Christmas always seems to be a difficult time for anyone trying to maintain a modicum of a healthy approach to their lifestyle. My life seems to have followed a depressingly familiar cycle over the past few years:
- January 1st – New year, new attitude. Go for a run and eat soup.
- January 2nd – Oh, but there’s lots of leftover cake. And chocolate. Shame to waste it.
- January 10th – March: Now the leftovers are gone, try to get back on the wagon after the excesses of Christmas. It’s dark and cold outside and spring is ages away. Eat chocolate.
- April – Spring is here, hooray! It’s the girls’ birthdays. That involves cake. Might has well hop back on the wagon in May. Clean start and all.
- May – The temperature climbed into the mid teens today! Summer’s here! Whack on the barbie – what better excuse for some sausages, and a burger, and a kebab. Oh, and some chicken because that’s healthy. That needs some wine with it. And some nachos before it. And some pavlova afterwards. The wagon is a small dot on the horizon
- June – Shit, holidays are nearly here, better start eating better.
- July – 2 weeks to holiday. Can’t lose any weight now. Might as well have some chocolate.
- August – Du pain, du vin, du massive French custard/fruit tarts. Oh, and the cheese! With more pain. Thighs reach annual peak.
- September – November – Ah, there’s the wagon! Focus, healthy food, lots of exercise.
- December – How long have you got?
There are a number of issues with December which all conspire to create the perfect storm from a healthy eating/lifestyle perspective. Firstly is the abundance of festive foods. These are rarely healthy. Whilst you can tell yourself that all the raisins in your slice of Christmas cake makes it more or less one of your five a day (or two if there are glace cherries involved), unfortunately it’s rather offset by all the sugar. And there definitely isn’t anything healthy at all about an Iceland Luxury Steak & BBQ Pulled Pork Mini Brioche Burger (a quick look at the ingredient list will give you a clue – what even is Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate??).
The second is opportunity. Not only is the festive food everywhere, there are more occasions where you might eat it. Whether that’s a Christmas do at work, mulled wine and mince pies with friends or a fry up with Father Christmas (all of which are on my agenda this year), there are many social occasions and most of them centre around food and/or drink. Even if you negotiate all of these, it’s is impossible to wrap presents without a glass of wine and possibly some chocolate. Fact.
The third is time. If Christmas is a non-stop social whirl, it makes it really hard to find the time to exercise or cook from scratch. Even if you’re not out (and if you’re a parent, your Christmas social calendar will probably revolve more around school fayres, visits to the big man and pantos rather than wild nights on the lash), you’ll still have all the shopping/wrapping/writing of cards etc to get done. Because let’s face it, your other half probably does the square route of F.A.
Lastly, there’s our attitude. Often we feel we deserve a treat at Christmas, after all, we’ve worked hard all year, it’s dark and cold outside and we’re in the festive mood. And it’s only once a year right? The problem comes when we treat Christmas as an entire month rather than the one day it actually is. And then you fall into the cycle above (or your version of it). We don’t want to feel deprived (although I’d ask deprived of what? I think I’d rather be deprived of Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate or Type II diabetes than good health, but maybe that’s just me) or feel like we’re missing out.
All that said, I don’t think that we should feel guilty about enjoying ourselves over Christmas, or indeed miss out some more indulgent treats, I think it’s just a case of being a bit smarter about it.
I feel like I’ve found something that works for me from a healthy eating perspective, but I do struggle with Christmas (seriously, I’m nearly 40, how can I be at the mercy of a Ferrero Rocher?) and I really want this year to be different. My own personal Christmas danger areas are as follows:
- Leftovers (e.g. I’m the only one who really eats the Christmas cake)
- Hangover carbs – sometimes you just NEED toast
- Blown it mentality – i.e. I ate one Percy Pig, therefore I might as well eat a Terry’s chocolate orange, a slice of Christmas cake, some Yule Log and a partridge in a pear tree.
This year I’m adopting the following strategy:
- Minimising leftovers by not making too much/giving guests cake etc to take home
- Not always drinking at social occasions and planning for the day after when I will be drinking – factoring some good carbs into a healthy day
- Sticking broadly to my clean eating template and looking for healthier alternatives of my usual festive treats
- Planning in the more indulgent treats in so they are part of a more healthy day overall
- Ensuring I keep up the exercise so I feel more energised and less lethargic
- Setting an immovable deadline for getting back to my clean eating template
- Reminding myself how good I feel currently about my health and why I wouldn’t want to go back
- Enjoy it and look forward to a healthy January!
I’ve also set myself the challenge of making healthier versions of my favourite festive treats, so look out for some recipes coming very soon!
Again, this isn’t a one size fits all approach. You may cruise through the festive season without so much as a cheese football, or you may be one of those freaks who doesn’t like mince pies (weirdo). It may be mulled wine that’s irresistible or you can’t say no to seconds of stuffing (fnarr). But however you approach the festive season, enjoy it, then move on. It happens every year you know!