How to stay healthy over Christmas

The holiday period is, commonly, a time of overindulgence. With almost infinite food at our fingertips, it can be difficult not to go overboard on the cheeseboard.

Studies have found that during the holiday season, people usually put on a little extra weight.

This finding is no surprise, but research has also shown that people typically don’t shift that weight before the next holiday season rolls around.

It’s Christmas Day, and you want to enjoy yourself — that’s only natural. In this feature, we provide some quick tips that will allow you to have the fun you are hoping for without affecting your health too significantly.

Ways To Have A Healthier Christmas

Christmas is notoriously a time to indulge, but don’t let this be the green light to overindulge! You can still enjoy all the festivities of the season and get through the Christmas period without too much impact on your health and waistline.

Christmas spirit

During the Christmas period, there is often more alcohol in the home than usual, which can increase the temptation to indulge. At this time of year, people also tend to socialize more, providing a spike in the number of opportunities to drink alcohol.

Although taking it easy can be challenging, moderation will make Christmas Day much more pleasant. Here are some quick alcohol-related tips:

  • at parties, intersperse alcoholic drinks with soft drinks
  • eat before you drink and avoid salty snacks as they make you thirsty
  • refrain from starting to drink early in the day
  • remember that you are not under any obligation to accept every single party invitation
  • bear in mind that you do not need to stay until the bitter end of every event
  • remember that it is not necessary to accept every offer of a free drink
  • assign yourself as the designated driver and stick to soft drinks
  • stay hydrated
  • add more mixer to your glass so that your drink lasts longer
  • try nonalcoholic beers
  • choose drinks with lower levels of alcohol
  • drink slowly
  • avoid rounds and drink at your own pace

Start the day with a healthy breakfast

If I’m going out in the evening, I’ll start the day with a generous bowl of porridge, topped with a handful of cranberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Porridge stabilises blood sugar levels, which helps control appetite later in the day. I also add a good dollop of probiotic yogurt, which helps support the immune system and promote digestive health, as well as combat some of the less beneficial effects of the party season, like too much alcohol and not enough sleep.

Don’t Sit Down All Day

We know every Christmas special under the sun will be showing on the TV, but you don’t need to plonk yourself on the sofa all day! Encourage the whole family to get out for a walk at some point – ideally, after dinner to aid digestion. The more activity, the better, so take along any new outdoor gifts, like bikes, scooters, footballs or Frisbees, or play old-fashioned games.

Stay hydrated

On the day of a big night out, and the day after, I make a conscious effort to drink six-eight glasses of water, or plenty of herbal teas or diluted juice. Even mild dehydration can lead to a headache and combined with the diuretic effects of alcohol, makes maintaining your fluid intake so important. Regular teas and coffee count towards your fluid intake, but caffeinated versions shouldn’t make up your full quota. I sometimes struggle to drink enough when it’s cold, so I’ll take a full glass of water to bed with me at night and start the day with a second. I make sure I’ve drunk both before I have my breakfast.

Obligatory overeating

Christmas Day is, for many of us, the most gluttonous day of the year. Dinner is vast, and there is an accompanying array of biscuits, cheeses, chocolates, and snacks to choose from throughout the day. Of all the topics on this list, reducing food intake is perhaps the hardest at this time of year.

If you are tempted to go in for a second helping of dinner, force yourself to wait 20 minutes and then assess whether you truly need any more turkey or nut roast.

Once your meal has had time to reach your stomach, you might realize that you are not actually hungry and that the additional calories are not in your best interest.

Include healthy and well-timed snacks

If I’m hungry when I arrive at a party, I struggle to resist the canapés, so I always have a pre-party snack. One of my favourites is a small pot of plain yogurt with a sliced banana. The yogurt’s protein slows stomach emptying, which helps delay the effects of that first glass of wine while the potassium-rich banana helps balance any increase in my salt intake – especially helpful if I’m going to be nibbling on olives, crisps or salted nuts. I know I’m better off eating before I go to a party because I’m more likely to stick to my resolve when the canapés come round a second or third time. Other snacks which do the trick include granary toast with nut butter, a bowl of muesli with milk, or a mug of chunky vegetable soup.

Eat something healthful

As we have established, Christmas Day is bursting at the seams with sinful cuisine, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t opt for a little light relief.

Perhaps try to replace a few calorific snacks with a piece of fruit or two. Alongside the obvious benefits of taking in more vitamins and minerals, you might find that you will be fuller and, therefore, more unlikely to tuck into the less healthful options surrounding you.

When you are shopping for the holiday season, make sure to add some healthful food items to your list.

Some people find that starting Christmas Day with a large, healthful breakfast is helpful. It means that you are less inclined to begin snacking early and that you have had a good dose of nutrients before the onslaught begins.

Keep Colds At Bay

Colds are rife at Christmas, partly because many of us travel around the country, exposing ourselves – and others – to different cold viruses. Minimise your risks by maintaining a healthy immune system (eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and not smoking will help), so you are more able to fight off any viruses.

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Don’t Stress

‘Tis the season to be jolly’ but jolly is the last thing many of us feel with overspending, cooking, cleaning, endless ‘to do’ lists and visitors we could do without. Try to keep a sense of humor and proportion. Is it really the end of the world if the carrots are overcooked or if the mantelpiece is a bit dusty? Do you really care about Auntie Mary’s disapproval of the fact that you and your partner are living together and aren’t married? Remember, Christmas is just one day out of 365 and it isn’t worth stressing over.

Get a good night’s sleep

A restful night’s sleep doesn’t just feel fabulous. It sets you up for success.

“Sufficient sleep is essential for good mood, good health, and good outlook — exactly what you want during the holidays,” Cralle said.

“Even if you have holiday travel plans, be sure to make time for sleep. Keep in mind that consistency is key, so try your best to maintain your regular bed and wake times, even when traveling,” she said.

Maintaining a relaxing bedtime routine can help with that. It can “help transition your mind and body from wake to sleep,” she added.

The holidays will leave many of us running ragged, which isn’t good on anyone’s body.

“No matter how busy you are, don’t stay up later or wake up earlier in order to get more done,” Cralle noted. “You’re better off getting all of your sleep at night. A well-rested person gets more done and does it better than a sleep-deprived person.”

Eat Fruit

Let’s be honest, most of us get through the entire Christmas period eating no more fruit than the satsuma in the Christmas stocking. It just doesn’t really feature on the Christmas menu. But at this time of late nights, overindulging and partying, it’s more important than ever to get your vitamins and minerals, to help you stay in good health.

Prevent a hangover

Don’t be tempted to skip meals so you can stockpile calories for drinking. Alcohol only supplies empty calories, so avoiding proper meals to compensate for a booze splurge means you’re losing out on valuable nutrients, just when your body needs them to help it detoxify. To help prevent a hangover, stick to one type of drink and I make it a lighter-coloured one because they tend to be lower in the chemical by-products that can worsen a hangover. Aim to have no more than one alcoholic drink an hour, alternated with juice, water or soft drinks – perfect if you don’t like holding an empty glass.

The Bottom Line

While staying on top of your weight goals can feel daunting during the holiday season, multiple tips and tricks can help keep you healthy, happy, and weight-conscious during this time of year.

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