Christmas barbecues and end of year parties provide more opportunities to drink alcohol, which can create anxiety for some over whether they should accept the invitation for fear of over-drinking (and subsequently over-eating, putting a dent in their healthy lifestyle habits).
For others, the increase in social outings make them feel the worse for wear next morning. Even two to three drinks can result in disrupted sleep patterns, dehydration and a low mood state.
These factors increase tiredness and sugar cravings for at least the next day, which can send healthy lifestyle habits into a spin. Avoiding social occasions entirely is not the answer — social connections and community have a large positive influence on overall health and wellbeing, especially at this time of year.
Instead, a bit of preparation can go a long way to help you enjoy this festive season while minimising your alcohol intake.
Here are a few tips:
1. Plan in advance at which functions you will enjoy a drink and which you will stay alcohol-free. Ideally you will have at least two alcohol-free nights per week.
2. If you normally enjoy a drink at home before or during dinner, consider opting for a non-alcoholic drink instead to allow for the increased frequency of social occasions. See the box (right) for some of my favourite alternatives.
3. Have plenty to drink during the day before arriving at the function — we often drink our first drink too quickly due to dehydration, so not only do we feel the effects of alcohol sooner, we drink more than we intend to.
4. Order a calorie-free drink alongside the alcoholic one: soda water with a wedge of lime, for example. This will help keep you hydrated and slow down your drinking — it's difficult to drink as much overall with this in hand.
5. Eat alongside or before you start drinking, as this will slow down the effects of the alcohol, making it less likely that you will drink more than you intend to.
6. Ask for a smaller measure of alcohol or pour of wine.
7. Decide ahead of time what your non-alcoholic drink of choice is, so you don't end up grabbing an alcoholic one almost unconsciously out of habit. Where necessary, take your own alcohol-free drinks to the festivities.
8. Don't let anyone refill your glass until it is empty, as it is difficult to keep a track of how much you are drinking.
9. Drink plenty of water when you get home and add some lemon or orange zest and a pinch of sea salt to it. The lemon zest contains d-limonene, which helps stimulate glutathione peroxidase in the liver, one of our major antioxidant enzymes. This will help mop up reactive oxygen species (ROS) caused by alcohol and the breakdown of fried, highly refined party food. The salt will help your body absorb the water and prevent dehydration — often the major cause of a hangover.
Alternatives to high-sugar soft drinks
1 Soda water with a kick: try a wedge of lime or lemon, or fresh grated ginger, or raw apple cider vinegar.
2 Sparkling water with ice cubes that have mint or berries added to them — looks festive.
3 Sparkling water with added herbs and vegetables/fruit, adding monk fruit or stevia as a sweetener if desired. Try:
- Cucumber, thyme and strawberry
- Strawberry, lemon and basil
- Blueberry, pomegranate and mint
- Cubes of frozen watermelon and mint
- Strawberry, cucumber, kiwifruit and lime
- Basil and mango
Home-made iced tea using six fruit tea bags to eight cups of hot water. Steep for around four minutes then leave to cool.
5 Sparkling or still water with Barker's unsweetened blackcurrant juice added.
6 Six Barrel Soda company have a great salted cucumber and mint drink that is refreshing, contains no sugar and comes in single-serve bottles.
7 Kombucha that has a low residual sugar count, such as Remedy or Lo Bros brand.
8 "1Above" drink. Designed initially for helping alleviate jetlag, this low-sugar alternative tastes great and has electrolytes added to help keep you hydrated on a warm summer evening.
9 Phoenix light cola. Sweetened with stevia, it makes a better choice than other diet beverages.
10 Hopt soda drinks are higher in sugar than those I've mentioned but have less than half that of a standard soda drink. Flavours include watermelon and mint, salted lychee, pear and basil and elderberry and herb.