It's the most wonderful time of the year. A time of turkey, candy canes, indulgent puddings, rich hot chocolates and alcohol at breakfast time. Yes, the festive season may be great in many respects, but generally not when it comes to our diets.
Factor in colder weather, darker evenings and most people being a lot less active, and it's really no wonder that come January, we're all feeling a little the worse for wear and thinking we need to sign up for a gym membership. However, it doesn't have to be like that.
Don't take Christmas as a green light to overindulge – you can still enjoy yourself without tipping over into excess and paying the price later. With a little forward planning and conscious effort, you can have a great break without it costing your health.
Just Keep Moving
The fact that it's a special day doesn't mean that you have to take root in an armchair. No matter how tempting the Christmas movies on TV are, try to balance them out by adding a little more movement into your festive schedule. It's a great idea to take a walk around your neighborhood a part of your Christmas schedule.
Not only does it get the whole family together – and peels reluctant kids and teens away from their tablets and games consoles – but it helps with digestion, gets your circulation going to make you feel less sluggish and helps you to keep active. It's a great chance to take along any scooters, bikes or sports equipment kids have received and test them out too.
Fit In A Home Workout
Start your day off on the right foot by fitting in a super quick workout routine in the morning. It doesn't have to mean rushing off to the gym – there are plenty of home workouts to stream for free on YouTube. Choose one based around HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), which can be done in a little as twenty minutes and gives an intense calorie burn, or try body weight-based resistance exercises, such as mountain climbers, walkouts, and wall sits.
There's even some compact equipment you can keep in the closet – a medicine ball, kettlebells, skipping rope or a resistance band is all great tools to increase the effectiveness of your home workout. It's not a big thing to fit in a quick session at home before the day gets started, but it means that you can indulge with a little less of a guilty conscious and keep that festive stomach and man boobs at bay for the start of the new year.
Moderate Your Alcohol Intake
Most of us drink far more often and things that we wouldn't normally drink during Christmas celebrations. A Buck's Fizz with breakfast? OK. A cheeky mulled wine in the afternoon? Sure.
A whiskey after dinner? Why not. But all that extra alcohol consumption quickly adds up to a lot of useless calories. Get ahead by moderating what you drink, and making sure that you have one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage to keep hydration levels steady and slow your roll a little. If you're really trying not to put on weight opt for clear spirits such as vodka or gin on the rocks or with a low-calorie, sugar-free mixer.
Again, what you're aiming for is a balance. It's not that you can't have a glass of wine with dinner – just don't have five! You'll really feel better mentally and physically for it and find it much easier to make other healthier decisions if you aren't tipsy.
Control Your Portion Sizes
This festive time of year is traditionally associated with piling your plate high, but there's no reason to eat until you feel ill. In fact, recent studies have suggested that we can eat up to 3000 calories in a Christmas dinner – way more than the recommended daily amount. Overeating so much in one sitting is never good for the body – it can lead to heartburn, digestive problems and leave you feeling lethargic for the rest of the day.
Don't automatically pile your plate high – take a sensible portion size, and ensure that two-thirds of your plate is filled with all those delicious vegetable sides. Take a twenty-minute break after eating to let your food digest before deciding whether to take a second portion – that's around how long it takes your brain to give satiety signals to your stomach. And if you don't finish it all? Christmas leftovers are delicious in a sandwich the next day.
Sort Out Your Sleep
It's not only our eating habits that can become disturbed and out of routine over the holidays – our sleep can also get out of whack. Sleep is the building block for our overall health – if we don't get enough good quality rest, we have less energy to exercise, lower immune systems which make us vulnerable to winter coughs and colds, and tend to make poorer food choices.
So tempting as it can be to use the time off work to go on that Netflix binge, try not to shift your waking hours too much. Getting up and going to bed at around the same time is important to regulate your body clock, as is getting outside for some exercise and winter sunshine to boost Vitamin D levels and help reset the body's circadian rhythms.
Stick to good sleep hygiene rules by limiting alcohol consumption – which causes more disturbed, shallower sleep – banning electronic devices such as televisions, tablets, and phones from the bedroom, which disrupt the body's natural production of melatonin, and ensuring the room that you sleep in maintains a slightly cool temperature. If you find you have trouble dropping off, then you could try a mindfulness app on your phone or some lavender pillow spray to give you an extra helping hand to drift off.
Be A Conscious Consumer
Mindless excess has to be about the worst aspect of Christmas, whether it's thoughtless gifts or thoughtlessly eating. Try and train yourself to think before popping things in your mouth.
Question whether you really need that extra chocolate or second helping of something before you eat it. Learning to eat consciously means that you can still enjoy treats without going overboard – and leave yourself ready to smash your New Year's fitness goals.