Christmas and New Year celebrations can be the best of times. Fun with the family, presents and delicious comfort food, time off work and all your favourite TV shows. Yet, they are often not so good for your health, with the stress, unhealthy eating and, for many, overindulgent drinking. This can put a healthy toll on your longer term health, dampen your mood, and doesn't help you make a positive start to the new year.
But the holiday season doesn't have to be quite so hard on body and mind. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can better balance the fun and the fitness, without feeling like you're missing out. We've shared three practical and not too punitive tips to help.
1. Treats not sweets
Of course people want to treat themselves during the winter break, as a reward for a busy, difficult year. But unfortunately lots of treats are loaded with processed sugars and artificial fats. Often both. These nasties are terrible for the health of our digestive system, joints & bones and energy levels. You know that post binge slump, it's for a reason.
Where possible, it’s best to minimise fizzy drinks, sugary cakes, milky chocolate and confectionary. Ideally, keep only minimal supplies in the house of the worst offenders. Instead, treat yourself with a few pieces of dark chocolate (with a high cocoa percentage), dark berries, such as raspberries, blueberries or blackberries, with unsweetened yoghurt, or mixed nuts. For savoury snacks, olives, salted nuts or slices of cheese are far healthier than a bag of crisps or fried chips.
If you are baking cookies, use erythritol or xylitol as sweetener instead of sugar, and almond or coconut flour instead of wheat flour - this will help keep your blood sugar stable and avoid those cravings.
2. Sip smart
If you do like an alcoholic tipple at Christmas, sadly there are no entirely healthy choices as such. But there are healthier options, especially if you avoid the heavily sugared, carb-loaded, artificially flavoured drinks. In place of regular beer, try a whisky and soda in a long glass, with ice and a wedge of lemon.
Switch from sweet wines to drier varieties: prosecco (or brut champagne if you like it fancy) is pretty low in sugar. Try some of the new low or no-alcohol beers, wines and spirits that are now popular. You might find there is little difference in taste and a lot of difference in how you feel the following day.
Beyond alcohol, instead refresh yourself with soda water iced, flavoured with a slice of lime, orange or grapefruit. If you prefer a warm drink, spice up your regular tea with some festive flavours such as cinnamon, star anise, clove and a slice of orange.
3. Keep moving
It’s natural during a holiday period - especially after a huge Christmas dinner - to lie back, relax and simply do nothing. And it is good, from time to time, to recharge and give muscles, joints and bones a break. But if possible try also to maintain a light level of movement. Ideally this is something you plan for, outside of the busy routine.
A gentle walk, short cycle, even a few simple stretches, are best when you can do them at your own pace. Not when you are dashing to the shops to grab that last minute missing ingredient. Talking a walk after a meal is especially beneficial as it helps stabilise blood sugar levels and the movement supports digestion.
In the winter months it's especially important to catch that all elusive daylight, so try and go outside as soon as possible, before it gets dark again.