There’s so much noise at the moment about food and exercise at Christmas that I was actually reluctant to share this post. It feels like there’s so much judgement coming from every angle - train or don’t train, think about what you eat or indulge - it’s actually really tricky to work out where you stand and what works for you as an individual. At least that’s what I’ve found. I’m not mega into indulgence. I don’t like feeling really full, but I also have a sweet tooth and a tendency to eat anything that’s there almost on autopilot, so when there’s lots of treats around I actually have to be pretty mindful about what I eat if I want to avoid feeling really tired and sluggish (something I can struggle with at the best of times). For me personally the festive season is about balance and mindfulness. Enjoying food, feeling well and moving as I please.
Starving, sprouts and strolls: how to step into Christmas healthily
When an email falls into my inbox with this type of subject line I hit delete. Mostly because it’s probably going to be some PR promoting some weird diet food or silly transformation program, which are really not my thing. However, this one came from the guys at Warwick University so out of solidarity for fellow academics I figured I’d give it a read (plus I was fairly sure they wouldn’t be telling me how some weird tea would give me a flat tummy and a bangin’ booty overnight…).
Digging into the release it was clear that the message here wasn’t about cosmetic beauty or punishing yourself for eating, but rather about how to have a properly balanced festive season - just what I need! Yeah some of it was poorly phrased (‘you can offset some of the effects of Christmas overindulgence’ - I know what you’re getting at, but it could land better), but actually the tips seemed pretty sound and like they’ll actually help me enjoy food more over the festive period, without feeling like I’ve swallowed concrete blocks.
According to Dr James Gill, a GP and lecturer at Warwick Medical School (and a participant on The Island with Bear Grylls, although I’m not sure that really adds to his credentials), “the most common mistake [I hate that word in the context of eating!] people make at Christmas is trying to starve themselves before going into Christmas dinner”. Although this isn’t something I’m necessarily prone to (I will eat all day long!), it is something the clients I work with have mentioned - people fitting in extra workouts to offset Christmas dinner, or eating less now to save the calories for later. As James points out this can be false economy, “yes, you might save a fe calories…but you’ll probably be so hungry by the time dinner arrives you’ll eat more than you intended, and not taste it either!”. You know that feeling when you shovel all the food down because you are just that hungry? Where the food then sits like a brick in your stomach? Yep, me too. It’s grim, but it is avoidable, and simply by eating more consistently you’ll get more joy out of your food, which is what Christmas is all about! James suggests a healthy brekkie (bacon sarnies totally count) and snacks if you tend to have lunch later in the day - maybe crack open the fruit and nut mix your Mum always buys and no one ever eats, or snack on the satsumas from your stocking. Chocolate coins are also excellent.
Christmas walks are standard in my family. We have dogs who need to go and explore and the humans get ancy and need to be exercised, plus everyone in Oxford is out and we usually end up at the pub so it’s a pretty sociable thing to do! James is with me on this one, a festive walk is always a good idea, but he also expresses caution, “WHY are you exercising? Is it that you are trying to mitigate what you have eaten, or because you want to actually go for the walk?”. I totally agree with this sentiment, your Christmas walk should be a nice outing and definitely not something you do to either offset the food you’ve eaten. Movement shouldn’t be punishment, especially not at Christmas.
I don’t know about you, but at Christmas I tend to find that what I eat changes. Festive foods are rich and sometime a little beige, which in turn plays havoc with my stomach. Apparently I’m not alone, “at this time of year, people tend to wolf down foods which would normally never go near their plates at home” says James, and these exotic foods can make you feel gassy and bloated, which is no fun.
I always feel a bit funny writing posts like these. I genuinely don’t want to preach about food, it’s boring and really not my thing, but I do want to make sure I enjoy what I eat and James’ advice seems pretty valuable to me in that sense. I really hope this has come off the way I planned it to, as a piece reflecting on my own life and sharing what I’ve been reflecting on when it comes to eating at Christmas. As James says “ultimately when it comes to Christmas, yes it is important to look after yourself, but life is for living. For everyone out there…I would put forward the idea of ‘High days and Holidays’. If you want a piece of Christmas cake, then have some”.
** Dr James Gill is an Honorary Clinical Lecturer at Warwick Medical School and Locum GP in Warwickshire. He has a particular interest in educating people about lifestyle changes that can make their lives healthier, preventing conditions such as diabetes in the long-term. Thanks to Warwick University for sharing the insight for this piece, all opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.