Cooking a feast that would feed the 5,000 is as much a tradition in my family as baubles and after dinner charades. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without spuds cooked in dripping, a few too many tipples and turkey sandwiches for days.
But if you’re trying to lose/maintain weight or simply stay on track with healthy eating, December can feel like a snowballing diet disaster.
Bringing a Tupperware box full of chicken and broccoli to your festive family get-togethers is the kind of Christmas behaviour that will summon a visit from Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past in later life, but, thankfully, there is a more realistic way to stay on track over Christmas.
December doesn’t have to be the antithesis of healthy eating. You don’t HAVE to emerge on New Year’s Day from a month-long carb and booze coma, vowing never to let alcohol or chocolate pass your lips ever again.
I want to share some tips that will help you enjoy Christmas whilst staying on track of your goals. First, I want to talk about something really important which underpins all of these tips.
DITCH THE FOOD GUILT!
I despise the phrase “guilt-free” when used as an adjective for food.
You know that image that’s doing the rounds… “1 mince pie = 200 burpees”, “1 Reeses Butter Cup = 500 million squats” etc? Well, that’s a similar kind of bullsh*t way of thinking about food that really doesn’t help anyone, either.
Let me make something really clear: exercise ISN’T punishment for eating, and food isn’t inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s just food.
Simply because you’ve never seen it on Deliciously Ella’s Instagram feed or it’s high in carbs, sugar, or fat, does not make a food ‘naughty’—it is still JUST food.
My issue with labelling foods as ‘good’ v ‘bad’ stems from the fact that, yes, you might feel pretty righteous while your diet is going well and you’re avoiding all those ‘bad’ foods, but NO-ONE can be ‘good’ ALL the time. Especially at Christmas.
If you’re trying to go cold turkey on the food you enjoy then, at some point, your will power WILL fail. You’ll give in to temptation. Someone might bring mince pies into the office when you’re having a crappy day and you’ll accidentally inhale 3 of them as you walk past the ‘treat table’. Maybe you’ll go to a party with friends, have one too many Strawberry Daiquiris and end up in the Kebab shop.
Life is an endless stream of birthdays, celebrations, social events and holidays – you can’t avoid these things, they have to be considered part of the plan.
So you eat something ‘bad’, then what?
If you’re not eating ‘clean’ you’re eating dirty. You’re on the naughty list, right? You’re left to curse your weak-will and your pathetic attempt at eating well. Who were you kidding? Shame, shame, I know your name. You’re a failure, no?
No. You’re human. Like every 7 billion other human on the planet, including the ones with 6-packs and Instagram accounts filled with arty images of buckwheat salads and kale smoothies.
That kind of guilt-inducing thought process can establish unnecessary disordered thoughts about eating and the biggest problem is that that feeling of failure usually leads to one thing – throwing in the towel completely.
You tried, you failed, you might as well eat the entire selection box. < THIS is where it all goes wrong!
What if, instead of eating half a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and thinking ‘well, I’ve blown it now… f*ck it’ and troffing the rest, you simply enjoy the hell outta that half a Chocolate Orange, feel zero guilt about it and move right on with the rest of your day/week/month knowing that you’ve blown nothing?
My point is, the secret to long-term diet success is in balance, moderation and overall consistency, not in rigidly adhering to a list of forbidden or ‘banned’ foods. And this is just as true at Christmas, when temptation with those typically forbidden foods is literally EVERYWHERE!
Think of the big picture
In the context of a usually nutritionally balanced diet, one single indulgence—or even multiple indulgences over a couple of days—is not going to ruin all your hard work. Instead, zoom out to the whole week, the whole month even – how does your diet look now? That Chocolate Orange is no longer significant in the grand scheme of things, is it?
Overall consistency matters more.
PLEASE keep this in mind over Christmas!
Just like one or two perfectly nutritious meals won’t give you a six pack (I know, the injustice!), one or two indulgent meals won’t mean you have to cut another hole in your belt. Allow yourself to cut loose for a day (or two) of booze and roasts if you need to.
What matters is that you don’t let that day or two become a week, two weeks, a month…
Don’t fall into the guilt cycle of binge-‘detox’. Show yourself some love and simply get back on track the next day like nothing ever happened! It will feel revolutionary and you won’t fall off your wagon completely.
My online client, @ladykatepole, understands and practices this concept and I was suuuuper proud this morning to see her on Instagram giving this same message. Her explanation is much more eloquent than my ramblings will ever be…
With that important point said, here are a few more specific tips that will also help you avoid Christmas diet-pocalypse.
#1 Zone-in on the protein and veg
Christmas dinner is full of many, many amazing things. Pigs in blankets, roast potatoes cooked in goose fat, chestnut stuffing and Beef Wellington. Mmmmm *Cue Homer Simpson drooool*. But it is also full of some really nutritious things too: roast parsnips, carrots, sprouts, lean meat in the form of that big ass turkey…
When you sit down to eat, enjoy a little of what you love (of course) but try and focus on the veg and lean protein. Plenty of veg will help fill you up without blowing the calorie bank and the protein will help with satiety, too.
Go BIG on the veg and lean protein, eat slowly, savouring every mouthful and when it comes to pudding, you’ll be too full for a second (or third) helping. 😜
#2 Food before booze
Anyone who has ever drunkenly snaffled down a 2am chicken box with cheesy chips in whatever is your local equivalent of ‘Pickin’ Chicken’ will know that alcohol makes you hungrier than a werewolf on a super moon and/or reduces your self-control dial right down to ‘0’.
Eat first, then drink when you’re full and you might be less likely to eat ALL of the food.
Drink plenty of water too, it will keep you hydrated and help your body cope with the alcohol and carb fest.
#3 Don’t waste calories on ‘meh’ foods
It’s Christmas – food is EVERYWHERE! But don’t eat for the sake of it – learn to ignore the ‘meh’ foods and only eat the things you really love.
Some dry old Asda yule log that’s been sitting on the buffet all afternoon—meh, pass. Those are pointless calories.
Your sweet old Aunt who you only see once a year has made her famous boozy Christmas trifle—now that’s the good shit right there! Have a big old bowl of that and savour every mouthful. There is love in those calories.
Really enjoy eating what you love. Then move on with your life.
#4 Don’t stop working out
There’s nothing like a change in routine to throw you off an exercise or nutrition plan. Despite the chaos of Christmas, try and stay on track with your workout programme as much as you can.
Pole studio and gym closed? Do some HIIT bodyweight training at home and maybe change your focus to conditioning and flexibility while you have an enforced break from the pole.
Even just a short 20 minute cardio workout every day will help to keep your momentum going and a change in routine will do you good.
#5 Step away from the scales
I say this year round anyway—body fat measurements, feeling how snugly your clothes fit or simply seeing how your body looks in the mirror are much better indicators of your progress, especially if you are weight training and building muscle—but if you are a habitual scale dweller, you might want to put the scales away for the holidays.
A sudden influx of carbs over Christmas can cause your body to hold onto more water than usual, which can easily equate to a few alarming pounds on the scales.
Eat, pole and be merry! But then get back to your usual workout and eating patterns before the New Year hits! Your body is on a constant mission for homeostasis and after a week or so, you should be back to normal with no harm done.
Is getting strong one of your 2018 pole goals? Start the New Year with a fully personalised online training programme, including nutrition guidance + 1-to-1 support to get your new year off to the right start. You can find out more about my online personal training programmes for pole dancers here.