It's the most wonderful time of the year!
The Christmas season is traditionally full of temptations. From the shopping aisle specials to the roaming canapés at Christmas parties, there's no doubt that this time of year can put our willpower to the test. It can be easy to overindulge and convince ourselves that we'll get back to our healthy habits in the new year.
But this doesn't need to be the case. There are many ways to still join in on the Christmas festivities without giving up your healthy habits. Having said that, this is a special time of year that should be enjoyed, so it's important to allow some flexibility with your lifestyle choices and not worry too much if they're not 'perfect'.
In this article, we’ve put together a selection of our top tips for navigating the holiday season, alongside some fun ideas to stay on track with your health goals over the next few weeks.
We understand that this year's Christmas might be a little different to usual. Christmas parties could be few and far between, eating out will have restrictions, and it may be more difficult to get together with loved ones. However, you could try to use this year as an opportunity to test out our tips below, which will better prepare you for next year and the flurry of temptations that will come from the usual festive celebrations!
This is what the Christmas season is all about! From mince pies and Christmas pudding, to turkey and roast potatoes - the list of festive foods is endless.
While there's no need to place restrictions on yourself over the Christmas period or develop rules around what you can and can't eat, we do have a few strategies that can help you make mindful choices this December:
1. We cover the distorted thought of 'justifications' throughout the 12-week programme, which can be particularly relevant around Christmas time. We might have thoughts such as:
✗ This is the only time of year that I can buy mince pies, so I'm going to eat one every day
✗ I can eat these chocolates because they were given to me as a present
✗ I should eat and drink as much as I can at this Christmas party in order to get my money's worth
Try applying mindfulness to change these 'justifications':
✓ Do I truly feel like eating a mince pie each day? Instead, I can listen to my body and only eat one when I really feel like it, which means I'll enjoy it much more
✓ Am I just eating these chocolates because I feel guilty that they were gifted to me? Perhaps instead I could re-gift them to someone else to enjoy.
✓ Will this food taste any better because it was free? Rather than eating this food now, I could buy it another time when I really feel like it, meaning I'll enjoy it more.
✓ How will I feel afterwards if I overeat or drink too much at the Christmas party? Instead, I could choose foods and drinks I genuinely feel like eating and listen to my fullness cues, even if that means leaving food on my plate.
In all of the above situations, you can apply our mindful eating techniques to determine whether you truly feel like eating certain foods. If you do, enjoy them slowly and mindfully, then move on afterwards.
2. Another good way to help you pinpoint when you might be unconsciously grazing on certain foods or snacks is to keep a food diary. You can use the 'food diary' tool in the app to help you record what you eat throughout the day. This will add a sense of accountability and might highlight occasions where you didn't necessarily make a mindful food choice.
3. If hosting friends or family, why not try a few Second Nature recipes instead of traditional party food, which can be higher in carbs. Here are a few of our favourite recipes that work well for larger groups:
- Aubergine parmigiana
- Butter chicken
- Cottage pie with cauliflower mash
- Fish pie with celeriac mash
- Peri peri chicken with roasted vegetables
- Shredded Thai chicken salad
And for canapés:
- Beetroot falafels
- Black bean patties
- Mini omelettes
- Chopped vegetable sticks with beetroot hummus
- No pastry quiche or savoury slice (chopped into bit sized pieces)
- Thai fish cakes
- Chicken tikka skewers
- Popcorn chicken
- Cheese biscuits or seed crackers with dip
If you'd like to do some Christmas baking with the family, why not try some of our healthier baking recipes!
5. Although we often think of Christmas dinner as overindulgent, it's actually quite an easy meal to adapt to our nutrition recommendations. Start by filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (e.g. carrots, brussels sprouts, roasted beetroot, and cabbage), then add your protein serve (e.g. turkey, ham, or a nut roast), and finish with a small portion of carbohydrates (most likely potatoes!). Make the most of those Christmas salads and vegetable medley’s.
Remember, you also don't need to load up your plate the first time around - instead, serve yourself a smaller portion and go back for seconds if you feel like them!
1. Pick the days or events ahead of time where you know you'd like to be more relaxed with following the nutrition recommendations. This way you have certain events to look forward to rather than all the days merging into one.
2. If you're planning to go out for a festive dinner, be sure to have a balanced meal for breakfast and lunch that day, and plan healthy meals for the following day. This can prevent you from falling into the 'all or nothing' mindset. Also take a moment to look through the menu ahead of time and choose what you're going to eat.
3. Continue to plan your meals ahead of time, even if you're on holidays, and make a shopping list before going to the supermarket. The 'meal planner' tool in the app can help with this! Try to stick to your list and stay away from the aisles that may tempt you with Christmas specials.
4. Avoid buying certain foods in bulk, for example, chocolates or mince pies. If they're in the house and opened, you'll be much more likely to eat them. Instead, buy smaller packets and practice enjoying these foods mindfully. Also try portioning out your serving size and then putting the box or packet away in the cupboard, rather than eating directly from the box, which makes it more easy to mindlessly overeat.
5. If you need to travel over the Christmas period to reach family and friends, have a nutritious breakfast before you set off and plenty of healthy snacks on hand in case of traffic!
Alcohol and Drinks
1. At parties or social events (even video socials in lockdown!) try the strategy of alternating every alcoholic drink with a non-alcohol one. This might mean having a sparkling water in-between each glass of wine.
2. Offer to top up your own drink at social events rather than allowing others to do this. It's often hard to keep track of how much we're drinking when the refills are bottomless!
3. Opt for long drinks. This means the alcohol is less concentrated and your drink will last longer. For example, a small white wine and soda water spritzer or a single vodka and soda in a tall glass with some lime.
4. Choose quality over quantity. Instead of being tempted by Christmas deals on alcohol, consider buying a few bottles of really nice alcohol and savouring them.
For more tips on managing your alcohol intake this festive season, you can read our guide here.
Although many of us will be working from home in the lead up to Christmas this year, this won't be the case for everyone. Temptations in our workplaces around Christmas can often be challenging to manage as they're out of our control.
1. If your workplace is susceptive to the flurry of Christmas gifts, which might include bottles of wine, chocolates, or sweet biscuits from clients, patients, or parents, think about how you could best deal with these scenarios ahead of time. For example, perhaps you could donate these gifts to food banks or charities, or give them away via food sharing apps like 'Olio'. Alternatively, offer them to one of your colleagues or even regift them to another friend.
2. Consider getting your team and colleagues involved in active social activities in the lead up to Christmas. This could be a lunch time walk or workout sessions, exercise snacking, or even an active treasure hunt!
3. If you're working from home this festive season, be sure to plan your meals ahead of time and have healthy snacks on hand. For more tips on staying healthy while working from home, you can read our guide here.
Staying active over Christmas
1. Plan to go for regular walks with the family - getting outside in the fresh air can be a wonderful way to relax. A walk after Christmas day lunch is always a fun activity and will make you feel better afterwards.
2. Incorporate exercise snacking throughout the day if you're busy working or preparing meals for the family. This might be squats while the kettle boils, heel raises while cooking, or star jumps in the television ad break!
3. If possible, try to walk to the shops to bump up your daily step count.
4. Play a few Christmas hits at home and get the whole family dancing, or play active games that require movement such as charades or a festive treasure hunt.
1. Write yourself a letter
To help you stay motivated and focused on your goals, it can be helpful to write a letter to your January self. Doing this activity can be a good reminder of what you're working towards and why it's important to get there. Here are a few questions you might like to answer in the letter:
- How would you love to feel when reflecting back on December?
- What can you chose to do that will help you feel that way?
- What successes did you achieve over this time?
You can read back over your letter throughout December for a boost of motivation. Doing this ahead of time can also help you prepare your mindset for the festive season.
2. Be kind and celebrate every success
Whether it's continuing to follow the nutrition guidelines throughout December or simply drinking more water compared to last year, remember that each achievement should be acknowledged and celebrated! Reflecting on where you were this time last year can also be a powerful reminder of how far you've come. Remember, you don't need to be making perfect choices all the time to still be making progress.
3. Dealing with a different Christmas
For many of us, Christmas this year will look different to usual. We might not be able to see friends and family or enjoy the social side of December as we usually would. In order to help navigate this, think about a few activities you enjoy that you could do this December. It might be setting up a Zoom Christmas party with close friends (we love the idea of cooking a Second Nature meal together with friends over video chat!), volunteering at a food bank or helpline, making crafts or food products to give as presents, or putting on your favourite Christmas music or movies.
For more information on managing your mindset this Christmas, you can read this article on our 'Top 5 tips to avoid Christmas guilt'.
Lastly, and most importantly, enjoy the Christmas period! If you're concerned about anything or have a specific question, please ask your group and health coach for advice.
Article written by Jen Taylor, Registered Nutritionist and Second Nature Health Coach