It happens every year, that cyclical process that see’s us strive to get in shape ready for summer, only for us to then let go of the reins on and around Christmas day!
The problem is that it doesn’t just start on Christmas day does it, of course it’s the whole build up to Christmas that causes the damage, a sustained drip feed of calories over time! Festivities start earlier and earlier these days, so as that 1st door on the advent calendar is cracked open an emotional switch seems to flick on that see’s us plough into cheese, chocolate, meat and fizzy pop and booze. It’s almost like we enter a ‘self-destruct’ state of mind that disregards the goals we had before the 1st December.
For some people Christmas is about letting go, accepting that it’s going to be a bad month and embracing that fact…and that’s fine, sort of. I say sort of because I think if we were to all look back on the damage our ‘binge’ attitude does to our bodies inside and out, then I’ve no doubt we would think twice. However, I won’t be a hypocrite and will admit that I too eat a little more than I would normally throughout the year, but what I do aim to do is damage limit.
So as we get nearer and nearer to the big day, here are 5 tips you can apply to make Christmas an enjoyable, but albeit a little healthier time of the month…
Number 1: Get a solid breakfast every morning
Never has breakfast been more important than in the build up to Christmas, especially when it comes to reducing binges!
Breakfast not only improves concentration and energy, but it also regulates blood sugar levels straight off the bat. Wake up and skip breakfast at your peril, the lack of starchy carbs and protein will set you up for an up and down morning, literally and metaphorically. Failure to get slow releasing starches and lean protein in you first thing (such as oats and eggs) is going to increase your chances of peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels, these ups and downs in blood sugar will leave you feeling socially dismissive, agitated, low in energy, plus it will make you want to eat ALL DAY LONG!
You could do a lot worse than 2 rashers of turkey bacon and 2 scrambled eggs…hey, it is Christmas after all.
Number 2: Use smaller plates
During my time as a Dietitian in the NHS Hospitals and private practice, we regularly encouraged the use of smaller plates, in fact we also offered the option of buying perfectly segmented plates that direct the consumer on ideal portions for each food group.
Smaller plates may sound harsh, but they’re not, trust me when I say that you can easily get enough meat, potato, veg and gravy on a slightly smaller plate and still have room for stuffing, pigs in blankets and cranberry sauce! A recent study by Wansink and Van Ittersum, (2013) established that plate size significantly effects the amount we eat. Put simply, people who had a larger plate put 52% more food on their plate and ate 45% more than those with smaller plates.
It doesn’t have to be overly restrictive, you can still eat til you feel full, the key here is that humans generally have distorted perceptions of what ‘full’ is and when we’ve actually reached it. So try this little tactic at the dinner table and see how you get on.
Number 3: Raise the barriers
Put locks on your chocolate tin and put the cheese board within a ring of fire, this usually works well! OK I joke (unless you want to try it), but bad jokes aside, barriers are useful when it comes to decision making. Like everything, humans like the path of least resistance, so the less convenient something is the less likely you are to eat or drink it. Small inconveniences include keeping lids on the chocolates, placing the box in a less commonly used cupboard.
It also works the other way, so try placing healthier options in more accessible and obvious locations. Put healthy food options on the middle shelves in fridges (eye line), at the front of the snack cupboards, and make sure fruit is available in the fruit bowl. REMEMBER, a vitamin and mineral is for life, not just for Christmas.
Number 4: Keep waste in view
Yes, we do waste too much food as a nation, but what I mean by ‘keeping waste in view’ is to leave the bones of chicken, or the wrappers of sweets on the side (at least til your Mum or partner tells you off) just as a subtle reminder of how much you’ve already had to eat.
The science backs this theory too, with one of the most famous studies being the Wansink, Painter and North bottomless soup bowl research. This very clever study demonstrated how humans are visually prompted to eat even when they don’t necessarily need to. The way they did this was by slowly and continuously filling the participant’s soup bowl via a tube located under the table. As you’d expect the volume of soup didn’t go down, which interestingly led to the participants eating soup for the sake of finishing their bowl.
So by leaving bones on the plate in the middle of the table, or by keeping sweet wrappers in view whilst eating ties into the visual prompt demonstrated in the above study. Try it, see if you can make it work for you and/or your family.
Number 5: Stick to the one handful rule
Yes, this is a mind-set thing, it’s all very well knowing that a handful of nuts or crisps is better than having 2, 3 or more, but the battle is between you and your discipline. I find that understanding the consequences of something makes us more likely to comply. So try remembering this when you have your hands in the nuts…wait, that sounds wrong! Nuts, crisps and chocolates are highly calorific, so calorific it’s horrific!
Although nuts are dense in fatty acids, minerals and trace elements, you would only need 3-4 handfuls (depending on your hand size) to exceed the calories of an average large roast dinner…that’s 600-800 calories by the way!
Try to remember that the next time you’re chowing down handfuls of sugary or salty snacks.
So although Christmas time is about being happy, jolly and sociable, and of course helping those less fortunate and in need, there are some simple fixes you can make to your diet to ensure you still help yourself throughout the festivities.
Give these 5 tips a go and set yourself up for the best possible start to 2016!
Wansink, B., Painter, J. E. and North, J. 2005. “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake.” Obesity 13 (1): 93–100. doi:10.1038/oby.2005.12.
Wansink, B., and van Ittersum, K. 2013. “Portion Size Me: Plate-Size Induced Consumption Norms and Win-Win Solutions for Reducing Food Intake and Waste.”Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 19 (4): 320–32. doi:10.1037/a0035053.