How to be healthy at Christmas*
*without restriction and food guilt
Turn off the diet culture messaging
Christmas and New Year can really bring up a lot of stress about food and exercise. It can evoke feelings of food fear and guilt, as well as overwhelm. This is undoubtedly exacerbated by all the diet culture messaging that's so hard to avoid.
How many of these have you seen ?
'healthy' versions of Christmas recipes that taste awful
how to stay lean/not put on weight over Christmas
how to burn off those Christmas lbs
how to fit into your little black dress
how to be good over Christmas
get ready for your January diet/detox
The list is endless.....
If it's magazine, newspaper, tv programme, social media messaging then throw away, turn off, mute or unfollow. No-one should be making you feel bad about your body and your food choices, especially over Christmas. If it's your friends, colleagues or family, this is a little harder but setting boundaries can help. If you feel confident to do so, tell them that you don't wish to talk about diets or exercise, then stick to not engaging if the subject comes up. Thank them for their understanding but if they don't get the message, or you're not able to set out your boundaries, then politely change the subject, or disengage from the conversation if you can. Most importantly, don't feel bad about doing this. This is a great example of self-care in a stressful time. You should find that the more you're able to do this, the easier it becomes and the better you feel.
I think it's also a timely reminder that despite the constant messaging to the contrary, health is not inextricably associated with weight. It's a lot more complex than that (think genes, social and economic factors, illness and disease, lifestyle factors etc). Being thin does not necessarilly equate to health and more importantly, the yo-yo of weight loss and gain through dieting is actually more harmful to your health in the long run.
You don't need permission to eat
This is something to remember all year round but especially at Christmas when you may be feeling guilty about eating festive, party foods. Our bodies need food and adhering to rigid rules around what you should or shouldn't be eating results in a lack of flexibility about what or when you can eat, regardless of your bodies hunger and fullness cues. Let's face it, this makes you feel stressed, anxious and generally rubbish. If you're hungry, you need to eat, otherwise you can end up overreating later and probably not actually enjoying the food.
Avoid the binge/restrict cycle
Linked to permission to eat (or lack of), when you avoid or restrict certain foods because you believe them to be 'bad' or 'treat' foods, you naturally place them on a pedestal and crave them all the more. This often leads to what's known as the 'last supper mentality' and overreating them once you 'give in' to this craving. At Christmas there may be a tendency to starve yourself before a meal or night out, to save the calories. Again, this is likely to result in overreating and feeling bad afterwards, both mentally and physically. I would advise that if you're hungry, eat something, even if it's just a small snack to prevent this binge/restrict cycle.
Things to add into your routine
It might seem counter-intuitive but I'm definitely a nutritionist who advocates looking at what you can add into your diet, not take away. Over Christmas, I would recommend adding in as many fruits and veggies as you can to ensure you're getting sufficient vitamins, minerals and fibre. This is important as party foods taste great but tend to be a bit lacking on this front. Hello beige food..... !! Add in as much hydration as possible, especially if you're drinking alcohol and because festive food may be saltier than you're used to. This could be water, cordial, fruit juice or tea. Finally, add in some movement. This might mean continuing with your exercise routine, but getting out for a walk is just as good. Studies have shown how beneficial getting out into nature is for our wellbeing. Plus natural light is important for our circadian rhythm, helping with sleep.
Be kind to yourself
'Tis the season of goodwill and this includes to yourself. Don't put yourself under too much pressure when it comes to food, exercise and health. Feeling overwhelmed or stressed may lead to a loss of control through emotional eating. Finding alternative ways to manage your emotions is helpful. What relaxes you ? This might be reading a good book, getting out for a walk, some yoga, a bath, listening to a podcast or music, or spending quality time with loved ones. Christmas is literally once a year and it's what you do over the rest of the year, your overall habits, that really make a difference. A week or so of enjoying some down-time, some lovely food - without guilt - with family and friends is what it's all about. When you look back in 10, 20 years time, it's these enjoyable memories that will matter, not how much you weighed, or what clothes size you were.
How intuitive eating principles can help
Many of the tips here are based upon the principles of intutive eating, such as rejecting the diet mentality, making peace with food, discovering the satisfaction factor of food, coping with your emotions with kindess, gentle movment and gentle nutrition. These principles work at any time of the year but I genuinely believe they are even more important at Christmas.
If this is something you'd like to learn more about, I've written some articles which you can find here: https://www.rachelfletchernutrition.com/blog/categories/intuitive-eating
If you'd like to find out how intuitive eating can help YOU, book a free discovery call with me here: https://calendly.com/rachelfletchernutrition/15min