5 steps to a happy, healthy Christmas
Staying on track this Christmas
According to research released last year, Christmas weight gain is a common phenomenon, so if you feel like it’s happened to you in the past a) you’re probably not imagining it and b) you’re not the only one! And, when you factor in everything from food-based get-togethers to the stress that can go hand-in-hand with this time of year, it’s not surprising if your healthy habits take a back seat.
But, even if that’s happened to you in Christmases gone by, it doesn’t mean you have to hit repeat this year. Don’t worry – we’re not suggesting you avoid it by saying ‘no thanks’ to all the trimmings that go with the turkey. In fact, we insist you enjoy your favourite foods! Here’s a five-step plan to stay on track while you celebrate the festive season.
STEP 1: Plan for the season
Unless an invite says ‘BYO food’, you might not be able to control what’s on offer at a function, but you can still put a plan in place.
● When dining out, research the menu so you know which are the healthier options. Peer pressure is scientifically proven to influence restaurant food choices, so try to order before anyone else.
● If you’re serving yourself from a buffet, make a beeline for the healthiest dish on the table, and put some of that on your plate first. Why? Research shows that the first food choice we make influences subsequent ones.
● If you’re at someone’s house for a meal, don’t eat to be polite! If you want to avoid eating seconds or dessert, plan what you’ll say when the host offers them, before you arrive. “Even if you have a couple of functions a week to attend in the lead-up to Christmas, remember there are still 18 or 19 other weekly meals that you can plan and use to make healthy, nutritious choices,” says WW Diamond Coach Marie Elliott. You should also factor in your favourite festive foods. “There’s a good reason why no food is off limits at WW,” says Nour Nazha, Weight Watchers Program and Nutrition Manager. “Feelings of deprivation that can occur when you ‘ban’ a food can lead you off track.”
A better strategy is to decide how, when, and how much of your favourites you plan to enjoy. “That way,” says Nazha, “you’re more likely to eat mindfully, which can help you enjoy it more and stick to the serving size you’ve settled on, rather than eating more than you’d planned.”
STEP 2: Be realistic
“Being realistic about your expectations may help you stay focused during the Christmas period,” says Elliott. “So, if you’d like to lose a bit more weight, it might be more realistic to make it your goal to stay the same weight, rather than aiming to lose any, at this time of year.”
Putting goals in place that are behaviour based rather than numbers based can also be helpful. “So you might replace ‘I want to lose half a kilogram every week over Christmas’ with ‘I’ll walk for 30 minutes each day’. That’s a goal you can have total control over, which is empowering.”
STEP 3: Stress less
Seasonal stress can happen to all of us, and not only do 75 per cent of Australians say that they use food to cope when stress strikes, it’s also an emotion that triggers a physical reaction to make foods jam-packed with fat and sugar more appetising. “For some people Christmas is stressful because it feels like there’s too much to do,” says Dr Erica Frydenberg, psychologist and author of Coping and the Challenge of Resilience. “Other people are stressed by family dynamics, while for others, it’s a very lonely time of year, which in itself can be stressful.” One strategy Frydenberg recommends is trying to focus on the positives, rather than the stresses, that Christmas delivers. “It might be holiday time, which is enjoyable, or you could see it as an opportunity to do things differently to last year, telling yourself you have the strategies to cope.” It’s also a good idea to ask yourself what you can do to help or bring some joy to someone else at this time of year. “That can help foster happiness and a feeling of being more connected to others,” says Dr Frydenberg.
STEP 4: Rest and reflect
In the hustle and bustle of Christmas it’s easy to forget that it’s traditionally a time for reflection. “Allowing yourself some time out to rest and reflect on the year that’s past, including the good things that have happened as well as any losses you’ve experienced, may help to give Christmas more meaning,” says Dr Frydenberg. A good place to start is by acknowledging what you’re grateful for over the past 12 months, because grateful people are not only happier, they also find it easier to overcome challenges and cope with setbacks.
STEP 5: Say no to guild or self-blame
So you ate more at the neighbour’s Christmas barbecue than you’d planned to? Don’t beat yourself up about it. “Guilt, or self-blame, is the least helpful coping strategy,” says Dr Frydenberg. “Rather than inspiring you to get back on track, it has the opposite effect. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from the situation and plan what you’ll do differently at the next function.”