At the most overindulgent time of the year, Niki Bezzant explains how to keep eating well.
Does it feel like Christmas parties are starting earlier and earlier this year? Where once they used to be mostly in December, I've already been to Christmas celebrations in November. A month out from Christmas Day, it seems, is fair game for the festive celebration.
Coinciding with this is the most busy, stressed-out time of the year for many of us. It's the downhill run to the holidays; the time we're often loaded up with all the jobs we need to get done before the country shuts down and goes on holiday in January. AND on top of that, the kids are finishing up at school, with all the exams, prizegivings and end-of-year activities that entails.
All this extra stress can mean we start to waver in our good intentions when it comes to eating well. Life and socialising get on top of us, and it's really easy to throw up our hands, pick up the wine and forget about healthy stuff until we repent in the new year.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. Yes, it's tricky to keep up with healthy eating when we're at functions every day. But it might just take a few simple mind and habit shifts to keep on track. And think: how much nicer would it feel to hit January feeling fit and well-nourished rather than over-stuffed and sluggish?
So how can we tweak our behaviour, faced with an overload of Christmas cheer? Here are a few strategies you might like to try.
Don't go hungry
If you can, it's really good to hit the party feeling fuelled, not famished. If it's a drinks and canapes scenario, you know how it can be: you arrive feeling hungry and it's easy to inhale tons of nibbles and several wines before you've even relaxed. On the other hand, if you've eaten a healthy, substantial snack or even a light early dinner before you head out, you can take your time over your drink and just choose the canapes that look truly delicious.
You don't have to drink
I know, this is controversial and potentially wowser-ish of me. But you know, alcohol is not mandatory for a good time. In fact, not drinking can put you way ahead of the game. You won't get so tired; you'll sleep better; you'll consume less energy in the form of booze and probably less energy-dense food. And (maybe most beneficial) you'll avoid any embarrassing Christmas party anecdotes featuring you as the main character.
If you're hosting a party, please put some time and effort into interesting non-alcoholic options. There are so many lovely drinks out there now that are not orange juice or sugary soda; you might be surprised how many of your guests opt for these if they're made available.
Beware the buffet
Everyone's into the mega-platters at the moment, aren't they? You know the ones I mean; they're the massive spreads of snacks loaded up with everything from cheese and crackers to cookies and cake, all mixed together in an abundant spread. They look great (until the hummus is smeared into the macarons) but they also, I think, encourage quite a bit of mindless eating.
It's the same with buffet meals. I can't tell you the number of times I've watched groups of people queuing for buffet lunches and observed almost everyone mindlessly picking something of everything that's on offer, until plates are sometimes piled high – much higher than we'd pile them at home.
But here's the thing: you don't have to eat everything on the buffet! I really like to take a gander at everything, and then choose the things I really love, starting with the vegetables. It's totally possible to make yourself a healthy plate from the buffet: make half a plate of veges and take it from there.
Manage your day's (and week's) eating
If you know you're going to be having a big multi-course dinner (including that buffet) think about how you'll get maximum nutrition from the rest of your day. Try to load up your breakfast and lunch with vegetables and other nourishing plant foods, and save the heavy stuff for party time. It's perfectly okay to have a lighter breakfast and lunch than usual if you have something big planned for the evening. This can go across the week or even the month, too, if you've got lots of celebrating to do.
And lastly, if no matter how much you plan, you still end up with a festive fun hangover, don't beat yourself up about it. Christmas parties should be enjoyed, and if you overindulge at one or two it's not the end of the world. We need to remember to celebrate, too.