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Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Specialist Dietitian at Ramsay Health Care | 17/12/2021

Navigating Christmas without Gaining Weight

What you eat on Christmas Day forms an extremely small part of your usual diet, and trying hard to restrict yourself, can lead to feelings of anxiety and even guilt about food during the festive period.⁣ If this resonates with you, I hope you find these tips a useful reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way. It IS possible to strike balance throughout December and on the big day itself. 

1. Think realistically 

 It’s common to eat more than usual during the festive period and it’s important to remember that several factors influence the number on the scales; including fluid retention and salt intake, in addition to the physical amount of food that has been eaten.⁣

Be kind to yourself and remember that food is for enjoyment too. Savour the textures and flavours and hopefully, you’ll feel good after too.⁣ You don’t have to resign from your favourite Christmas food. There will always be a few nutritious foods you can add to your plate, too!

If you do find yourself faced with a few too many festive lunches, remember that whilst saying ‘no’ to yourself or others isn’t easy, with practice, it will come. Phrases such as ‘No thank you, I’m stuffed’ or ‘No thank you, I might wait for a little while’ won’t hurt the person offering food and it will leave you in control of the food that you want to eat, rather than mindlessly eating without realising how much you may be having. 

2. Don't forget your vegetables!

It is still possible to have five portions of fruits and vegetables around Christmas. From Brussels sprouts to parsnips, carrots, vegetable sticks with houmus or festive fruit kebabs, each contains vitamins and minerals to support you and your health and provide a long-lasting source of energy. Aim to fill a third to half of your plate with vegetables before adding other foods, which will help with achieving a balanced plate and a feeling of satiety too.

Regularly eating a higher proportion of foods that are higher in sugar can interfere with energy levels, so balance is still important at Christmas. Try to limit the number of deep-fried foods and keep mindful of high amounts of oil or cooking fat - keeping your vegetables and potato pieces chunky will help to reduce the amount of oil that they absorb. 

3. Go for a walk!

Remember that we do not have to over-exercise around Christmas - we do not need to ‘earn’ our food. You could however try to have a walk after Christmas lunch/dinner to add some movement into your day. If you find Christmas difficult, this can also help to boost your mood and hopefully reduce any stress and anxiety. Any type of exercise helps to release endorphins, which may even help to rationalise any Christmas arguments - we all know what it can be like!

4. Keep well hydrated

Before, during, and after a celebration, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Drinking before will help to ensure that your thirst is not confused with hunger, and consuming water during your Christmas dinner will help you to slow down and help you to listen to your hunger and fullness cues, ensuring you’re not feeling too dehydrated the next day, especially if you’ve had a few sherry’s!  If you suffer from bloating around Christmas, you may find that a hot drink such as peppermint tea can help to reduce this and soothe your symptoms which may occur after a festive dinner.

5. Drink alcohol in moderation

When we drink, the liver has to filter the alcohol, which leads to a slower release of glucose (energy) into the blood. This is why, after an alcoholic drink, you may feel hungrier than usual. Plan in advance for these evening cravings by keeping nutritious foods on hand/in the fridge. Before you start drinking, plan how much you want to drink (if at all) and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or no added sugar soft drinks. Be mindful that alcohol may still be in your system the next day if you’re planning on driving anywhere!

Christmas comes around just once a year, so remember the 80/20 rule (everything in moderation!) and if you do indulge then don’t feel disheartened or punish yourself through large amounts of exercise the next day. There are more important things to think about at Christmas such as spending time with family and friends than your weight or how much you have eaten. A recent study showed that those who ate ‘treat foods’ and felt guilty, weighed more than those who ate it in celebration, without any guilty feelings! No food is banned in a healthy balanced diet. it’s all about moderation and not denying yourself the treat foods.

Have a great Christmas everyone!

By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Specialist Dietitian at Ramsay Health Care

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