By our resident nutritionist, Charlotte Debeugny, a British nutritionist and author, based in France.
Christmas is well and truly on its way and much as I love this time of year, I do find the constant focus on food exhausting. We certainly should be celebrating the end of a long year and enjoying precious time with our families and friends. It’s just that in a world where we are encouraged on a daily basis to ‘eat and drink and eat and drink’, festive food no longer seems quite so special.
Yes, we can certainly enjoy some delicious meals over Christmas and the New Year, but we possibly don’t need to go ‘all out’ and stuff our faces constantly for a month! There is also nothing more tedious than having to start January half a stone heavier, feeling sluggish and unhealthy, and starting a ‘detox’ of kale and cabbage juice for a month (dramatic shudder!).
It is completely possible to balance your intake over the festive period so that you bounce into the New Year feeling fit and raring to go. I’m going to underline that the amount of ‘moderating’ you need to do really depends on your sociability! If you’ve only got a few festive meals coming your way (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve) you might not need to moderate anything (!) On the other hand, if you are a social butterfly and entertaining every night, you’ll find our 10 tips for easy weight management very useful!
Reduce the snacking
The odd mid-morning mince pie, the sneaky handful of salted peanuts, the tip toeing back and forth to the box of chocolates. It all counts and this constant snacking can easily add 500+calories to your daily intake. A good habit (which you can continue to follow once Christmas is over!) is to respect your meal times and avoid eating between meals. Unless you are a young child (or a rabbit!) you do not need to snack constantly.
Be aware of your alcohol consumption
Liquid calories also count! 2 large glasses of wine are very roughly the equivalent of 350 calories. And, the body generally uses alcohol as a source of energy in preference to food. So while your liver is busy processing the alcohol, the excessive food you might have eaten is being efficiently packed away into storage. Plan alcohol free days over the Christmas period and binge on water! If you find water ‘boring’ try sparkling water or infusing water with fresh lime slices and mint leaves for an ‘almost mojito’.
Replace sugary desserts with fruit
I’d be the first to put my hands up for chocolate mousse and Christmas pudding. But, as a rule I don’t eat them at every meal or indeed every day. You can enjoy a dessert with 3-4 of your meals over Christmas and for the other meals skip dessert or, if you like to finish with something sweet, have 2 pieces of dried fruit or a piece of fruit. It goes without saying that if you are moderating your desserts, make sure the ones you have are good ones and don’t ‘waste’ your desserts on poor quality mass produced ones!
Ramp up the vegetables
Vegetables are a true superfood. Not only are they bursting with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, but they also help to fill us up without adding too many calories to our meals. Ideally half your plate at lunchtime and supper should be filled with veggies. And, if you are struggling, try starting your meal with a bowl of vegetable soup, serving a side salad alongside the cooked vegetables or serving a dip with lashings of raw vegetables.
Moderate the carbohydrates
In my opinion, carbohydrates are the most difficult food group to moderate. They are usually served in large quantities and are incredibly easy to eat! A standard portion for women is about 100 g/4 oz. cooked weight and many people can eat three times this amount. Most of us are not active enough to justify these large portions and you can don’t necessarily need them at every meal. While I enjoy my porridge in the morning, I tend to skip the carbohydrates at lunchtime and have soup and salad instead. In the evening, try replacing 50% of your carbohydrate serving with an additional vegetable, a win win, for your health and waistline!
Alternate party and hygge days
There are natural lulls in the Christmas period, such as the ‘quieter’ period between the 27th December and the 30th December. These tend to my hygge days, where I curl up on the sofa and work my way through Netflix! I also enjoy 3-4 days of giving my digestive system and liver a bit of a rest! It’s the perfect time to focus on light and nourishing meals. For example, warm stewed fruit and natural yoghurt for breakfast, a large bowl of lentil or bean soup for lunch and grilled fish with roasted vegetables for supper. Easy, delicious and healthy food!
Listen to your hunger signals
We tend to pack the food in at Christmas, eating until our stomachs groan and even then, managing to squeeze in a slice of Christmas cake! The latest trend in healthy eating is intuitive eating, a kinder way of weight control as no foods are forbidden and the focus is on listening and responding to hunger signals. If you are getting the ‘I’m so full, please stop eating’ signals, then just stop eating! If you are concerned about leaving food or your plate or refusing food, try my standard line ‘That was/looks so delicious but I am so full after your lovely meal. Can I have the recipes as you are such as amazing cook…..‘
You may not feel like climbing Mount Everest the morning after a big night, but I promise you a leisurely walk and some fresh air will help you to get your energy levels back! I also try to limit the time I spend sitting (yes, apparently sitting is the new smoking!) and try to stand, fidget and move as much as possible. It helps keep you steadily burning calories and is an effortless way to become more active!
Don’t ‘eat’ your stress
Living 24/7 with friends and families, having to constantly organise meals, shop for food and keep everyone happy can sometimes send stress levels sky high. The best remedy? Rather than chomping your way gloomily through the Quality Street, take yourself out of the kitchen, away from food and give yourself some much need peace and quiet. A long walk is always a good option, as it curling up in bed with a book or taking yourself off to the cinema. The aim is to find yourself a little bit of ‘me’ time where you can focus putting yourself first.
Skip meals (if you are not hungry!)
Yes, you can skip meals if you are not hungry. I often find breakfast the easiest meal to skip, purely because it is usually an unplanned meal and no one really notices if I eat it or not. The aim of course is not to get so hungry that you then stuff your face at the next opportunity (!) but to simply consider the meal done and over.
For my last trick, I’d like to share a festive fruit salad recipe with you! It’s light, delicious and goes well with Christmas cake!
Charlotte’s exotic fruit salad
1 green tea and mint teabag (green tea with rose petals is also fabulous if you can find it)
1 star anise
Dash of rum (optional!)
Squeeze of lime juice
½ papaya, cut into cubes
2 kiwis, cut into cubes
1 mango, cut into cubes
1 sprig of Fresh mint, chopped
Chopped roasted peanuts or cashews
To make the syrup:
Make the tea using 150 ml of water. Let it infuse for 1 minute, then remove the teabag, and pour into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and the star anise, bring to the boil and let it simmer until reduced by half.
Allow to cool and then add the lime juice and rum. Once the syrup is cool, add the chopped fruit (it’s better to add the fruit just before serving) and scatter over the nuts.
Charlotte Debeugny, a British nutritionist and author, based in France.