We are all looking forward to the festive season. It’s time to let our hair down (metaphorically in my case) and indulge in some festive fun. Enjoying a few beers, sharing a glass or 2 of mulled wine on cold nights with friends and indulging in mince pies and other festive foods is an integral part of the holidays.
That being said, in my line of work, I see the same patterns repeat year after year. Many start off with the intention of obtaining a good balance of festive fun and maintaining a healthy (ish) routine, however, this often starts to slide and around the 3rd week in December. It’s at this time that we can find ourselves feeling frustrated, out of control and fearing a mountain to climb come the first week in January, all to get back to where we were in early December.
To stop you from undoing all the hard work you put in earlier in the year, I have put together a few simple strategies to keep you in good shape and high spirits this Christmas.
Parties/Events you feel obliged to attend
There are going to be occasions this festive period that you “have to” attend despite not really wanting to go. Decide which ones these are (really think about this) and then create a damage limitation strategy. For such occasions I suggest:
- Eat a healthy meal before so you don’t snack.
- Limit your alcohol intake to 2 drinks or don’t drink at all. Alcohol-free options are much better now.
- Leave as soon as it is polite to do so but make sure you have a good excuse to hand in case others try to tempt you to stay.
Parties/Events you do want to attend
These are the ones that actually mean something to you. This, in most cases, will be somewhere between 1-5 parties maximum. For such occasions I suggest:
- Skip breakfast that day
- Walk more than you normally would
- Do an additional training session that week
- Let your hair down and enjoy your time with those that matter most to you
This can be a joyful week but also a pretty gluttonous and boozy one. Once celebrations begin and the bubbles are flowing it is hard to say no. Do try to not overindulge but if you do here are some measures to help counteract your overindulgences:
- Go for long walks daily.
- Adopt a 2 meal strategy (brunch/lunch & dinner).
- Stay off the booze until dinner.
- Try to exercise consciously each day – go for a run, go to the gym, do some yoga, do an online HIIT class, do your local parkrun on Xmas day.
Dining out in the lead-up to Xmas
Meals out are pretty calorific affairs at the best of times (25-40% more kcals than it says on the menu), however, you can mitigate this by incorporating some of the following:
- Look at the menu online prior to going and decide on a healthy but tasty option.
- Order only 2 courses, ideally a starter and a main.
- Have the bread instead of a starter (no dessert).
- Set a 2-drink limit.
- Skip breakfast and/or lunch that day.
Dealing with a hangover
Christmas is a time to sit back and enjoy spending time with friends and family, and often that includes drinking a little too much of your tipple of choice. While it’s all fun and games when you’re drinking, the next day can be a little rough. Here are a few simple ways to fight the dreaded holiday hangover.
- Try to fast the following day until lunch and make sure to drink lots of mineral water, especially before going to bed and upon waking up. The minerals/electrolytes in water will limit the effects of dehydration and counter the cravings that come from your blood sugar dropping.
- What you do after your last drink and before falling asleep is critical for the quality of your sleep and how you feel the following day. Walk home if it is safe and practical to do so. Movement stimulates your lymphatic system, a network of organs, tissues, and vessels that transport lymphatic fluid throughout the body. The system also helps regulate fluids in your body, something alcohol consumption frequently disrupts.
- Similarly going for a walk as soon as you wake up will also help. It will likely be hard to motivate yourself to do this, but you will feel so much better afterward, even if you can only manage a 5-10 minute walk.
- Try to make sure the first bit of food you put in your body nourishes you. Your body has been poisoned and it is screaming out for nutrients.
- Take a multi-vitamin or some vitamin C when you wake up.
Maintaining a healthy routine during the festive period
This is possible, but for most people a healthy routine will be easier to stick to if it’s scaled back a bit. Set realistic expectations for yourself based on previous Christmases (not your normal day-to-day) and try to beat what you managed to achieve the last time around. For example:
- If you normally exercise/train 3 days a week set a target of 2 and if you manage 3 or more you will get greater joy from beating your target. This way you’re setting yourself up for success rather than failure.
- Look to increase your walking more in this period, especially when you are off and don’t have the pressures of work.
- Try to eat as normally as you can in and around the ‘big meals’.
- Try to use this time as an opportunity to get more sleep. Poor sleep leads poor choices, which equals consequences.
I hope my advice helps you navigate the challenges that come with the festive period. To me and my clients, December is always a maintenance month. I don’t concern myself with moving “the needle” forward. My sole aim is to do enough to keep me where I am.
Remember whilst it’s important to do your best to show restraint over the holiday season, it is equally important to have fun and enjoy letting loose with family and friends.
Written by Gus Martin, Principal Coach.