Getting the balance right over Christmas

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While I may be passionate about nutrition, I’m equally passionate about food. So, one of the reasons I like this time of year is it gives me the opportunity to consuming things that don’t turn up too often on the menu during the rest of the year. Deep down in me there’s a bit of hedonist, actually, and this most certainly does manifest in my eating habits around this time.

As a result, I genuinely sympathise with individuals who find that the quantity and variety of foods often available during the holidays leads to some overindulgence. This may not only cause digestive discomfort and post-meal sleepiness, but can also mean that by the New Year we can feel seriously blurred around the edges.

Getting the balance between genuine, guilt-free enjoyment and overindulgence over the festive season is not necessarily easy, so I’ve added a piece here that addresses this issue head-on. In it, you find a few simple suggestions that can just help to keep a natural lid on the amount of food you consume. The piece also offers some simple steps that can be taken to assist the digestive process.

One piece of advice I’d like to add relates to water. I featured this fluid in Monday’s blog with regard to the prevention of hangovers. The reason that I mention it here is that at this time there can be a tendency to forget about water, partly because there is often so much else on offer. As a result, individuals can easily find themselves getting a bit dehydrated, which usually impacts quite quickly on general well-being and energy levels. It can also cause us to be thirsty, which may have us reaching for the beer/gin and tonic/cola because, quite frankly, it’s there. Basically, individuals who make a commitment to keep up a good water habit will almost certainly end up drinking less healthy stuff quite naturally. Merry Christmas.

Observer Column – 21st December 2003
As a big believer in the concept that food is something to be enjoyed and savoured, I am not one to encourage particular dietary restraint at this time of year (it is Christmas, after all). However, I am also mindful of the fact that the sort of overindulgence typical over the festive season can leave many of us feeling distinctly blurred around the edges. The usual round of social engagements and a glut of tempting food have us feeling uncomfortably full by the end of the day, and uncomfortable about how well we fill our clothes by the end of the year. Christmas is coming, and it’s not just the goose that may be getting fat.

I thought I’d use this special time of year to bring some glad tidings: believe it or not, it can be possible to have a very merry Christmas without causing our waistline or weight to balloon. Some savvy dietary tactics can help us to exercise some control over the quality and quantity of the food we consume over the holiday season, but without fostering feelings of deprivation or sacrifice. Establishing a decent breakfast is a good start to the day, as it often does wonders to reduce the risk of over-eating later on. Unfortunately, many of us can be tempted to eschew breakfast in an attempt to compensate for the anticipated food-fest to come. This usually turns out to be a false economy, however, as going without food early on can increase the risk of us gorging ourselves later on.

Precisely what we eat at breakfast can have a bearing on its appetite quelling effects. High carb breakfasts such as cereal and toast can cause surges of blood sugar that may be overcompensated for leading to low blood sugar about three or four hours later. This can trigger a ravenous appetite and a tendency to crack into dreadful edibles such as cheese straws or chocolate pretzels by late morning. I suggest getting some protein into the body early on in the day, as this generally helps to sustain blood sugar levels and keep hunger nicely under control. Scrambled or poached eggs or smoked salmon would do very well for this, perhaps accompanied by some rye bread or toast and some grilled tomatoes. Some may find that snacking can reduce the risk of over-eating at meals, and may benefit from grabbing a satsuma or two as they go. Other healthy foods to be had between meals include nuts, olives and dates. Nuts and olives can be particularly useful for dulling the appetite-sharpening effects of an aperitif before lunch or dinner.

By evening out our food intake, healthy snacking reduces the risk of us overwhelming our digestive system at meal time. Other things that can assist the digestive process is to chew food thoroughly and to avoid quaffing too much fluid at the meal itself (fluid dilutes and tends to impair the function of the digestive secretions). Another useful ploy is to take what are known as digestive enzymes (available in health food stores) after meals. Digestive enzymes assist the body in its digestive duties, and can reduce the risk of indigestion and a feeling of inertia after meals. Tactical eating and giving digestion a helping hand can really help to make sure that it’s only the turkey that gets well-stuffed over Christmas.

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