Christmas can come with not just a big red sack full of presents but with a whole other bag, filled with all sorts of emotions - joy, excitement, love and for some - fear, guilt and shame. The crap bag.
If you've been on a health and weight loss journey for a while, going into a Christmas season can feel a little scary, you might worry that you might lose control and undo all of the hard work you've done up to this point. That's understandable as we are taken out of our routine and for some of us, we are not in control of what food is going to be served and how it's going to be cooked.
I prepared my top 10 tips for you to help you enjoy this time a year a little more and worry a little less. I hope that you find these useful and feel more excited about going into Christmas.
Don't skip meals
Skipping meals can feel like a great idea to "save" calories for later, however this can actually lead to overeating/binging later in the day. A better plan is to start your day with a healthy breakfast high in protein, healthy fat and some complex carbohydrates. Overnight oats with nuts and fruit, Greek yogurt with some seeds and berries or veggie omelette are great options.
Go for a walk with your friends or family in between meals, limit the time you sit by the table and avoid being sedentary over the Christmas season. Some of my clients like the idea of doing some activity snacks during the day. These are short exercises that don't necessary require any equipment or change of clothes. Some examples include - doing lunges when waiting for a kettle to boil or squats when brushing teeth. You can also include all family and play some games that require all of you to be on your feet. Make it fun!
It’s easy to forget to drink water as we are out of our usual routine and distracted but it is important to keep it up. Dehydration can lead to lower energy and therefore reaching for high calorie foods for a little 'pick me up', change in mood, headache. The signals that the body sends to the brain when we're thirsty are very similar to those when hungry so sometimes when we think we're hungry we might actually just need a glass of water. If you're planning on having some alcohol this Christmas, it's a good idea to alternate it with a large glass of water.
Think what you can add, not what to restrict
Make sure you've got the basics covered first - have some nutritious food that makes you feel good – protein, veggies, fruit are your friend. Healthy fats like olive oil and some complex carbohydrates are important too but remember portion sizes. Starting with the nutritious food first will fill you up and can prevent overeating on “fun” foods that follow.
Instead of impulsively reaching for food because it’s there, take a moment to pause. Make a conscious decision rather than mindlessly putting everything on your plate. Have the food that you love and skip the ones you’re not particularly interested in. Taking a moment can help you ask yourself whether you're eating because you're hungry, because the food is there or because you feel guilty for not eating something that someone else prepared. If it's the latter, I understand, I've been there too. If you don't feel comfortable saying 'no' then see if you can have a small amount to taste.
Practice mindful eating
Slow down, enjoy the smell, notice the flavour and texture of food. Use cutlery to cut it into smaller pieces, put the cutlery down between each bite. Take your time, you didn’t spend hours cooking to then not appreciate it fully.
Leave guilt behind
Feeling guilty can make the matter worse and it can lead to overeating/binging so remember to be kind to yourself and to give yourself some compassion. It’s Christmas after all!
Remember what Christmas is really about
Is Christmas really all about food, about eating to the point when we feel uncomfortable? Or is it about spending time with the loved ones, slowing down and reflecting? I get that for some this time a year can be difficult for many reasons and some of us use food as coping mechanism to get through it. If that's the case, remember that it is okay, we use different tools to survive tough times, to numb the uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps with time you can try mechanisms that are more healthful and you can find a way of celebrating Christmas the way that works for you.
Going into Christmas season prepared can help you stay more in control. Plan what food you’re going to make, see if you can find healthier recipes and if you’re going to someone else’s for dinner see if you can bring some healthy dishes for everyone to try.
Set goals/intentions for the new year
Setting health goals for 2024 and going into the new year with clear intentions will help you with getting back on track after the festive season. Make sure you set SMART goals based on behaviour change and health outcomes rather than weight. For example –
“I’ll have one piece of fruit with my breakfast and one extra piece of vegetable with my dinner 5 days a week to increase my fibre intake and to have more variety in my diet to support my gut health”; or
“I’ll go for a 30min brisk walk along the seafront on my lunchbreak 3 times a week to increase my steps and get some natural sunlight and fresh air to lower my stress levels and help me sleep better”.
These examples don’t focus on weight loss but if repeated week by week they can lead to weight loss as a side effect. This way you remove the pressure and don’t focus on the number on the scales as the only measure of success.
Instead of aiming for weight loss focus on maintenance or a small increase. Some of my clients call it "damage control". They don't expect to lose any weight but they try to stay in control and be mindful for the majority of the time whilst still enjoy the food that they love.
If you find these tips helpful please share this blog with someone who may need to read it or copy and paste it to your socials.
If you need help setting some health and weight loss goals for the new year and support guiding you through the process of achieving them, I am now opening my books and accepting new clients for 2024! You can find more information about my coaching here.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!