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How to stay healthy (ish) over Christmas

How to enter the new year feeling a healthy (ish) version of yourself.

Christmas is a time which we traditionally let go of our health woes and enjoy the many treats and mince pies on offer. 

After a challenging year, we must let our hair down and enjoy ourselves – but for some people, too many temptations can make it challenging to keep on track.

There is no reason why, after a few simple tweaks, we can’t combine relaxing and celebrating over Christmas, with staying healthy (-ish). Who knows – perhaps you will even discover some healthy new habits to bring into your 2021!

We have put together several tips to help you enter the new year feeling a healthy (ish) version of yourself.   

More festive spirit, less alcoholic spirit. 

If there is ever a time of the year which we tend to overdo it on booze – it is the festive period. We all know that too much alcohol is bad for us for many reasons – not least the additional calories it adds into our day. However, a lesser-known fact is that drinking alcohol enhances your appetite for food [1]. This could make it more challenging to say no to another mince pie, and another, and another...

If you want to cut down on alcohol without going ‘cold turkey’ (ahem), there are many tips and tricks which can help:

  • Before starting your night, set your own limit on how much you are going to drink and keep a mental note of it. 
  • Try sipping water alongside your beverage. This can help you to hydrate (easing the dreaded hangover), but also help you to drink more slowly, reducing the overall quantity of alcohol you consume in an evening. 
  • When choosing your tipple, opt for beers and wines with a lower alcoholic content - you should always be able to find the ABV % on the menu or bottle. Most UK beers range from as low as 4% up to as much as 7% [2], almost doubling the amount of alcohol they contain. 
  • Many alcohol-free versions of beverages are now available, including spirits such as gin. Nobody will notice (not even you!). 

Seconds, anyone? 

Our Christmas dinner has a reputation of being the ultimate indulgence. But the truth is that, with a few simple changes, our Christmas dinner can not only be nutritionally balanced but the ultimate nutritional feast! 

  • To cut down on calories, simply switch some of your potato roasties for mash or boiled.
  • Try including more vegetables on your plate. These are relatively lower in energy, and more filling, reducing your snacking later in the day. 
  • Trim the fat off your meat, you probably won’t miss it (much) anyway! 
  • Eat your sprouts. Brussels sprouts belong to the group of vegetables called brassicas, which contain compounds called glucosinolates. These fascinating nutrients are responsible for that characteristic bitter flavour but have been found to offer humans many health benefits [3].
  • Lastly, have a mince pie, or two (and enjoy it!). A little bit of something good helps to reduce cravings and calorie intake in the long run. 

Embrace the outdoors. 

The restrictions we currently face mean meeting loved ones outdoors may be the new ‘normal’ this Christmas. Though different, this may create opportunities to try new activities and create unique memories this festive period.

  • Christmas day wouldn’t be the same without watching all of your favourite films and sitcoms on TV back-to-back. Try breaking up your festive movie marathon with some short outdoorsy walks with family and friends. Not only will this help you to burn off any extra calories, but socialising is important for mental wellbeing, even if we do need to keep our distance. 
  • Dare to go for an outdoor wild swim. A festive dip in the sea is a tradition in many areas on Christmas day, but for those that don’t live by the sea, wild swimming areas are available all over the country in lakes and in public baths (see https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/) – he/she who dares, wins! Brrr.

Enjoy some guilt-free time for yourself.

Although it has its advantages, remote working has meant that work has invaded our home lives, making it challenging to separate work from 'play’. Try to take some time for yourself this festive period to relax, unwind and refresh for the new year. 

  • Spend a few days unplugged from all your work devices and focus on reconnecting with loved ones, whether remotely or in person. 
  • Check-in on friends and family who may not be lucky enough to be together with others this Christmas. A small gesture, like a phone call, can go a long way.
  • Dig out that book you were planning to read this year, put your feet up and try to get in some quality ‘me time’. 

Keep the sniffles at bay

There are many claims about which nutrients are important to ‘support’ or ‘boost’ our immune system over winter – but what is the truth behind these claims?

  • The truth is that a balanced and varied diet is key to supporting your body and keeping your immune system healthy [4].
  • Practising good personal hygiene, such as washing hands frequently, is the most beneficial thing you can do to protect your immune system [5].
  • If you do catch a winter bug, there is some evidence that, taking vitamin C regularly (such as in a glass of orange juice) may reduce the duration of a cold [6]. Whether or not you choose to have your orange juice alongside champagne in your Christmas day bucks-fizz, is a decision we will leave up to you.

References

[1] Yeomans, M.R., 2010. Alcohol, appetite and energy balance: is alcohol intake a risk factor for obesity?. Physiology & behavior, 100(1), pp.82-89.
[2] https://www.thespruceeats.com/alcohol-by-volume-353204
[3] Ciska, E., Drabińska, N., Honke, J. and Narwojsz, A., 2015. Boiled Brussels sprouts: A rich source of glucosinolates and the corresponding nitriles. Journal of Functional Foods, 19, pp.91-99.
[4] https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/there-is-no-diet-to-prevent-coronavirus.html
[5] https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2020/03/04/coronavirus-covid-19-5-things-you-can-do-to-protect-yourself-and-your-community/
[6] Hemilä, H. and Chalker, E., 2013. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (1).