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How to stay lean and healthy during the Christmas holidays

It’s that time of the year again when we reunite with family, friends and loved ones to celebrate the Christmas holidays. This is a time to rejoice, reconnect, reunite and restore – but also a time for over-indulgence. Eating and drinking take center stage, sometimes at the cost of all the hard work you have put in during the rest of the year to stay fit and trim!

Fear not! Here are my top tips on how to stay lean and healthy during the holiday season. The good news is that you don’t have to follow all of them – just pick the ones that resonate with you the most or the ones that you are 100% confident that you can commit to and put into action in the midst of the Christmas tour-de-force.

Before the holidays: Preparation

  • Train your taste buds: 2 weeks before the holidays, reset your taste buds by avoiding processed and sweet foods. This way, when you eat something sweet or refined, it will taste a lot stronger (and less appealing) so you eat less of it.

  • Be prepared: Stock up on healthy foods and snacks to bring with you, either for home or for travels.

  • Extra workouts: Try to fit-in a few extra workouts in the 2 weeks leading up to the holidays. This way, you will burn some extra calories and pre-empt the less active time over the holidays.

During the holidays: Food

  • Start the day with a wholesome breakfast: This should include good proteins, healthy fats and veggies. This combination will help balance your blood sugar levels and you will be less likely to over-eat later in the day.

  • Build your plate wisely: Each meal should include veggies and proteins. Sequencing is important: Eat the veggies first, then the proteins, then whatever else is being served. This way you’ll be more likely to be full before getting to the ‘bad stuff’. Also, avoid sauces that come with meats, which are usually full of unhealthy fats and thickeners.

  • Choose food wisely: Eat what you LOVE instead of what you LIKE.

  • Eat mindfully: It sounds simple, but this is very powerful. Take the time to choose (and savor) the food you really want to eat. Actively focusing on enjoying the smells, tastes, and textures of each bite will naturally help you slow down and stop eating when you're full. A normal meal should take a minimum 20 minutes to consume (tip: put your utensils down in between bites to slow down your eating … that’s the time to talk to friends and family sitting at the dining table).

  • Avoid high risk food: Limit your consumption of refined “white carbs” (pasta, bread, mashed potatoes), sweets (cakes, cookies) and sugary drinks to twice a week only. Remember that those foods are very calorie-dense with little to no nutritional value.

  • Try the ‘three-bites rule’ for desserts: Eat only three bites of a dessert. This is enough to fully enjoy the treat without taking-in all the empty calories from eating the entire portion

  • It’s ok to say ‘No’: Don’t feel pressured to eat seconds or thirds when you are already full. You are the one “paying” for ingesting the extra calories, so take charge and politely decline any unnecessary food.

  • Plan ahead: When in doubt about what food is going to be served at a gathering or at a restaurant, eat beforehand so you can be even more selective at the gathering.

  • Don’t fast before a big meal: Low blood sugar from hunger raises cortisol levels, which leads to cravings for food that are fatty, salty and sugary. Instead of “saving up” for the big meal, nibble on healthy snacks like raw fruits, nuts and veggies beforehand to avoid a full-blown “gorge-fest”.

  • Eat well when you are alone: This is the time when you are in control of the quality and quantity of your meals, so make the most out of it.

  • Be the host: If possible, host a gathering at your place, so you are in control of the food served.

During the holidays: Drinks

  • Keep hydrated: Sip water (or herbal tea) regularly throughout the day. The more hydrated you are, the fuller you’ll feel and the less food (and calories) you’ll want to, or be able to, consume.

  • Go easy on the booze: Choose light beer, wine, vodka, tequila and gin instead of piña coladas, long island iced tea, margaritas, daiquiris, sangria and various fruity cocktails. Drink water in between each alcoholic drink to prevent dehydration (this also makes you drink less alcohol overall).

During the holidays: Lifestyle

  • Get plenty of sleep: When we are tired, a hormone called leptin (which regulates appetite) down-regulates, making us feel hungrier than usual during the day. This leads to excess calorie consumption and lethargy. Get your 8 hours of shut-eye every night!

  • Schedule your workouts: Try and exercise in the morning, so you get your workout out of the way and no other sudden commitments can get in the way.

  • Work out the day after you arrive at your destination: The sooner you move your body, the sooner you will reset your internal clock and combat jet lag. This will lead to better hormonal balance and sleep, which are the keystone for maintaining healthy metabolism and body composition.

  • Be realistic with the frequency of your workouts: If you usually workout 5 times per week, aim for at least 2-3 workouts during the holidays.

  • Go for walks in between meals: It’s a great way to improve digestion, burn extra calories and get some fresh air (also, it gets you out of the house and away from the food!).

… and last but not least

  • Don’t beat yourself up … it’s the holidays after all: Feeling guilty after eating food you don't usually have can create more unhealthy behaviors. Self-loathing adds more stress on your mind than it’s worth! Give yourself permission to enjoy an indulgence without guilt, and then get back on track with your normal eating the next day.

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