the above-mentioned scale, we should start eating at around 3 and not leave it longer than that. When having a meal at that point isn’t possible, being prepared and having a healthy snack available can be extremely helpful. For instance, if we’re at a 5 at the scale and have some time to go until the Christmas dinner, having a healthy snack, like some carrot sticks and hummus, will keep us going until the dinner. That way, when we arrive at the Christmas dinner we won’t be starving and finish the bread basket or scoff down the deep-fried chicken canapés the minute we get there.
Despite the fact that Christmas is a special time of the year, it’s important to keep a moderate mindset about it and neither deprive yourself, nor go crazy on all fronts. Eating a little more than usual a few times is totally fine, but if we overeat and overdrink most days from now until Jan 1st will most probably not leave us feeling our best. Eating more slowly and more mindfully, taking breaks by drinking water, and being prepared with healthy alternatives can help prevent that. The most important point, however, is to enjoy ourselves. This means not obsessing or feeling guilty around food, not letting somebody else urge us into having one more drink or one more serving of food, but listening to our needs and preferences. You are the only one that knows how you feel, remember that you’re in control of what you take in, and aim to eat and drink in order to feel at your best.