While it’s notoriously a time for everyone to indulge, if you want to have a healthier Christmas this year then you can still enjoy the festivities without too much impact on your waistline or health.
Apparently, the average Brit puts on 4 pounds (1.8 kg) between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day and most of that is because they will consume double their recommended calorie intake.
It’s worth bearing in mind that on Christmas Day, around 30% of people will gorge on 8,500 calories which is around three times a man’s daily intake of 2,500 calories and four times the amount a woman is required to consume at 2,000 calories per day.
However, while many of us enjoy gorging over the festivities, it can take one in three of us around four months to shift the weight we put on over Christmas.
So, while they say that Christmas is the most magical time of the year, it’s also a time for booze and overeating and it can be exhausting what with tins of Roses on the table and a non-stop supply of warm mine pies – and that’s not including bottles of prosecco and Baileys being produced every five minutes.
Tips to enjoy a healthier Christmas
Here are the Christmas.co.uk team’s tips for you to enjoy a healthier Christmas. Enjoy!
Don’t sit down
You might want to enjoy the TV by simply plonking yourself on the sofa from the earliest part of the day but remaining there is not good for your health. At some point, you should encourage everyone in the family to go outside to enjoy walking, potentially after the Christmas dinner to help digestion.
Activity is good: pick up any new gifts to enjoy such as footballs, scooters or bikes and use these as an excuse to enjoy the fresh air
- Old fashioned games: always worth turning the clock back
- Switch off the TV: at some point just turn the telly off to enjoy games or engage in conversation with loved ones
- Switch off devices: encourage people to avoid using mobile phones, PlayStations and laptops – even if they are a Christmas gift.
- Keep moving: you should maintain exercise to counter the food intake.
- Gym-goers: the gym is probably half empty at this time of year. Or you could go swimming or walk the dog.
Consider your alcohol intake
With so much entertaining to enjoy, you need to be aware of your alcohol intake because alcohol units can quickly add up. What with Bucks Fizz for breakfast on Christmas Day, mulled wine at any point plus brandy, Baileys and wine during Christmas dinner, it’s an opportunity to drink lots of alcohol.
Maureen Talbot is a cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation and she says: “Keeping a tally of how much you drink is an easy way to see whether you need to cut back to stay within recommended limits.”
- Alcohol limits: these are 14 units per week for men and women which is around 6 pints of beer or six glasses of wine in a 175 mL glass.
- Know your limit: everyone handles alcohol differently so it may be a good idea to go easy and reduce your alcohol intake and drink soft drinks instead – or at least take turns between alcohol and soft drinks.
- Drinking too much: not keeping a tally of drinks puts you at risk of developing high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm and even having a stroke. And, for many people who over-indulge, that Boxing Day embarrassment at their previous day’s antics.
Count the calories
It may come as a surprise to many, but the average Christmas dinner can add up to 3,000 calories alone. That is more than the recommended daily intake for an adult man. While it’s an enjoyable meal, there’s no need to use Christmas as an excuse to overindulge in a big feast.
Forza Supplements looked at the habits of 1,000 people and found that the average person eats up to 5,241 calories on 25 December, when Christmas dinner, snacks and alcohol are added-up.
Sounds great! It’s not because to burn all of that off means you would have to run 52 miles – that’s two marathons.
They found that the average person will put on 4lb between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day – and 34% of those surveyed said it would take four months to get back into their pre-Christmas Eve shape.
Along with the Christmas dinner total, snacks such as a humble mince pie adds 177 calories, while five Quality Street sweets adds another 132 calories.
Researchers also highlight that drinks on the day also bump up the calorific total with a bottle of beer adding 142 calories, two glasses of champagne delivering 226 calories and two glasses of wine adding 320 calories. Even a small glass of mulled wine contains 245 calories.
Forza’s managing director Lee Smith says: “We all want fun at Christmas but the best way to maintain discipline is to look at the hours of exercise you will need to do for burning off the extra calories.
“When a dieter realises they might have to run a half marathon to work off the calories they are consuming with Christmas pudding and cheese, they may decide it’s worth calling it a day after the turkey!”
Overindulging: will lead to you gaining weight but also issues with heartburn and indigestion.
- Tiredness: for most of us it also leads to lethargy for the rest of Christmas Day so it’s unlikely you’ll be burning much of that tasty Christmas dinner.
- Portions: think about eating a normal-sized meal.
- Take a break: it may also be an idea to have a 20-minute break between the main course and anything that follows to see if you are hungry enough – it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to register that you may be full.
Looking after your health at Christmas also includes your mental wellbeing
It’s important to appreciate that Christmas is not just about being healthy, but also looking after your mental wellbeing as well.
While this is a time to spend with loved ones, it can also be one of the most stressful periods in the year.
The Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealth.org) says that the festivities can be a difficult time for many – more so than at any other time of year.
A spokeswoman said: “Christmas can be a joyful time filled with food, festivities and parties, but for some it can also be one of the year’s hardest times.
“Some people may experience isolation and loneliness while others may find the disruption to their routine is destabilising.”
If you are worried about your mental wellbeing, these top tips from the automotive industry’s Ben charity will help you in the run-up to Christmas day:
- Plan ahead: avoid stress by planning as much as possible and don’t take on too much
- Make time for you: don’t get swept up into other people’s idea of fun and do things you want to do as well
- Avoid comparisons: avoid comparing your Christmas experience with those of friends and family on social media since no-one knows what’s going on behind the smiling selfies.
- Pace yourself: find time to relax over the festivities; listen to music, go for a walk or have a nap
- Get outside: having a brisk walk can be a great way to get fresh air and exercise and enjoy a different place
- Eat healthily: try to eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables and fruit
- Moderate alcohol intake: drinking too much can leave you irritable and low, so drink within recommended guidelines.
- Talk to someone: if you’re feeling overwhelmed or worried about Christmas, then don’t be shy about talking to someone about it, particularly someone you can trust.
- Christmas alone: if you are spending Christmas by yourself then consider what you would like to do beforehand, such as booking a getaway or going for lunch somewhere. Also, consider volunteering to help others and meet new people.
One of the issues when it comes to visiting relatives and friends, especially in different parts of the country, is that we expose ourselves and everyone else to various cold viruses. By avoiding having one you will enjoy Christmas.
- Risk: minimise your risk of catching a cold by having a healthy immune system, so eat a healthy diet in the run-up to Christmas.
- Sleep: get enough sleep and avoid smoking so you can fight off any viruses.
Professor Ronald Eccles, of the Common Cold Research Centre in Cardiff, says: “Colds in the run-up to Christmas are common. Among the possible reasons for this includes people being in more-crowded situations such as going out shopping, for instance, or attending parties.”
Prof Eccles’ tips for avoiding colds at Christmas include:
- Avoid crowds
- Do not touch your eyes (since the common cold virus may be on surfaces in public places)
- Wash your hands often – including when you are out and about
- Avoid love bugs – try to resist kisses and hugs from children
- Ask people if they have a cold
- Get some sleep.
There is one positive to avoiding colds and that it is unlikely that kisses spread them – so it’s probably okay to receive and give Christmas kisses to loved ones.
While Christmas is a great time of year, it’s also a time for stress. And while most of us will appreciate that it’s the season to be jolly, that’s not always the case with spending lots of money on presents and food and then having the cooking and cleaning to do beforehand.
- To do: dealing with visitors and family as well as ‘to do’ lists means keeping everything in proportion and not forgetting to have a sense of humour.
- Stress: Christmas is a great day with lots of planning and expense – but it’s just one of 365 in a year so it’s probably not worth stressing about too much.
- Sleep: the experts at sleepypeople.com recommend that we go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day over Christmas to help our body clock.
- Sleep right: researchers say that adults need between seven and eight hours sleep every night and you need to choose the right bedding too.
For those who have excited children and need some tips to help them sleep on Christmas Eve, a spokesman for sleepypeople.com says: “As those with children will know it can be a battle getting young ones into bed and to sleep incident-free on any night – let alone at Christmas. However, no evening will come close to the difficulty of getting a child to sleep on Christmas Eve what with the heady mix of pre-Christmas Day sugar, excitement and St Nicholas’ speculation.”
The firm offers parents these tips:
- Be active on Christmas Eve
It is proven that exercise will help us get to sleep and having exhausted children after day trips or long walks means they will head to bed early.
- Minimise sugar
Try not to indulge in too many treats or chocolate, particularly before bedtime and lights out.
- Keep to a routine
A child’s bedtime routine should not be altered, even though Santa and his reindeers are heading to your home. Parents who have worked to get their child into a sleep routine and then changing it will reinforce the idea that something interesting is about to happen.
- Pre-bedtime bath
Having a nice relaxing bath will help anyone get to sleep easier.
- Warm milk
While not everyone enjoys a cup of warm milk, the science says it will help you and also children on their trip to the land of nod.
We don’t mean having risky behaviour with various guests but focus on eating fruit since this may be a food item that most of us will avoid. What with parties and overindulging, as well as the late-nights, you should be striving to get your proportions of minerals and vitamins to remain in good health.
- Fruit bowl: as part of your festive shopping list, you should really have a fruit bowl filled
- Avoid sweets: the other benefit for having a fruit bowl is that if you crave a sweet at any point you in the day, rather than reaching out for your favourite Quality Street, pick-up a Satsuma instead.
- Veg: remember to buy and cut lots of vegetables.
It’s party time!
As this is party season, these tips will also help keep you fit and healthy to avoid ill-health.
There may be a lot of invitations to parties and events but that’s no excuse to go crazy!
And, let’s face it, many of us will probably have a New Year’s resolution to lose weight with overindulgence of the festive period likely to lead to weight gain and regret.
If you have a big night out planned, then during the day you need to drink between six and eight glasses of water and also do so the following day. This will help avoid dehydration and deal with the morning hangover and the diuretic effects of alcohol. Don’t be shy to ask for mineral water rather than alcohol on a night out.
Don’t overdo it
It might even be an idea to restrict how many overindulgent days you enjoy which will include your last working day, Christmas Day and possibly New Year’s Eve. You need to appreciate that the excess weight will not come from just one day of overindulgence but over a period of time.
Avoiding too much alcohol is a good idea because they are essentially packed with ’empty calories’ with little in the way of nutrition. It may be an idea to dilute wine and spirits with mineral water and ice or switch to low strength beers instead. In addition to sparkling mineral water, you could choose fruit juice between regular alcoholic drinks. Remember to have something to eat before you drink alcohol, which will help slow the absorption of alcohol into your body’s system.
Don’t skip meals because you might then binge later on unhealthy foods. Remember to eat before you go to a function or party which will ensure you are not starving on arrival and this will mean you avoid overindulgence on unhealthy foods. A smoothie, for example, may be a good idea before you leave the house which will be full of good, nutritious food and help you feel full.
Do not stand near to the buffet table to avoid picking food and instead go chat to the people, particularly the further away from the food they are.
Avoid heavy creams and sauces as well as fried foods and opt for my meals that contain salad or vegetables.
Have smaller portion sizes – if you do eat food that you would not normally eat make sure you’ll only have a small portion of it.
Don’t feel obligated to eat food that is put in front of you because it is polite to do so. It’s perfectly okay to say no, and if you are already full insist that you can’t eat another thing.
Finally, if you do indulge there’s no need to feel too guilty about doing so since tomorrow is a new day.
The main aim of remaining fit and healthy over Christmas is to keep everything in proportion and essentially thinking before you eat. With so much on offer, including chocolate and mince pies and various pastries and cake, it’s hard to avoid festive treats.
- Consider: rather than just eating whatever is offered, you should consider whether you really want it and whether you are eating because it’s being plated-up and offered to you.
- Remember: keep in mind how much you’ve already eaten and the impact it may have on your health.
- Snacking: it may be an idea to eat before heading to a party to avoid snacking since most people will be nibbling on salted nuts, crisps and olives.
- Buffet: be careful what you select and ensure you have protein-based foods such as chicken and salmon as well as vegetables and any salad.
- Don’t graze: move away from the buffet table so you avoid grazing.
- Eat slowly and never go back for seconds.
Our last recommendation about keeping fit and healthy involves cooking properly regardless of trying to keep to a timetable. According to the Food Standards Agency, this is the most common time for people to suffer from food poisoning – though many also struggle with heartburn.
Helen Boardman, who is a lecturer at Nottingham University in Pharmacy Practice, says: “Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the associated drink and food, but for many Christmas can trigger heartburn which will affect their enjoyment and leave them feeling as if they have no control over it. Managing their symptoms can make a real difference.”
Ms Boardman says that one way to manage heartburn symptoms is to consult with a pharmacist who will check the severity of the symptoms and will recommend either a product for resolving it or a change to lifestyle or diet.
Alternatively, she offers these tips to help prevent or control heartburn:
- Know your triggers and steer clear of yours – whether it is food or drinks
- Avoid lying down after heavy meals – wait a few hours before going to sleep
- Don’t rush food when eating
- Quit smoking – cigarettes make heartburn more painful
- Take regular exercise
- Control food portion sizes
- Watch your weight – overweight people tend to suffer from heartburn.
The Food Standards Agency also recommends these tips to avoid food poisoning:
- Prepare: do leave food out all day and prepare thoroughly the Christmas turkey by defrosting it and then cooking as recommended to ensure it is properly cooked through.
- Leftovers: if you are using leftovers either eat these within 48 hours or try to freeze them instead.
- Oils: you don’t have to be bound by tradition to enjoy roast potatoes cooked in goose fat or lots of sausage rolls – instead, you could use this as an opportunity to try out new dishes and be creative in the kitchen.
- Swaps: there are lots of healthy eating food bloggers and chefs who come up with interesting twists on what are classic Christmas dishes.
How to get healthy again after Christmas
So, you have enjoyed an overindulgent festive period with lots of rich food, alcohol, chocolate and mince pies, but now it’s time for redemption!
If you want to get healthy again after piling on the pounds over Christmas, then nutritional therapist and health coach Marged Cother says: “Christmas is a chance to enjoy food and activities and connect with loved ones. But if you feel like you have overindulged, then these tips will help get your health back onto the right track after the festivities. ”
Marged’s tips for a better post-Christmas health kick include:
- Load up on vegetables
Enjoy eating more vegetables which are high in antioxidants and will help support detoxification. The veg can include roasted vegetables, soup or a side salad.
- Relax and chew
We should eat mindfully, so put the mobile phone down and turn the television off and focus on eating. Choose a relaxed environment and chew food thoroughly to help absorb key nutrients.
- Feast and famine
Consider having a stretch between breakfast and the previous evening’s meal since research shows that having a 12-hour break will help promote beneficial gut bacteria. Resting overnight can help manage our weight and hunger hormones.
- Herbal teas to hydrate
Another way to aid healthy digestion is to opt for herbal teas such is peppermint and chamomile. These are great after a rich meal and help to ease an unsettled stomach. Before eating, apple cider vinegar is also beneficial and it’s important to hydrate, so we need around two litres of water every day for optimal digestion.
To help keep focus with your New Year’s health and wellbeing resolutions, the people at Evergreen Life offer these tips to help:
- Have just one New Year’s resolution – don’t feel overwhelmed by lots of resolutions and just have one clear objective instead
- Focus on one lifestyle change – don’t opt for a quick fix but look to make a permanent lifestyle change
- Define your resolution clearly with time-based and measurable goals
- It’s best to do something rather than nothing – do not give up because you haven’t stuck to it completely and be proud of your achievements.