Christmas is hectic. While most people take time off ‘for the holidays’, there never seems to be much time left over for relaxing between a Christmas Day executed with military precision if you have multiple sets of families to visit, buying presents for extended family you haven’t seen all year (another $15 Target gift hamper, anyone?), parties you don’t want to go to, and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of Cadbury Favourites you keep being given and somehow must try to resist.
But the silly season doesn’t have to be about overindulgence and you don’t have to start the new year feeling exhausted, stressed, bloated and unhappy. There can be a healthy balance without the extremes of eating everything in sight or depriving yourself.
Here are 10 ways to have a healthy Christmas.
1. Have structured meals.
During the holidays it’s tempting to sleep in, have a late lunch at 3pm, snack on cheese at crackers at 5pm then eat a normal dinner despite not being very hungry. But sticking to breakfast, lunch and dinner at your usual times, as well as avoiding snacking, will help prevent overeating (and eating the wrong things).
How to do it: Make a meal plan so you have a guide for what you’ll be eating over the holidays. If you’re starving between meals and the Christmas lunch or dinner is still hours away from being served, snack smart: resist the chips and dip and have a glass of water plus something healthy that will keep you full (see my list of 25 healthy snacks here).
2. Stay hydrated.
During a normal weekday routine it’s easy to drink water throughout the day. But being constantly on the go or in a mad rush for last-minute gifts means it’s not as easy during the festive season.
How to do it: Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go and make water interesting: make your own infused/flavoured water by filling up a jug or glass jar and add extras such as mint, sliced lemon, raspberries or sliced cucumber. Sip it throughout the day, refill with water as necessary and use the flavourings in a smoothie at the end of the day or the next morning.
3. Keep active.
This doesn’t mean you have to slog it out in the gym for 45 minutes each day. Holidays are the perfect time to mix up your normal routine, not to mention get outside and enjoy the beautiful sunshine (if you’re in the southern hemisphere).
How to do it: Go to the beach for a swim or walk along the sand, suggest a game of backyard cricket, play with a frisbee or go for a walk around a park. (Bonus points if you do a playground workout!) If you’re strapped for time, 10 minutes of sprints or a quick HIIT cardio routine is enough to get your blood flowing and make you feel awesome.
4. Indulge wisely.
It’s impossible not to want treats at this time of year – just be clever about it by not eating anything you normally wouldn’t. Don’t eat that handful of potato chips ‘because it’s Christmas’ or have a can of Coke ‘because it’s in the fridge’. Because one or two (or three or four…) treats every day over the whole festive season adds up. You can indulge – just make it high-quality instead of processed junk.
5. Don’t make excuses.
Think healthy food takes ages to prepare? It doesn’t! ‘I don’t have enough time’ is a kinda lame excuse.
How to do it: For a quick breakfast, make a smoothie or omelet. If you’re entertaining, put together a healthy platter with rolled up slices of meat, mixed nuts, artichokes, carrot and celery sticks, olives and hulled strawberries.
6. Be mentally prepared.
One of my favourite quotes is ‘whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right’. If you approach the silly season with thoughts like ‘I bet I can’t control myself’, ‘I hope I don’t eat everything’, ‘I know I’ll be too busy to exercise’ then that will be exactly what does happen. Our thoughts are powerful and having the right ones makes all the difference. Attitude really is everything.
How to do it: Start and end the day right. Write some daily affirmations and say them in the morning to ensure a positive outlook from the get-go. For example, ‘I’m going to make healthy choices today’ or ‘I’m going to feel empowered rather than deprived by saying no to unhealthy foods’. Likewise, just before you go to sleep list five things you’re grateful for or what you did well for the day: ‘I’m grateful for being able to spend time around my family.’ ‘I’m grateful I can afford to buy Christmas presents.’ ‘ I’m proud that I made the time to go for a run.’
7. Focus on what matters.
Christmas isn’t about fruit mince pies and champagne. (Although those are very nice.) It’s about being with loved ones and having some well-deserved down time.
How to do it: Make your get-togethers about people instead of food. Don’t scoff down each meal and forget who’s there celebrating with you. Eat slowly, put down your fork between bites, sip lots of water as you go and don’t overfill your plate. Actually talk to other people at the dinner table, especially if there’s anyone you don’t know. Try to learn something new about everyone. Secondly, find ways to relax. Master the power nap, spend time outside soaking up the sun, listen to your favourite music or read a book, even if just for 15 minutes.
8. Drink wisely.
It’s not called the silly season for nothing. Alcohol plays a large part of the holidays whether we like it or not!
How to do it: If you’re not a big drinker, would prefer to stay away from alcohol or just don’t like the taste, just don’t drink. There will always be people who are threatened by this and feel uncomfortable if you mention you’re sticking to water. There are two approaches to deal with this. No. 1 is to be firm but nice: state you’re not drinking, smile as you say it and repeat it if necessary. And don’t feel like you have to justify anything – you don’t need to give anyone a reason other than ‘I don’t want to’. It’s none of their business. No. 2 is a bit sneakier: deflect. Instead of saying you’re not drinking, half-fill a glass of wine or champagne and appear like you’re sipping it. Or make a sparkling water look like it’s a vodka and soda by mixing it with ice cubes, lemon and mint. Or even just say you’re the designated driver (true or not). It’s annoying, but sometimes necessary if people are being pushy and you can’t be bothered.
If you do decide to drink, stay hydrated throughout the day/night. And always have some before bed. (My fail-proof hangover prevention is a Berroca in 500ml of water, a glass of coconut water and a multivitamin. This prevents dehydration and replaces vitamins and minerals lost during the drinking process.)
9. Be gentle on yourself.
Did you vow not to have any dessert then pig out on three slices of pavlova? Don’t sweat it. Forgive yourself and move on. We’re all human, after all.
How to do it: If you’ve overeaten, don’t do anything unhealthy like skip meals or pledge to go on a juice fast in January. And whatever you do, don’t just think ‘well now I may as well write off today then I’ll start being healthy again tomorrow’. Bingeing is bad; guilt, shame and self-loathing are worse. Just drink lots of water, go for a walk, and fill up on lots of salad and vegies at your next meal. While this mindset isn’t a license to eat whatever you want whenever you want, realise that it is the holidays, cut yourself some slack, enjoy what you’re eating in the moment and resolve from the very next meal that you’re back on track.
10. Spread the love.
With the hustle and bustle around Christmas, it’s easy to forget how lucky we all are. But this time of year shouldn’t just be about you and your family: it’s a good time to think of others less fortunate and reflect on how you can play your part to help.
How to do it: Donate money (even $10 will help) to a charity, clean out your old clothes and donate them, or buying any remaining gifts from Oxfam Unwrapped. Their choice of sustainable gifts helps support Oxfam’s work around the world to fight poverty and oppression: just $14 funds a start-up small business, $39 buys a goat and $98 provides water for a school. After you choose a gift, you can print or send an e-card to the recipient that explains what your donation is funding.