Festive, fresh and healthy: Five tips for the holiday season

Birds-eye view of family and friends enjoying a meal

The festive season is about lighting up December nights, reaching out to old friends, and giving yourself a well-earned break from work.

To get through the holidays without losing your sparkle, we’re here with some tips to help you eat well so that you can feel good throughout the festive season.

1. Keep moving

Fitting in gym sessions around a Christmas family schedule can be hard. But by lowering your sensitivity to insulin, missing workouts can make you more vulnerable to sugar-cravings.

The good news, though, is that by taking opportunities for “incidental exercise”, you can hold on to a healthy insulin response, and stay fuller for longer on a fresh, Mediterranean-style diet – even through the short, busy days.

This means going out for walks with the family, making local journeys on foot rather than in the car, and climbing the stairs rather than taking the lift. This way, once you have room again in your schedule to visit the gym, it will feel like less of a shock to the system. They key thing is to stay active.

Walking tips: if the early winter dusk or the heat of a summer’s day makes it hard to go out before nightfall, go on a torch-lit night walk!

2. Counter festive excess with time-restricted eating

Time-restricted eating (or TRE for short) is a powerful way to harness your body’s natural ability to repair itself, curb cravings, and stay younger for longer.

Dr Satchin Panda, who has pioneered TRE, found that giving your system at least 12 hours downtime from digesting food delivers measurable health benefits, independently of the type of food you eat.

This is certainly not a reason to eat badly, but it does mean that the occasional lunchtime mince pie does much less damage than a midnight raid on the fridge. Might explain Santa’s tummy!

3. Get cooking

Time is at a premium over the festive break, and so healthy, easy-to-prepare meals are key to keeping your weight where it belongs. We’ve handpicked some of the best for a happy and healthy festive season:

Chocolate Beetroot Brownies

Whipping up a batch of these beauties only takes 20 minutes, and they are a fantastic alternative to Christmas foods laden with sugar and unhealthy fats. Beetroot has been shown to lower blood pressure, and as a bonus, the brownies also contain cinnamon: a spice which lowers blood sugar and has powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

Grilled Spicy Salmon with Avocado Salsa

Fish is a traditional feature on many Boxing Day tables. This year, try spicing it up with chilli, which has been shown in studies to help control blood sugar. The avocado in the salsa is also packed full of healthy fats, which will help you to resist unhealthy snacks. Perfect with a glass of sparkling white wine.

The Fast 800 Low Carb Food Mediterranean Mozzarella Chicken

Whether it’s freezing cold or piping hot outside, there is nothing quite like comforting, oven-baked food. This recipe will fill your kitchen with the delicious aroma of basil, tomato and mozzarella cheese, and delivers a serving of healthy protein as well. Prep time is just five minutes, and it can easily be scaled up to feed the whole family. Ideal for fueling up after a long walk outdoors.

Sharing a meal with family and friends is often at the heart of a celebration. To help with your planning and to treat the whole family, click here for our favourite festive share plate and festive drink suggestions!

4. Be careful with the booze!

To enjoy a drink without falling off the healthy eating wagon, there are three rules:

Rule 1: Know your sugar content

Sugar-spikes can result from drinks as well as foods. Drinks vary considerably though in their sugar content. As a guide, red and white wines have much lower sugar content than beer or cider, and highly-distilled spirits, such as vodka or gin, are a better option than heavily-sugared drinks such as Sambuca and Amaretto, which can contain as much as 15g sugar per shot!

Champagne, you will be delighted to discover, has one of the lowest sugar levels of all alcoholic drinks. Another reason to celebrate…

In addition to drinks with alcohol, delicious drinks to share that incorporate plenty of fruits and herbs will add interest to any festive table. Check our festive drinks suggestions for some new ideas that we are sure will become family favourites!

Rule 2: Drink with meals

Drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea for two reasons. Firstly, once your inhibition is gone, you are going to be easy prey to junk food. Secondly, studies show that moderate amounts of alcohol can give you protection against raised blood lipids – but only if you drink with meals.

Rule 3: Resist the big morning after fry-ups

It’s not just your imagination: Fried food really does look much more appetising when you are hungover. This is due to the action of galanin, a brain chemical produced in response to alcohol, and which increases appetite for fatty food.

In readiness for the morning after, drink a good amount of water the night before, have the paracetamol ready, and go outside to blast your system with some fresh air, as early as you can.

5. Be kind to yourself

In a world that is dominated by junk food marketers, staying healthy over the holidays is never easy. Pressure from family to eat sugar laden food can also be hard to resist, particularly when you are feeling stressed. So try not to put too much pressure on yourself: If you need some “down time” to recover from the festive round, don’t be afraid to take it. Likewise, make sure family and friends do their fair share of helping out with the Christmas chores – there’s no greater risk to your diet than when you are washing up, feeling tired, with only cake for company.

And if you do slip up, put it down to experience, and try again the next day. There’s no such thing as a big mistake: losing weight and staying healthy is about the small steps.