Mince Pies or Christmas Cake?

It’s 22nd December and the time of year again when I send out tips to my clients on how to manage Christmas in terms of being around food. My diary for January is busy with appointments for clients seeking help with weight issues. Some will be existing clients who have already reduced their weight over the past weeks and months and are slimmer and healthier than they were earlier in the year and I congratulate them.

Others will be new clients who are holding off unitl the New Year to lose weight. Some of them may over indulge over Christmas and may well be heavier by the time I see them in the New Year than they are now……….but it doesn’t have to be that way. Christmas doesn’t have to be an excuse for putting on weight.

25th December is just one day and the traditional Christmas meal of turkey and seasonal vegetables is delicious and can be very healthy. However, Christmas for many isn’t just one day any more – it’s become a prolonged period of socialising and eating.

You can decide which Christmas and New Year events to go to and which to decline. You can decide whether or not you will drink alcohol at social events. Many clients tell me that when they drink alcohol they become less vigilant in their food choices and many find themselves eating fatty buffet food or too many crisps or nuts. Be assertive with the food and drink “pushers” at social events who will always tell you that you look great at the weight that you are and will encourage you to have another drink or another helping of food (because it makes them feel less guilty for what they are eating/drinking).

You must all have seen the Christmas party food advertisements on the television – the pastry pies, tarts, mini pizzas and treats that you take out of the freezer and pop in the oven and then serve to your party guests. All very easy but how healthy are they? The supermarkets have got great money off offers on mince pies and Christmas cake. My local Pound store has aisles of cut price chocolate and cakes, biscuits, galore……….all for just 99p per item. So very tempting isn’t it? Take ownership of what goes in to the shopping basket and what you put in the kitchen cupboards. Just because festive food is on a money off offer doesn’t mean that you buy it. Steer clear of the processed foods (the biscuits, cakes, pastries,pizzas and dressings); once these foods find their way into your home there’s a good chance you might eat them! Opt for food that is as unprocessed and as close to natural as possible.

For eating at home, think about planning ahead for your meals. Plan what you will eat and write out a list, buying what is on the list and avoiding impulse buys. Eat the meals as planned and avoid any unplanned eating. Aim to eat every 3- 4 hours to keep blood sugars stable and to prevent getting over hungry. Slow your eating down and pause in between courses to check whether still hungry.

Eating out and socialising can be a minefield. You can eat a small snack before you go out so that you are not going out feeling hungry. Have a glass of water before eating a meal to take the edge of your appetite. It may be that you can have a say in what type of restaurant you eat at if going out with friends or family. Choose a restaurant which you know serves healthy meal options. You may decide to skip the starter and/or dessert and stick to one or two courses. You can opt for a tea or coffee in place of a dessert. If eating out and there is a buffet you can choose healthy options such as chicken, prawns, lean meats, salads and crudites. These are all good choices and you can avoid the sausage rolls, the pies and the fatty/processed foods.

Christmas can for some be a stressful or difficult time. It’s not for everyone quite like the Christmas advertisements on the television. For some there are financial or time pressures. For others, Christmas can mean family tensions and trying to keep the peace. There may be pressures to cook the perfect meal or to give perfect presents or to look wonderful in the new party dress. For others this Christmas may not be like Christmases past and may be a lonely and sad time.

Emotions can be a powerful trigger for eating. You don’t have to use food or drink to manage any stresses or strains of Christmas. Ask yourself what you are feeling and what you need. It may be that you don’t need food but that you need to attend to your emotions in a more helpful way. Be accepting of yourself for the feeling that you have and have awareness that it is just a feeling that will pass. If you are tired then take a nap. Socialising can be great fun but for some being around friends and family for a prolonged period can be draining.  Be kind and nurturing to yourself and allow yourself some “time out” to listen to some relaxing music, to do a breathing exercise or to go for a long soak in the bath.

I talk to my clients about instant gratification versus long term pleasure. I ask them to practise pressing their imaginary pause button when they are around food and to ask themselves: “If I eat this food, how will I feel about this decision later; say in an hour, or later this evening or tomorrow?” This question is designed to encourage clients to link their decision making around food to future consequences. In other words, over eating or eating the wrong foods  has a consequence and by over indulging on festive food the consequence is a delay in the pleasure of becoming slimmer and healthier.

Over indulging is not compatible with becoming slimmer and healthier. This doesn’t mean not ever eating mince pies or Christmas cake. It just means maybe making a choice between eating a mince pie or a piece of Christmas cake; asking yourself whether you need to eat both. Eat a little of what you fancy and stay in control around food. If despite best endeavours you find yourself over indulging at one social event then be on guard for the small voice in your head which tries to convince you that you’ve “blown it now” and that you may as well carry on eating/drinking like this for the rest of Christmas. Recognise that this is fattening thinking and draw a line and get straight back in control over food.

Christmas isn’t just about eating. Get out to a carol service or Midnight Mass. Go see a pantomine or try out ice skating. Walk around the Boxing Day sales and buy some clothes you feel good in when you wear them. Get active and burn some calories. Wrap up warm and go for some walks. One client told me this week that she is enjoying using the Davina Fitness app on her i phone  as part of her exercise routine. Have a look at the apps on your phone and check out whether any could support you with your health and fitness for 2013.

If you’ve lost weight this year and have more weight to lose then aim to maintain your weight over Christmas and continue with what you need to do to get lighter and healthier in the New Year. If you have plans to start to lose weight in the New Year then make a decision now to eat wisely over the festive period and for this not to be a weight gain Christmas. Motivate yourself by keeping reminding yourself of how great it will be to get through Christmas without feeling lethargic or bloated through over indulging. Keep in mind what you want to look like, what weight you want to be and how great it will feel to be slimmer and lighter in 2013.

Have a great Christmas!!