How to have a joyful, balanced Christmas
December can be quite a difficult month for those who are trying to keep a healthy weight or control eating habits or disorders. Not only does it feel mandatory to eat more than usual, but most meals are heavier and sweeter.
If you have spent months working hard to improve your overall fitness or worrying about the lack of it, and you don’t want to re-start from scratch in January after losing control in December, this article is for you.
For those of us who are in the UK, this year we have seen nothing of the usual work and school parties, but for five days, families will be allowed to mix up under government regulations.
January goals are over-rated and we can make all those good promises to ourselves earlier. November is a wonderful time to have an honest chat about where you want to be next year.
If squeezing a month of partying into five days worries you to mess up your long-term goals, don’t panic, we’ve got you sorted.
Here are some hacks you can use to minimise the looming disaster of an increased waistline and still enjoy the celebrations in style.
How to have a healthy, balanced Christmas
- Think about your overall goal for 2020: do you want to stay as you are, or maybe lose weight or feel more energetic? It’s time to review the steps you have taken so far and assess how much leeway you will have during the Christmas period.
- Assuming you have a specific goal, do you have an accountability partner who has been supporting you along the way? You could have a chat on how to navigate December in style while eating mindfully. Or you can create a small group to encourage one another to eat healthily!
- If there is no goal at all but you still dread gaining weight, losing control and feeling negative about yourself, you could formulate your health and wellness goal now. January goals are over-rated and we can make all those good promises to ourselves earlier. November is a wonderful time to have an honest chat about where you want to be next year.
A good goal set up now can carry you through the festivities with much more energy and motivation than the feeling of loss so many of us experience in early January. And - guess what? All those new January gym goers that suddenly fill classes have all pretty much disappeared by February.
You might ask, where do I start? Simple: start where you are. Avoid comparing yourself to others and make a constant effort to strike a balance between having compassion for yourself, and completely losing control in front of a plate of delicacies.
Setting the goal
Write down what you want to achieve and how you want to feel in January. List the steps you need to take to get there. If you are unsure about them, you could read specialised publications, consult an expert, or work with a wellness coach to suit your needs.
Keep in mind that just controlling your weight and energy levels doesn’t give you an overall picture of the situation. You need to tackle your emotions, those deep feelings that arise when you are around food and you realise you can’t stop nibbling.
Let’s pretend just for a moment that there are roughly just two categories of people: those who are quite happy to enjoy an extra treat during parties, and stop at that, and those who constantly nibble mountains of extras and then feel bloated and guilty.
If you feel you fit quite well into the second category, a good question to ask yourself is: what is the motivation behind the overeating of sweet or fattening food, whilst knowing perfectly well how bad you will feel an hour later. (Guilt, by the way, is also the drive behind certain food disorders).
Do you perceive sweet or heavily processed foods as a treat? Can you remember when this started? Maybe you were praised as a little child and awarded sweets and crisps for your achievements. They made you feel good and loved. Now to feel good again you automatically reach for those foods. Your mind is looking for what is familiar to wind down and relax.
The key for you now is to find different ways to achieve that sensation of wellness while steering away from excessive eating.
1. Do you think that you have worked really hard, or you had a difficult time (or year) and therefore you deserve those extra foods or a bottle of alcohol? Again, you have acquired the habit of thinking that something that comes from outside can change how you feel inside.
To change your habits, consider asking yourself a question: what kind of activities can you reward yourself with, that do not involve eating or drinking the wrong foods? How about creating memorable experiences instead? A family walk in the countryside, feeding the ducks at the local pond, a surprise visit to a needy person, making crafts, a spa, or singing in a choir all have the potential of giving you fond memories and treat you with the gift of calmness.
2. Determine in advance what your maximum allowance is and stick to it. If you have worked out that you don’t want to eat more than 500 calories extra a day, or more than a plateful of sinful delicacies, calculate how you will achieve that and plan ahead.
3. Swap foods and drinks with alternative ones that are healthier and you enjoy. A berry smoothie with nuts is more fulfilling than a cup of juice and doesn’t raise your blood sugar as quickly. Water fills you up before meals and doesn’t give you hangovers and extra inches on your belly, aside from being way cheaper!
Learn to bake using fruit as sweetener instead of refined white sugar, check ingredients and labels and ditch ‘low fat’ foods - which are usually filled with sugar to compensate for the taste.
4. Increase your exercise levels if at all possible. Walk more, play some music and dance to it, use the stairs, be more playful with your kids. Moving around with intention increases endorphins and makes you feel better, diminishing the desire to resort to sugary treats when you are feeling down or tired.
5. Enjoy a sitting down meal with your loved ones, then brush your teeth or get a minty taste in your mouth and do not eat for at least three hours. Avoid watching TV shows while eating mindlessly, and instead, savour what you eat, and notice when you are almost full up. That’s the time to stop eating and to move around!
6.Inform those around you that you are choosing to eat well. Careful of the words you use, they make a big difference! Instead of saying, ‘I can’t drink this or eat that’, try, ‘I choose not to drink, I prefer to keep fit’ or whatever resonates with your current goals. If all there is at the celebration you attend is decadent, rich food, find creative ways of avoiding overeating.
Start with fruit or bring a banana with you just in case, eat slowly, crowd the plate mostly with greens and proteins, and when you sense you have reached your target, sip water, chat amicably, or move away from the food.
What happens if you fear that you will keep eating sweets and treats at home when nobody is watching? You know, a snack while watching a movie, a bar of chocolate while browsing social media, and another bite before going to bed?
Aside from swapping foods with healthier ones, have you considered sending someone else to do the shopping? You could tell them not to buy any of those irresistible treats.
Support for overeating
If controlling what you eat is becoming a serious issue - perhaps connected to boredom, tiredness, stress or a lifetime of bad habits - it may be a good idea to consult an expert in the field. You can go to a nutritionist or dietitian for dedicated eating plans, to a counsellor or hypnotherapist to tackle the deepest reasons of emotional eating, or to a fitness coach to refine your goals and strategies, increasing focus.
Christmas isn’t just the time to show love to the others, it's also the perfect time to give yourself the greatest gift: self-love and compassion. By taking the first step you will gain more than just health and fitness; you will be able to change your life, inspiring others to follow your example.
You might discover that loving yourself as much as you love others is the true meaning of Christmas.