Eating healthily this Christmas - the do's and don'ts
It's that time of year again when Christmas parties are right around the corner, and if you're on a diet or following a healthy eating plan, you might be less excited to hear you're going to the local Chinese buffet or carvery than the rest of your colleagues. Christmas is a time of year to enjoy yourself, and everyone is allowed to indulge a little, but make sure you don't fall into the mindset of just binging for a whole week. A few treats are fine, but keep up your overall healthy eating and fitness regime and you'll be much happier and healthier come the new year!
It's all very well for us to tell you to eat healthily at home, but if you're enjoying a meal with family or going out to a restaurant, how do you make healthier choices? We've come up with some do's and don'ts that will ensure you not only enjoy every meal you eat this Christmas, but you stay healthy too!
DO eat plenty of protein
Christmas meals (particularly a traditional turkey dinner) are usually packed with protein, so if you're a meat eater, there should be plenty of opportunities to eat lean red meat or poultry. Gammon, turkey, roast beef or even goose are all popular festive meats – turkey has the least fat and is also a source of tryptophan, which can help you to relax and get a great night's sleep. If you're veggie or vegan, fill up on hearty nut roasts packed with protein and good fats – chestnuts are particularly delicious and extremely festive! By ensuring you're eating plenty of protein at each meal and fewer carbs, you are more likely to feel full, and less likely to reach for the family-sized tub of Quality Street!
DO fill up on veggies
Out for a festive meal with work colleagues? Fatty roast potatoes, stuffing balls and other delights can be tempting, but it's far better to stick to protein and vegetables. There will usually be plenty of green veg (and other colourful vegetables) to choose from in restaurants – roast carrots, parsnips, sweet potato and Brussels sprouts are all great choices, and you can treat yourself to a potato or two if you're really craving some!
DO enjoy home-made gravy
Home-made gravy, rather than the stuff that comes out of a packet, is packed with nutrients and flavour, and it's a low-fat choice compared to many other sauces, such as bread sauce, that are popular around Christmas time. Made from scratch, it's usually lower in salt than gravy packet mixes or granules too.
DO plan ahead
If you're going to dinner at a relative's house, plan ahead and take some dishes with you that are healthy and delicious. Offer to bring vegetables or a side dish, and bring along some healthy snacks for later too – nuts are a great choice at any time of year, packed with protein and vitamin E.
DO eat breakfast
There's a reason why breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not only does it give your body the fuel it needs to get through until lunchtime, it can also stop you reaching for unhealthy snacks. Make sure you eat a healthy, protein-packed breakfast on Christmas morning, or enjoy a high-protein snack such as a hard-boiled egg or some nuts and fruit, before going out for a meal. This way you won't over-eat.
DO enjoy a glass of red wine
What's that, we're telling you to drink alcohol? Well, yes; booze is fine in moderation, but if you have to have wine, opt for red rather than white. Red wine is high in resveratrol, which is a phytochemical that can fight cancer and heart disease.
DO choose 'mini' options
If you have to have a dessert, choose something fruit-based or opt for mini or tasting desserts that you can share with someone else. Often, a bite of something sweet is all you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.
DON'T reach for the sweetie tin
That family-sized tin of Roses is just calling your name – surely a few couldn't hurt? If you really do have to have some chocolate, try to pick dark chocolate, as it's packed with antioxidants. Don't just dive into the tin, take a couple of sweets out and then put it away. Eating too many sweets can cause your blood sugar levels to spike, leaving you feeling drained and tired later on.
DON'T pile your plate high
Just because you're going to a carvery for a meal, doesn't mean you need to pile your plate to its limits with everything in sight. You can always go back for more if you're hungry, and by placing a smaller quantity of food on your plate, your body is more likely to be satisfied when you finish eating. It's also a good idea to use a smaller plate, if possible, as this will make it look like you have more food and trick your body!
DON'T consume too many empty calories
Fizzy drinks, alcohol and sweet treats (or savoury nibbles) are a dangerous source of empty calories at Christmas, or any time of the year. Save your calories for the meal and avoid nibbling on processed snacks. You'd be surprised at how many calories can be lurking in alcohol – did you know that one glass of wine could have the same number of calories as four cookies (1)?
DON'T be saucy
Bread sauce, cranberry sauce, gravy – Christmas is a traditional time of year and you're sure to have at least a couple of these on your plate. Cranberry sauce can be high in sugar, so opt for home-made if possible, or have just a small spoonful. Bread sauce can be high in fat too – make your own with low-fat or non-dairy milk or avoid it altogether.
DON'T rush your meal
Gulping down mouthfuls of food in between conversation is not only bad for your digestion, it also doesn't give your body enough time to register that it's full. So take the time to chew and enjoy your food. Don't feel you have to clear your plate either and stop to relax for a few moments before carrying on eating – this gives your brain time to register whether or not you are full (2).
DON'T sit facing the buffet
You know how it can be more tempting to reach for a snack at your desk if there is something within view – such as that cheeky bag of M&M's? The same applies to eating out. If you're going to a buffet restaurant for a Christmas party, don't choose a seat which faces the buffet as scientists have found that 42% of overweight people will automatically choose a seat facing the food, compared to 27% of slim people (3). So you could find it hard to resist temptation!
DON'T let healthy eating spoil your celebrations
Here at Expertrain we're not obsessive calorie counters. We know that a little of what you fancy does you good. So if you want to make Christmas Day or the day of your office Christmas party your cheat day, who are we to stop you? Relax and have fun; enjoy the festive season. Don't spend so much time focusing on healthy eating that you miss out on the fun. If you eat healthily 90% of the time and try to put some of the above tips into action where you can, you'll have a great time!
READ THIS NEXT: Cut down on your drinking without cutting it out