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Keep the festive season healthy


Well we’re in December and it seems that the festive season is kicking off for most people.  Christmas is so much more than just one day these day, it seems to start around the first week of December and finish sometime after the New Year’s Eve – that’s nearly a month!! If you’re conscious of your health, your weight and your general wellbeing, Christmas can be a challenging time.  There are tons of parties and socialising with loads of fatty food and of course way more booze than normal.  So how can you get through this festive season and still look and feel good?

Many people fall off the exercise bandwagon at Christmas, or rule out the idea of getting into shape during the festive period, assuming there is no point in starting until the New Year. But given that one of the biggest barriers to exercise is lack of time, a break from the usual routine can provide the ideal opportunity to begin or maintain physical activity. Staying active over Christmas not only reduces your chances of gaining weight, it also helps energise you, reduces stress and gives you a break.

The holidays can sabotage your healthy living goals faster than you can devour a plate of small chops. Luckily, I have a few tips for surviving the season…

Keep moving
It’s easy to get super busy during this festive season and decide to leave exercise to the New Year. Unfortunately, this is the absolute best time to keep moving your body, even if it’s as simple as a daily walk, exercise will contribute towards the detoxification process, ensuring your body is functioning effectively.

Drink moderately
Alcohol is “empty calories” which not only disturbs how we metabolise sugar and fat but also reduces our ability to make wise decisions in relation to food. The less you drink, the less likely you are to reach for the high fat, high carbs snacks being offered. Alcohol will also affect your blood sugar handling for the following 24 hours, making it harder for you to make the right choice the following day in relation to your nutrition. Again, you are more likely to crave sugary fatty foods even if you don’t have a hangover.

Proactively Pre-eat
Eat a big lunch or dinner (if it’s an evening cocktail affair) prior to a Christmas party. The worst mistake you can make is skipping a meal to save up calories for the event. You’ll only end up binging on everything in sight because you’re starving. Instead, eat healthy and sensibly throughout the day to set a tone for the evening’s festivities.

Wait a few minutes
In group situations, with an abundance of food and drink it’s easy to get caught up eating unconsciously. Whether it’s because you are used to eating more when you are around your siblings or just because there’s so much good food, remember to serve yourself a moderate amount of food to start with. Eating at a slower pace will help to send the satiety signals to your brain. After you’ve finished, if you can, resist the urge to load up your plate and wait for 5-10 minutes to see how you feel. Satiation takes approximately 20 minutes, waiting a few minutes after eating (as well as eating slowly) can help you avoid over eating.

Watch the carbs
If you’re going to eat dessert and drink alcohol, then it’s a good idea to minimise carbohydrate consumption with the main meal. Alcohol and high sugar foods all increase the secretion of insulin, which promotes fat storage in the body. Try to eat mainly lean protein and low starch vegetables for entree and main, that way you can kick your heels up a little for dessert.

Stay Hydrated
Drink bottled water and herbal teas to hydrate for the numerous parties. Many folks mistake dehydration for hunger and overeat to satiate it. Dehydration mixed with excess alcohol will only dehydrate you further and lead to binge eating.

Exercise in the morning
Exercising first thing may entail getting up a little earlier than normal, but it does ensure that you get your workout done before other commitments and crises get in the way – and it will kick start your metabolism for the rest of the day.

Do shorter workouts
Workouts don’t need to be long to be beneficial. If you’re prepared to work hard, you can fit a super workout into just a 20-minute window. It’s a trade-off between duration and intensity. 15-30 minutes of high-intensity interval training burns more calories than 40 minutes at a steady state. And if time is of the essence, you can even break down your daily exercise into short bouts rather than opt for one single prolonged session (research shows that activity bouts as short as 10 minutes are effective).

Be the inspiration
If an influx of family and visitors make it difficult to do your usual workout (say, a gym visit or a solitary run or bike ride), try to get everyone involved in something like a group dance fitness session or walk. You can rig the odds of getting family outside in your favour by buying gifts that are just begging to be road-tested. Bikes, scooters, in-line skates, footballs and frisbees are all good options to bribe them into getting active.

These days our lives are so frenetic, filled to brim with obligations, commitments and other environmental stressors. The body really doesn’t distinguish between physical stress (like lack of sleep) and emotional stress (like work stress, relationship stress, negative emotions). The human body creates the same reaction to these types of stress – production of cortisol which can have many knock-on effects to the body including increased inflammation, increased insulin/problematic fat metabolism and decreased immune function. Remember, when you can, to let your body rest, get adequate amounts of sleep and take time out to enjoy the break from work.

Have Fun!
Christmas is a time to come together with loved ones and family and celebrate. Smiling and laughing reduce the level of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.  Studies have shown laughter even increases the number of antibody producing cells and improves the function of T cells, resulting in a stronger immune system.  So, enjoy the fun and festivities as much as possible, your body will thank you for it!

In this article:
Maje Ayida
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