We are stuck in a familiar cycle, every year we overdo it at Christmas, go exercise-crazy in January, and by March we’re back to normal. This cycle is as understandable as it is predictable. We are conditioned to see Christmas as a time for eating and drinking more with family and friends. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, but it’s not the only way to spend your Christmas.
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In this article, we will be taking a look at how to eat healthily over Christmas. This does not mean that you won’t be able to have an enjoyable Christmas dinner. It just means that we will be looking at reducing the calories slightly.
How healthy is Christmas dinner?
The meal itself is often pretty healthy. Turkey is a low calorie, high protein meat. Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts and all the other veg that people eat are filled with nutrients. Even a glass of wine or beer can be moderately healthy in moderation.
The problem with Christmas dinner is not the nutrients (or lack of nutrients); it is the size of it. A 2016 study found that people consume 6000 calories on average during Christmas day.
As the average recommended daily calorie intake for an adult is about 2,000 calories, you can see the problem here.
What do we indulge in over Christmas?
- Mince pies
All of these are all regularly consumed on Christmas Day. There isn’t much nutritional benefit to any of them. No matter how often you tell yourself that a Terry’s Chocolate Orange counts as one of your five a day!
The first thing you can do to improve the healthiness of Christmas Day is to reduce the number of high-calorie foods and drinks you consume.
That is not to say that you should avoid them altogether. Christmas Day is all about food, drink, and merriment, but set yourself some guidelines in advance, and you could easily save yourself 2,000 - 3,000 calories!
- No Grazing – Breakfast, lunch, and dinner should be eaten and enjoyed. But do you really need to eat sweets, chocolates, and crisps in the evening? Not really. They are superfluous calories that you will barely enjoy after such a calorie-filled day.
- Limit Your Drinking – Don’t cut it out entirely (unless you want to), but nobody wants to wake up on Boxing Day with a hangover! Drink slower, appreciate your booze, and space it out more.
- Be Careful Around Buffets – Many families have their main meal at lunchtime and then a buffet in the evening. Buffets can often bring out the worst in us! Get yourself one plate of food and then abstain from any more.
If you can stick to these rules, then you should find that your daily calorie intake is well below that 6,000 calorie average.
How can I eat healthily after Christmas?
Christmas may be famous for calorie fuelled fun, but let’s not forget Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Both have a reputation for a lot of alcohol and a lot of high-calorie foods.
Then you’ve got that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which is a real minefield. Unless you have to work, this period often has no structure and can lead to a lot of bad eating habits.
There are a couple of things that you can do to alleviate this:
- Remove all snacks on Boxing day – Have your fun at Christmas and Boxing Day, but make sure that on the 27th of December there are no snacks in your house.
- Track your calories – While tracking your calories is usually a bit of a pain, doing so in the run-up to New Year’s Day can really help to reset your attitude to food. Download the myfitnesspal app onto your phone (it’s free) and start scanning barcodes. Download here for Android and Apple devices.
- Add some exercise into your routine – While this is not technically diet-related, it’s a great way to offset the higher calorie days you’ve just experienced. Some nice long walks will do you a lot of good and burn some extra calories.
- Fill Your Plate Strategically – Adding more vegetables, and going easy on the stuffing, bread sauce, and other high-calorie foods that make up most Christmas dinners can make a huge difference to your calorie intake for the day.
How can I have a healthy Christmas?
Here are a few rules that you can follow if you want to have a healthy holiday season:
- Shorten the Season – The holiday season seems to start for most people around the 1st of December and finishes on the 2nd of January. That is 33 days of overeating, too much alcohol, and no exercise. Shorten the season so that it starts on the 23rd of December and ends on the 26th. You can have New Year’s Eve as a bonus!
- Increase Activity – If you are going to be consuming more calories, then it makes sense to use those calories! Go out for walks, jump on an exercise bike, try out a home workout, or do some household chores, which can burn as many calories as walking!
- Accept the Inevitable – Look, let’s be clear, you are going to eat more and drink more than usual. It’s pretty inescapable. Sure, there are things that you can do to lessen that, and this article is full of them. But don’t get upset if you struggle to follow them all. The holiday season is a time to celebrate, and after a very long year, that is exactly what you should do. There is always January to get things back on track!
Eating healthily over Christmas
Having a happy and healthy holiday season is all about compromise. Finding that right balance between celebrating and overdoing things. 6,000 calories in one day is a ridiculous amount of food and drink. You could easily have a great day while only consuming 4,000 calories.
Jules Clancy from the Joyful Eating Podcast told Health Times: "The number one thing I do to enjoy my Christmas without regretting my choices is to be intentional. So rather than just randomly making decisions in the moment, I decide ahead of time. That way I get to enjoy the anticipation of my treats AND it helps me have a reasonable amount without going crazy. So before I start eating and drinking, I decide how many drinks / treats I want to have. Of course the tricky part is sticking to the plan - but even if I slightly go over my plan, it's never as big of a blow out as when I go in without thinking it through first."
Enjoy your food, savour your drinks, and know when to stop when you’ve had enough. A Christmas walk is both a fun way to spend that post-lunch period of the day and avoid the inevitable box of chocolates that are passed around while watching television.