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How to Stay Healthy Over Christmas!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking where the heck has the year gone. I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas! Well it is Christmas...

It’s about this time of year when healthy intentions go flying out the window as people get caught up in the festive season and start to consume daily Christmas mince pies, glasess of bubbles, chips and dip and little bowls of scorched almonds that may be dotted about the house or workplace. So I have a few simple words of wisdom to help you enjoy the holidays, to eat delicious yet nourishing foods and to perhaps start the New Year feeling healthier than you ever have before.

Now, I used to be one of those people that would feast over Christmas – feast until my belly hurt and I had to relase a button on my pants or change into a baggy dress just to cope with the influx of festive fare. I would then burn off this overly excessive intake by forcing myself to get up and run – run and run! I’d sometimes be gone for hours. Then I would come home from my run, feeling as though I’d burnt off yesterday’s food and I’d be ready to do it all over again. Oh if you could only put an older head on young shoulders!

This crazy cycle of exercising to eat is not an ideal scenario and let me tell you, it is no way to celebrate Christmas or to be kind to your forvever-giving-beautiful-body. It is in fact, doing your body harm. At a time when you’re meant to be happy and relaxed and enjoying the company of others, you may be harbouring feeings of guilt from over-eating and feeling of guilt from not exercising enough ‘to burn off’ those extra indulgences.

Over the years, I have learnt some very useful tricks that have allowed me to get to a very happy place where I now eat what I feel like until I am satisfied and keep a healthy body weight just by being active when I feel like it…and by doing what I enjoy! No longer do I force myself to run. I would much rather just get up and go for a lovely walk because I feel like stretching my legs and exploring. And because I no longer harbour feelings of guilt towards foods, I don’t feel the need to over-exercise. It’s so nice!

It’s really important to understand that a healthy, natural body weight is a weight that you can manitain by eating a nutritious diet most of the time (along with some treats now and then) and by being active by doing the things you love. Not by forcing yourself to over-exercise. That's the trick.

With that in mind here are some tips that have helped me over the years to get to where I am today:

  1. Make the most of Summer produce

Summer is such a delicious season and provides a bounty of nutritious natutrally sweet fruits that make the perfect snack or dessert. Think fresh cherries, strawberries, blackberries or boysenberries. Rather than snacking on chocolate or chips, grab a handful of cherries and see how much better you feel. Make it easier for your friends and family to be healthy and leave out bowls of berries or cherries and even smaller amounts of raw nuts rather than bowls of scorched almonds. I'm not saying avoid treats altogether but just the mindless nibbles that happen a little too often at this time of year. If you're going to have chocolate, then sit down and enjoy it and savour a small piece!

Summer also calls for fresh corn on the cob, sweet tomatoes, fresh lettuce and leafy greens meaning that there’s no excuse for not making vegetables a part of every meal. Fill up your plate with mostly colourful salads and vegetables (I’d go with 50% of your plate) and enjoy a small amount of wholegrain carbohydrates or starchy vegetables anad lean protein foods at each meal and you can’t go far wrong!

2. Remember food is not going anywhere

It always amazes me how people feast over Christmas, yet in today’s society for most people , everyday can be like Christmas. Food is so readily available, most of us are lucky enough to be able to eat what we like, when we like. So over Christmas always remember that you don’t have to go back for seconds or thirds because in reality food will be there tomorrow. And yes you will wake up and eat again! Don’t you want to bounce out of bed ready to start the day rather than laying in bed with a full belly and not wanting to eat breakfast? Or thinking that you’ll have to go for a run just to get your appetitie going again? This is the very reason why I’m much better at not over-eating anymore, I love the idea of waking up to breakfast. To think of being too full to enjoy breakfast just puts me off!

Remember food should make you feel better after eating it than you when you started. So before you eat or go back for seconds, stop and take a minute to think about how you’ll feel afterwards. If you know you will feel guilty or over-full and potentially going to force yourself to exercise to burn off seconds, I’d suggest not going back for more. It’s clearly not going to make you feel better, but much worse.

Also just think of the leftovrs you’d have for the next few days if everyone only ate until they were satisfied rather than stuffed!

3. Stay active doing what makes you happy

We are so lucky here in New Zealand to live in such a beautiful place. Surrounded by green space, beaches, parks and natives. Make the most of these long warm, Summer days and be active in a way that makes you happy. If the thought of going for a run makes you stressed out, grab a family member and go for a walk instead. Stressing out about exercise is just not worth it - it's meant to make us happy! Or try a swim at the beach, a water ski if you're lucky enough or a little cricket or frisbee throwing with the kids. You don’t have to break into a sweat to be active, just getting up and moving is important. Because let’s be honest sitting down all day and eating gets very boring and by the end of it I doubt you will enjoy your food as much as if you'd experienced some fresh air in between!

4. Don’t spoil your meals with nibbles

Those that know me know I love a good nibble but the important thing is to not let it spoil your appetite for a delicious and nutritious dinner. Just eat enough so that you are still looking forward to dinner and are still excited by the prospect of enjoying a meal. There’s no point in filling up on chips and dip and then not enjoying a meal that someone has lovingly prepared for you. To make this easier, ensure you have plenty of healthy offerings on your nibble platter such as freshly sliced peppers, cherry tomatoes, sliced carrot, cucumber and healthy dips like hummus. Add colourful fruit like cherries, grapes and berries and you have a much more nutritious nibble platter that won’t be packed with refined carbohydrates, fat and salt! And most importantly, eat just a little to ensure you still have an appetite for an enjoyable meal. You’ll thank me later – I promise! For some nutritious homemade crackers, please click here.

5. Don’t let one unhealthy day get you down

We’ve all done it, had a day where we've eaten too much. Too much food in volume and too much of the treat kind of foods! One day like this is truly not going to upset the apple cart but a few weeks may leave you feeling worse for wear. So the best thing to do in this instance is to not get down on yourself and think you have ruined your health for good but to get up the next day and enjoy a nutritious breakfast.

I’d try something like Summer fruit, Greek yoghurt and nuts or homemade muesli with fruit or perhaps some eggs with avocado on a slice of wholegrain toast. Try and be active in some way during the day by walking or swimming or playing with the kids and be sure to include plenty of vegetables along with some protein foods and healthy fats at each meal to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. I’d swap out alcohol for sparkling water flavoured with lemon or fresh mint or even some iced fruit tea.

Here are some healthy meal/snack ideas for the day after one of those days!

Breakfast: Strawberries and blueberries stirred through thick Greek yoghurt with almonds and walnuts

Snack: Vegetable sticks + hummus + 2 slices of leftover Christmas ham

Lunch: Leftover Christmas roast chicken and roasted kumara mixed with plenty of leafy greens and an olive oil lemon dressing.

Snack: Handful of cherries and two slices of cheese

Dinner: Lean steak or leftover roast beef, green salad made with spinach, sliced boiled eggs, feta, pumpkin seeds and cherry tomatoes drizzled with pesto. Potato salad made with leftover new potatoes would work nicely here too. Just enjoy a small amount!

Dessert: Berries

6. Most of all enjoy!

Christmas and the holidays are such a special time to relax, spend time with family and friends and to re-charge your mind and body for the up-coming year. While food is an integral part of this season, it’s not everything. Remember to eat foods that make you happy and kind and to enjoy spending time with those around you. If you’re always grumpy because you’ve over-eaten and are over-full, something needs to change :)

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