For those of you who want to stay on top of your eating over the festive season, here are some classic tips to help you during the next two weeks. Please note that this is the last Monday newsletter for the year – with next Monday being Christmas Day and the Monday after being New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Day, we are starting a 14 Day Blitz, with a daily email and club article/discussion. We’re also having weekly open sessions during January to make sure we get you off to a great start for the New Year. If you’d like to take part in the blitz you can sign up here.
Some of you will be making great progress at the moment and you won’t want to change the successful course that you’re on, just for a couple of days of craziness. If this applies to you, then keep doing what you’re doing. You can do Phase 1 or Phase 2 throughout the holiday period, if that’s what you want to do to reach your health and weight goals. There is no Christmas rule book that says you must eat white flour and sugar – also known as mince pies or cake. Many of the tips below will help you to avoid the main pitfalls. It will all be over in a few days, so it’s really not worth a few days derailing you. You’ll be the one feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed. It will be the ‘over-indulged’ people slumped in the armchair.
In no particular order, here are my top 12 tips for healthy eating over the festive season:
1) Always go for the most natural food that you can find.
The fundamental principle of The Harcombe Diet still applies at times of celebration. Oranges grow on trees, cartons of orange juice don’t; fish swim in the sea, fish fingers don’t – think about how nature delivers food and pick the options closest to real food and furthest away from processed food. Good food options are therefore turkey, gammon, sprouts, carrots, salmon, stilton, satsumas – the real foods. Avoid the cakes, pies, confectionery, vol-au-vents, savoury snacks and the stuff full of white flour and sugar. You’ll feel so much better, as well as helping your waistline.
2) Don’t cheat too often.
The thing that you most need to avoid is re-awakening food cravings and full blown food addiction. This is the worst that can happen if you choose the more relaxed approach to food over the festive season. And it can happen frighteningly quickly, as my post from many years ago shows.
To make sure that this doesn’t happen to you – don’t cheat every day. Given that cheating will involve carbs, and probably refined ones, you are likely to set off a blood glucose level roller coaster. By not cheating every day – you also make sure that you don’t get into a vicious cycle of having the same sugary/floury substances on a regular basis – increasing the risk of you becoming intolerant to them/addicted to them again, even in a short period of time.
3) Don’t cheat too early in the day.
You might have a croissant for breakfast and go out of the normal blood glucose range, release insulin, dip below the normal blood glucose range, crave something else sweet, have some chocolates and so the cycle continues. This will lead to you craving sweet things every couple of hours throughout the day and you’ll end up falling into a carb-stupor-induced-sleep at bed time – really not feeling like you’ve had fun. You may well wake up the next day with a carb ‘hangover’ and start the roller coaster again.
Breakfast is most likely to be a good opportunity for a healthy meal every day throughout the holiday period. Make a commitment to having a healthy fat-meal breakfast (eggs or yoghurt, as examples), which won’t spike your blood glucose. OR, skip breakfast some, or many, days during the next couple of weeks. Make a conscious decision to extend the period each day when you don’t eat. If you finish dinner by 7pm and eat nothing till ‘brunch’, you’ll do a 16 hour fast with little effort.
4) Don’t be near temptation when you’re hungry.
Don’t do the holiday shop when you’re hungry – you’re far more likely to put junk in the trolley. Don’t arrive at a drinks/nibbles party hungry. If you know that you’re going to an event with nibbles, rather than a proper meal, don’t go hungry. Either have your normal meal before hand, so that you know you can resist anything. Or have a light meal before the party, which will keep your blood glucose stable – e.g. an omelette and salad – and then look for the real food options on the buffet.
5) Drink a glass of water before going out and/or when you arrive at an event.
Not everyone is well hydrated all the time – especially in the winter when the central heating dehydrates us. You may be thirsty, rather than hungry. Fruit can be 95% water and even meat can be 75% water, so you may be craving liquid rather than food.
6) Clean your teeth before going out.
Most food tastes gross on top of toothpaste, so have a nice, fresh mouth, which you won’t want to stuff with crisps. Put on your best lippy (girls!) and be determined not to spoil your make up, or get bits in your teeth. Stay looking your best, because you have sensibly eaten at a normal meal time, before the party.
7) Be too busy to eat.
There are always other people at parties, which means that there are always other things to do. Be too busy chatting and listening to get to the buffet. You can’t hold a drink and a plate and be animated at the same time, so don’t pick up a plate. If there’s music – dance the night away, rather than eating the night away. You can always be a super-helper – which makes you a wonderful guest, not just a healthy eating guest. Help to serve drinks. Help to tidy plates away. Stroke the family pet. Spot the person looking a bit lost and strike up a conversation. Look for something to do other than eating.
8) Don’t waste ‘cheating’.
The classic Phase 3 tip applies big time during the festive season. If you want Christmas pudding and brandy butter – have it. Don’t have a dry mince pie thinking that this will satisfy you. You’ll only want the Christmas pudding and brandy butter and will probably have this in addition to the mince pie. Make a conscious choice to have what you want; eat it slowly; savour every mouthful and make it worthwhile.
Don’t ever eat something just because it’s there or because you’ve eaten other rubbish that day, so why not eat a bit more. Every cheat that you have should be worth it – something that you really fancy. You should never cheat to the extent that you’ll feel stuffed and uncomfortable. Cheating should be a conscious choice and it should feel indulgent. If it is unconscious, mindless and/or it makes you feel guilty, it’s not fun, so don’t do it.
9) Never be within arm’s reach of junk.
Make sure that you are never within reach of junk at any time during the festive period. Home parties usually end up being kitchen based and there are nuts, crisps, cheese cubes etc on the table. Don’t stand next to the crisps/nuts at parties. Don’t sit near the box of chocolates in the living room. Make sure that any nibbles are well out of your reach. You would be shocked by how much you could eat while chatting to other guests. At drinks parties, have one hand on your clutch bag and the other on your drink – no spare hands for the canapés. (Guys – stick the spare hand in your pocket.)
10) Don’t let feeders sabotage your good intentions.
For some strange reason people try to get you to eat junk over Christmas. They think they’re being nice, but they’re not. Just say “no thank you” if someone tries to push junk onto you. Keep repeating "no thank you" until they get the message. Caring hosts support your health choices – they don’t sabotage them. Have cake if you really want it, but don’t have cake to be polite – your health is more important.
11) No mindless eating at all.
Christmas comes with ‘screens’. We all watch some TV over Christmas and we all spend some time on the computer – maybe sales shopping or catching up on emails to escape relatives for a few minutes! We are also on our phones texting Happy Christmas or Happy New Year or sending photos to friends. There will be a lot of screen time, so let’s all pledge together now “NO EATING WHILE SCREENING!”
I can easily munch my way through a 100g bar of 85% cocoa dark chocolate while working at my PC and have absolutely no recollection of having done so. It is so easy to be working on something interesting or watching a programme on TV and to realise that you’ve obviously just finished something, but have no recollection of having eaten it. What a waste.
If you’re settling down to watch something, have a glass of water in your hand and you’ll find that you mindlessly sip, rather than mindlessly munch, and you’ll be wonderfully hydrated by the end of the engrossing film.
12) Be on high impulse alert.
Did you know that 7 out of 10 confectionery purchases are made on impulse? 7 out of 10! The builder going in to the newsagent and habitually buying a Mars bar and the newspaper each day is the minority shopper. The majority walked into a petrol station not planning to buy anything and came out with a bag of Maltesers. Ever done that?!
This is why junk is placed at the checkouts and the confectionery racks in the garage line up in parallel with the queue to pay. It is all designed to make you buy things that you didn’t intend to buy. Confectionery companies even study exactly where your eyes are drawn to on the display, so that you buy their product. This isn’t your choice you know!
This impulse manipulation goes on all year round. The extra challenge at Christmas is that it escalates to an omnipresent level. Did you notice how early the displays in the supermarkets were there for Christmas junk? Puddings, cakes, biscuits, mince pies, chocolates – all looking like such irresistible bargains that we didn’t feel we could leave them on the shelves. The pyramid of ‘must have’ greets you at the entrance to the store and then, every time you turn into a new aisle, the ‘bargains’ are on the end displays (the fake food manufacturers pay heavily to get those positions) or they are in bargain-bucket-type-baskets, which you almost fall over in the aisles.
Don’t let these manipulative fake food companies get your cash and ruin your good intentions – be one of the 3 in 10 smart shoppers every time.
For the final thought – don’t see the festive season as 10 days of overeating. Usually Christmas Day is the single biggest challenge and then Boxing Day you can get your boots on and go for a walk and have a super healthy eating day. You can even sneak in a five day Phase 1 between Christmas and New Year – don’t think of the last week of December as a write-off.
Then join us on January 1st 2018 for a 14 Day Blitz and you’ll zap any cheats that you decided to have.
Happy Christmas to you all and see you again in the New Year!