FOOD

5 tips for a healthy Christmas

Here’s how you can enjoy the festive season without putting your healthy lifestyle on the backburner – yes, it’s possible!

Stay on track this Christmas

 

According to research released last year, Christmas weight gain can be a common occurrence, so if you feel like it’s happened to you in the pasta) 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.

 

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 before you arrive so you know what the healthier options are. 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 can influence 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 Coach Marie Elliott. You should also factor in your favourite festive foods. “The WW program gives you the freedom to enjoy all the foods you love,” says Nicole Stride, WW Program Developer and Dietitian. “Studies show restricting or banning foods you enjoy eating can actually make you want them even more. That’s why it’s important to enjoy these foods so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.”

A better strategy is to decide how, when, and how much of your favourites you plan to enjoy. “Planning ahead and allocating a SmartPoints® Budget to these foods before the day can help ease stress when it comes to staying on track during Christmas” says Stride.

 

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, 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.”

 

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 high in fat and sugar more appealing. “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 can be 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.

 

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.

 

5. Say no to guilt 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.”