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How to indulge healthily this festive season

December 23, 2020

Editor’s note: Olivia Ashfield is a registered nutritional therapist with a background in science and education. She has a particular interest in women’s health, hormone balance, and energy optimization. Olivia is based in London and offers online consultations. She is related to to an AFN staffer; this article represents her views, and not necessarily those of AFN.

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. I thought it would be useful to share some tips on how you can still enjoy all the wonderful things that Christmas has to offer, but not completely fall off the bandwagon!

As a nutritional therapist who comes from a foodie family, I don’t like to focus on rigid rules. Instead, I seek to educate clients so they can make better choices to improve their wellbeing. To do this, I take a functional medicine approach, trying to get to the root cause of an illness rather than focusing on symptoms in isolation, and incorporating the most up-to-date scientific and evidence-based research to help clients overcome their health barriers.

With that in mind, here are my tips for feasting healthily this festive season:

Eat mindfully

Be fully present when eating and savor the taste. If we are distracted when eating — for example, when watching television — it can cause us to mindlessly throw food into our mouths, and before we know it we’ve eaten a whole packet of cookies!

Take a moment to check-in with yourself: Are you eating it because you really want it or just because it is there? You can still enjoy your favourite things, be it mince pies, chocolates or (a personal weakness) Turkish delight, but make sure you really want it and savor every mouthful.

Stock up on fruit and vegetables

Don’t forget about your daily portions of fruit and veg. When having a meal aim for at least half of your plate to be made up of vegetables, and in a wide range of colors to maximize your nutrient intake.

Have healthy snacks to hand

A bowl of clementines, vegetable crudités and dips, olives, nuts — preferably ones you have to crack yourself to slow down your consumption — or dates is perfect if you want something sweet.

Include protein with every meal and snack

This will help balance your blood sugar levels, prevent afternoon energy slumps and sugar cravings, and help you feel fuller for longer.

Keep hydrated

Make sure you are drinking water throughout the day. Not only will this help to reduce hangovers, but it can also help you to eat less. Water is also crucial for digestion and elimination.

Often when we are dehydrated we can confuse it with feeling hungry. So if you are feeling hungry, try having a glass of water first to see if the feeling of hunger subsides. If you don’t fancy water, herbal teas also add to your daily intake and can have some additional benefits. Peppermint or ginger teas, for example, help with digestion. Camomile and passionflower are perfect at the end of the day to help you unwind and promote a good nights sleep. Licorice or cinnamon are good if you fancy something sweeter.

Watch your alcohol intake

You are more likely to eat higher calorie foods after drinking alcohol; couple that with the fact it dehydrates you which, as mentioned above, may also lead to an increased appetite. I’m not saying don’t have a drink (I will definitely be partaking in some fizz!) but make sure you are drinking enough water and try alternating with a soft drink. Or try some non-alcoholic cocktails – there are so many great brands now, including Seedlip, Bax Botanics, Mother Root, and Æcorn. Angostura bitters with soda or tonic and a squeeze of lime is also a refreshing drink and a bit more exciting than plain water!

Keep active

It can be tempting to sit on the sofa all day and watch back to back Christmas classics on TV. Instead, encourage the family to get active at some point in the day – whether it’s a long walk (or even 15 minutes is better than nothing), some competitive party games, or a good boogie to some festive tunes. Or if you’re feeling particularly energetic, try a few squats while waiting for the kettle to boil!

Enjoy some downtime

Rest, nap, slow down. We’ve had quite the year, stress levels have been high, and it is important to allow our bodies to rest and reset.

And most of all… have fun!

If you overindulge it’s not the end of the world. Give yourself a break and make up for it after Christmas!

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