Author: Dr Jane Watson
Accredited Practising Dietitian
It’s not news to anyone that Christmas is traditionally a time to eat, drink and be merry. Food and drink are a big part of Christmas celebrations and enjoying time with family and friends over a drink or a meal is a time to be enjoyed. However, for many it’s a time when healthy habits go out the window. The average Aussie ‘overindulger’ will gain an extra 1.1kg in weight over Christmas and reach for twice as many alcoholic drinks. With some nutrition know-how, you can still enjoy Christmas and get a headstart on the most common new year’s resolution: To lose weight.
When research studies have investigated the habits of people who gain weight over Christmas, compared with people who don’t gain weight, there are some clear differences. So, here are the things that people who don’t gain weight do over the Christmas period.
Try to keep a healthy eating routine through the holiday period as much as possible. Remember: Christmas is only one day! If you stock up on lots of goodies for the Christmas/New Period, you’re setting yourself up for at least a month of indulging.
Drink Smart: Did you know that 1 in 5 adults exceed Australia’s lifetime risk guidelines? Space alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic alternatives like soda or mineral water with fresh fruit. A beer or wine is equivalent to 600 kilojoules which takes a 20 run or 30 minute walk to burn off.
Do some additional exercise. Extra holidays can provide a great opportunity for some fun activity to help burn off those extra kilojoules – a walk around the streets to see the neighbourhood Christmas displays, backyard cricket, a swim… or whatever you can get in!
Have healthy, fresh foods available, like stone fruits, berries, salad and seafood (as long as it’s not battered or deep-fried). Grilling and barbecuing are the healthiest cooking options.
Limit portion size. Have smaller helpings of favourite foods and eat slowly. Don’t eat the whole pavlova now … because there will always be pavlovas in the world! Be cautious about the size of drinks. Wine glass capacity in England has increased from a mean of 66 mL in 1700 to 449 mL in 2017, with the greatest increase over the past two decades. Some evidence of a link between wine glass size and drinking suggests that reducing the size of wine glasses could reduce consumption.
Take action before a Christmas party. If you’re going out for dinner, have a lighter lunch or plan to do some extra exercise that day – or have a healthy snack to take the edge off hunger. At Christmas parties, stand a little away from the food table. Reach for a soda and fresh lime and rather than trying all the foods on offer at a party, choose a few favourites.
Share Christmas treats with others. Take the chocolates, candy canes or bottles of wine you’ve been given to parties and share them.
Beware of leftovers. If you’re the host, eating leftovers for days after your festive season bash can sabotage your healthy eating efforts. So offer leftovers to friends or neighbours or freeze for later.
What if we do over-indulge? (as we invariably will!)
Enjoy it! Try to avoid it becoming a full day or week of over-indulgence. A few extra biscuits doesn’t need to become the whole packet! It’s not the couple of biscuits that does the damage, it’s the attitude that it’s ‘bad’ and you may as well give up and eat the lot! So, have the extra biscuits and enjoy them, rather than letting a few cascade into way more than is enjoyable.
Avoid black and white thinking…. It’s not possible to eat perfectly all the time, so being a perfectionist about eating and exercise will set you up for disappointment. Classifying food into “good” and “bad” may get in the way of maintaining a healthy weight. Be flexible. Do what you can and be kind to yourself.
Ideas for healthy Christmas presents
Why not spoil those around you with a health-inspired gift? Choose gifts that help people enjoy the healthy food at this time of year – such as seafood, summer fruits and salads. Or maybe something that will help them stay active. A few of my top gift ideas are below.
Healthy food gift ideas:
- Seasonal fruits like mango, apricots, berries and cherries
- Mixed nuts and dried fruits, like dates and apricots
- Condiments like chutneys, relishes, tapenades, dried herbs and spices
- Scented and herbal teas
- Gardening gifts: Pots of herbs, a worm farm, seeds for summer garden favourites, like strawberries or tomatoes
- Flavoured vinegars
- Healthy cooking classes
- Decorative jars filled with unsalted raw or roasted nuts
- Magazine subscription – Healthy Food Guide
- Something for the vegetable garden – garden tools, seedlings, seeds…
Gifts to help us stay active:
- Exercise equipment: skipping rope, boxing gloves, hand weights, a yoga mat.
- Sports equipment: tennis racquet, swimming goggles, towel, sports shoes or socks
- Gym membership or a session with a personal trainer or exercise physiologist
- Exercise gadgets: eg. food and exercise trackers such as FitBit.
Most importantly, Christmas is a time for socialising, so make the focus spending time with family and friends, rather than eating and drinking. If you are going to indulge, save your indulgences for what you really enjoy. For me, I’d rather skip dessert and have some extra seafood!
Schoeller DA, 2014, ‘The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight’, Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 134, pp. 66-9
Hull HR, Hester CN & Fields DA, 2006, ‘The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students’, Nutrition & Metabolism, Vol. 3, No. 44. Accessed 28 November 2014. Available from: www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/3/1/44 http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/south-east/health-fads-dominating-christmas-shopping-list-across-melbournes-southeast/news-story/bf32d5e8b07215e244162b36da595695 http://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j562