FROM keeping hangovers at bay to facing the Boxing Day buffet, the Christmas party season is in full swing – but overindulgence can leave us feeling unhealthy and lethargic well into the New Year.
Although people consume around 6,000 calories in food and drink on Christmas Day, four in ten have said they will cut back on alcohol this month in a bid to to be healthier during the festive season.
Today, Sun on Sunday Health looks at how to look after yourself over the holidays without cutting out the food or the fun.
Dietitian Reema Patel, from Dietitianfit.co.uk, said: “Christmas is one day but we celebrate all through December, with parties, drinks and big meals.
“People think that staying healthy is just about what you eat but it’s a time of year where we also tend to be quite sedentary, sitting still a lot and staying indoors and out of the cold, so keeping active and sleeping well are important to offset the indulgence too.”
Hangovers shoot up by almost 20 per cent in December. The key to avoiding them is hydration. Reema said: “There’s no way to avoid a hangover other than not drinking at all. So drink lots of water before going out and alternate alcoholic drinks. And the next day the hair of the dog is not the answer. Instead have good, healthy food prepared for the day after. You need goodness back in your body and nutrients which are more likely to clear the hangover quicker.”
Nearly 70 per cent of us admit that Christmas is an excuse for overindulging with party buffets and festive spreads full of tempting food.
Reema advised: “Take time to scan what’s available, what looks really good to you and what you actually want to eat before filling your plate with food you might not need or enjoy. With so many festive invites, you don’t need to overindulge at every one.”
Being mindful of portion sizes is important too.
“Don’t hold back on enjoying yourself but ask if you need more potatoes or pudding or if you’ve had enough,” Reema said, “Take ten minutes to digest before working out if you want seconds or dessert.”
The diet expert added: “When you’re unbuttoning your jeans or desperate for a snooze after eating, it’s your body’s way of telling you that you’ve had more than you need and it’s time to stop.” If you’re going out later on, she advises against arriving famished, instead suggesting a small, healthy snack beforehand to avoid over-eating once there.
Even with late-night social events and days off work, keeping in a familiar sleep routine benefits your body clock and brain. Sixty per cent say that late-night parties and festive TV eat into their usual sleep patterns, with one in five up past 11pm during the holidays.
But sleeping too little or far too much can add to sluggishness. Sticking to your usual bedtime and wake-up hours will help regulate your body.
If you need a snooze, have a 20 minute power nap instead of a long lie in.
While few of us plan on hitting the gym all through the holidays, doctors recommend being active for at least 20 minutes a day.
“Walk to see the village Christmas lights or a neighbour’s decorations or, if it’s dark and wet, have a dance party inside with the kids to get yourself off the sofa,” said Reema.
Research has found that cholesterol levels can be as much as 20 per cent higher after festive celebrations due to all the fatty foods we consume.
The British Heart Foundation advises to cut back on the trimmings at Christmas dinner. Lean turkey meat and vegetables may be healthy but pigs in blankets, stuffing and gravy can be full of fat and salt. Alternate “bad” days with good and beware of nibbles.
Reema said: “Chocolate boxes and vol-au-vents are at every gathering and add unneeded and unwanted calories in pastry, butter and cream,” she said. “Offer to make something veg-based and take it along to a party.”
Our guts work overtime at Christmas because we consume so many unhealthy and sugary foods containing harmful gut bacteria.
You need extra prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre that feeds the probiotics, or good bacteria, to balance things out. Gut health is essential for overall well being, processing and creating nutrients, digesting foods and preventing some diseases.
Reema says to load up on prebiotics, eat garlic, onions, leek, oats, apples, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips and kale. For probiotics, eat yoghurt, sourdough and fermented cheese. Some experts recommend probiotic drinks or pills.
Reema said: “For most people, it is not necessary to supplement as evidence has not shown a clear health benefit. However, including probiotic foods in our diet regularly can be a great starting point.”