Healthy holiday eating tips to try
We’re smack bang in the middle of the festive season and that means it’s all about eating, drinking and being merry – as it should be! But after several weeks of the party season being in full swing, all that festivity can lead to less-than-healthy holiday eating habits. And for a season where the emphasis is equally about indulging in good food and looking your best, it can be a particularly challenging time of year.
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So if you’re wanting to avoid all that post-party season health anxiety, it’s time to start thinking about a plan of action. Sometimes all it takes is a few tweaks to your holiday season mindset and you can enjoy the all the fun of Christmas and the New Year (without the stress of overindulging!). We spoke to celebrity chef, nutritionist and the founder of Falling in Love with Food, Zoe Bingley-Pullin, about how to stay healthy this silly season.
What are some common issues that we might face over the holiday season?
Whether you drink or not, there’s no doubt that the excessive consumption of alcohol is inextricably linked with many a Christmas or New Year event. “In Australia, a lot of celebrations revolve around alcohol. If you are aiming to keep up your healthy routine over Christmas, it’s important to be mindful of alcohol intake,” says Zoe. “Alcohol is not just a source of empty calories, but it also impacts blood sugar and can increase cravings for unhealthy foods.” So that entire plate of chicken wings you’ve been eyeing off? It could be the result of downing a few too many glasses of rosé.
Another issue that arises is the lack of structure and routine that comes with the party season. “If you are used to eating according to a particular routine, this routine can easily be thrown out on holidays and it can be tempting to graze all day and overeat,” says Zoe. Similarly, unless you’re the gracious host of a festive season event, we rarely have control over the meals that are served. “If we’re eating out more often or eating at family and friends places we don’t have control over what we are being served,” says Zoe. All of this can make sticking a healthy, balanced diet very challenging.
Lastly, it’s common for Christmas and New Year celebrations to feature an endless supply of food. I know my dad used to cook up everything in the fridge for Christmas lunch, resulting in a mammoth amount of food – and never enough people to eat it all! So rather than just eating a big meal on Christmas Day, this often meant we ate heavy meals and unhealthy snacks for days afterward. “Whether it’s leftovers from celebrating or gifts we’ve received, during Christmas we often have more food than we need,” says Zoe. And when we continue to eat (and eat and eat and eat!) after the holidays, it can make things all the more difficult in getting our diet back on track.
How can we tackle these silly season health dilemmas?
When it comes to alcohol consumption, Zoe recommends determining your drinking limits prior to your festive season event. “Set your own intentions around how much you do and don’t want to drink and don’t feel pressured by others,” she suggests. “Have alternatives to alcohol on hand such as kombucha or sparkling water with lime.”
While it might be hard to stick to your regular diet and lifestyle over the holiday period, some elements of your routine will be adaptable. “Try to stick to parts of your normal routine,” says Zoe. “For example, always start the day with a healthy breakfast or have some of your usual snacks on hand to eat in-between meals if you’re hungry.” But it’s also important to remember that it is the party season so letting go of your healthy routine is probably not going to kill you. “Don’t stress over not being able to control your food as socialising is a healthy part of life,” says Zoe. “Make the best choices you can with the options available to you – which may be as simple as not going back for seconds.”
Put a stop to the endless Christmas leftovers by getting creative. “Think of ways to use leftovers long term to reduce the temptation to eat it all at once,” suggests Zoe. “For example, blend leftover fruit salad with milk or yoghurt and freeze it as ice-blocks! Or you can package individual portions of roasted chicken into the freezer for a quick addition to meals.”
Should we change our eating habits during the holidays?
During the Christmas and New Year period, eating and drinking in excess is par for the course. But Zoe says it is often our own thought processes around food that can trip us up. “The all-or-nothing mindset is a huge trap. If we eat one ‘bad’ meal and think we have ‘blown it’, we might then proceed to binge or continue the cycle of poor eating,” she says. “This pattern of continually overeating can make us lack energy, feel sluggish, cause us to gain weight and also expand the stomach – which means when we return to our usual diet we may have a larger appetite and require more food to feel full.”
On the other end of the spectrum, eating too little to in anticipation of the big Christmas lunch is also not beneficial for our poor bodies. “Starving ourselves in the lead up to events will only cause us to have poor energy, feel irritable and trigger overeating at the event,” says Zoe. “Restricting food for events can cause low blood sugar which can make us feel lethargic, light-headed, dizzy and impact concentration. It can also slow metabolism down as the body enters conservation mode in fear of not receiving enough food to perform vital functions.” The moral of the story? Don’t restrict yourself to fit into that little dress for New Year’s Eve.
What about exercise?
There’s no doubt the festive season is an incredibly busy time of year for most people, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make it to your regular gym sessions. Instead, Zoe suggests keeping active wherever you see an opportunity. “Keep up with some form of movement, whether it’s a long walk, yoga in your lounge or chasing the kids around the yard,” she says. “This will help you get back into routine at the start of the new year, help reduce stress levels and prevent feelings of sluggishness.” Once the Christmas and New Year period is over, you’ll be able to easily adapt back into your old routine (or establish a new one!).
What’s your best tip for keeping healthy during the holidays?