Christmas. I love everything about it and still have my 28-year-old Farmers missy bear as a reminder of how cool Christmas was when I was a kid. I know not everyone feels the same and it’s not just the frantic, hectic, expensive aspect of the festive season, it’s the anxiety associated with the mounting social engagements that are booked in as everyone rushes to catch up before Christmas.
People who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight or consistent energy levels often find this time of year stressful and, while they want to enjoy all of the socialising, it can create additional anxiety. Stress in itself can increase cortisol and adrenaline — hormones that can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels and subsequently your energy and appetite.
Here are a few strategies to help maintain your wellbeing (and waistline) now that the silly season is ramping up.
1. Healthy habits look different for everyone.
Some can eat pretty much the same year-round. Others have an 80-20 rule for the festive season where they stick to what they deem healthy 80 per cent of the time. But some do 80 per cent of the damage in 20 per cent of the time and the 80-20 rule turns into a sliding scale of 50-50, or 30-70. There’s plenty of reason to loosen the reins on your healthy eating habits at this time of year and it’s okay to do that, but try to do it in a way that keeps you feeling good and not out of control around food. I care less that you have too many Christmas chocolates and more about your head space if you do so. Being kind to yourself also requires honesty about what you’re eating and how it affects you.
2. Try to stay focused on eating well, exercising and practising mindfulness to help keep calm in an otherwise stressful and busy life.
Keep in the forefront of your mind what your overall health goals are. Sorry to be boring, but to push pause on what you do because it all feels too hard, will make it feel even harder. You practise these things as something FOR yourself — it’s not something you do TO yourself. Try writing the five things you do that are important to you. If your health is a priority, then the list might include the warm water in lemon each morning, or going to the gym, or including three serves of vegetables in your evening meal. They don’t have to be big things, but they can be a good reminder of your goal.
3. There are people in your life who will try and sabotage your efforts to stay healthy.
People who will ask why you don't "treat yourself", or tell you to "let your hair down" because you've stopped after one or two drinks. It doesn't matter if this comes from a place of misguided love or envy that you are striding forth secure in health goals that they've not managed to achieve. It's not helpful. Don't feel the need to justify why you aren't going to have that Christmas bliss ball, a simple "no thank you" or "I'm not hungry" is enough. They will get the message soon enough that you don't want it without you being defensive or rude about it.
4. In a dinner setting no one likes to feel like they are putting people out by refusing dessert, however if you don’t want it then don’t have it.
A simple “I’m not hungry” will suffice. If you do want it, that’s fine too! Just make sure you’ve got room for dessert, as it is not good practice to eat when you are full. Feel comfortable with leaving food on your plate: you don’t have to finish everything in front of you.
5. Be choosy about your treats.
You will likely get more enjoyment from the one special mince tart that your neighbour made than a 12-pack from the supermarket. If you have specific food intolerances then search for a recipe you can make (or get someone else to make) so you can enjoy them during the Christmas season. Yes, they are still a treat — but there’s always room for some treats.
6. If you drink alcohol make sure you’re fully hydrated before having your first drink.
This saves you from drinking too quickly and order a sparkling water to go alongside it. Consider offering to be the sober driver. Drinks flow readily at this time of year, so mapping out your social calendar and deciding those events you will imbibe at and those where you will abstain will help you feel good — you’re controlling the situation and it’s not controlling you.
7. Keep up the good breakfast habit.
Don’t “save” calories for later use — this will only lead to crashing blood sugar and energy levels. A good amount of protein with some fat (eggs and avocado, cottage cheese with fruit and nuts, a smoothie with protein powder are examples) will help you make better food decisions later on in the day.
8. Don’t think “stuff it, I’ve blown it now” after one Christmas bliss ball becomes four.
You haven’t blown anything. Don’t beat yourself up about it, don’t dwell on it, and don’t decide to “start again in January”. The next time to eat well is the next meal, not next year.
Mikki Willidenis a registered nutritionist and lecturer at AUT University, where she lectures in public health nutrition and sports nutrition at the School of Sport and Recreation. ReadBite articles from Mikki or visit mikkiwilliden.com for more.