Finding Balance at Christmas

Finding Balance at Christmas - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

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.

Finding Balance at Christmas - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

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.

Finding Balance at Christmas - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

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.










How to Have a Healthyish Christmas

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Is it just me, or does life right now feel like one big party?! Last weekend we went to two Christmas get togethers, and next weekend we'll be hitting another two. Then there are work festive parties, family gatherings and impromptu trips to the pub (and Fortnum's champagne bar!) - this time of year is a marathon, not a sprint! So how do you get a little balance at a time when excess is very much the norm? Last week I caught up with the dynamic duo that is Wellness Ed and Wellness Ted at Lululemon Regent Street to hear their thoughts on having a healthy-ish Christmas - because if anyone knows balance it's these two. 

Fitness

Exercise at Christmas is all about listening to your body and feeling good - if you're mega hungover a HITT workout probably isn't the best idea, just think about all the things that could go wrong when you shake up a dodgy stomach! Instead switch it up and go for some nice low intensity, steady state movement instead (aka mindless podcast pace). In fact, if you're drowning in a hangover it's probably best just to stay home and rest up, alcohol slows down muscle growth and recovery, so you could end up doing yourself more harm than good. 

No time to train? Work more movement in to every day life - get off the tube early and walk to work, take the stairs, dance your ass off at the work Christmas party - every little helps. Oh and you could always run home from your night out...

Drinking

We've all done it, gone on a night out promising ourselves we'd alternate drinks being sure to glug down a pint of water between every shot and it never ever happens. The solution? Don't try. Well ok, drink in moderation, but try vodka lime and soda (alcohol and hydration in one!), skip the shots and sugary cocktails (all of the empty calories), and get expensive taste in wine (if you order a nice drink you'll make it last longer, maybe). 

Ok, so it's not really about drinking, but socialising is good for your mental health, and you will definitely regret the nights you stay in nursing a green juice rather than heading out to hangout with your crew. It's also worth remembering drinking is optional, there are some fab soft options (Fentiman's Rose Lemonade is amazing) if you feel like having a night off. 

Have a hangover? Coffee and asprine are your friends, and Ted advocates staying in bed as long as possible, willing it to end. And an egg McMuffin if you get up early enough (a double cheese burger if you don't).

Eating

Oh Christmas, the season of eating all of the food! Bottom line, if over indulgence makes you feel bad, then don't do it, but if you want to fill your boots then why not! After all, Christmas is all about Christmas dinner. Plus if you put on a bit of weight then you've got a year of Transformation Tuesday pictures ready to go (kidding!!). 

If you are after some balance (particularly when you feel a little delicate) there are a few things you can do. Try your best to listen to your body and give it a fighting chance by prepping food in advance when you know the day is going to be a struggle (stash breakfast and lunch in the work fridge - not only will you have something good to eat, you also won't have to go far to get it! Be sure to lick it before you shove it in there). Really fancy a takeaway, but already had a few treats, try a fake-away for the junk food hit without the junk food - the Food Medic's fish and parsnip chips were raved about, Joe Wick's apparently does an excellent breaded chicken and home made pizza for the win! 

Bottom line, wellness is not just about green juice and veggies, it's about doing what makes you feel good. Christmas is a a special time, it's a celebration and an event, the get togethers around Christmas are what make us feel good and it would be a shame to miss out just because mince pies aren't exactly nutritionally dense, they will make you super happy! 

What are your tips for having a healthy-ish Christmas? 

HiLo Lunches

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Winter training is ON, and I figure if I'm going to work my body hard in the cold I should be feeding it with nourishing food. However, I don't really cook (I can, it's just not my thing) and grab and go lunches are pretty standard when I'm running from one place to another. Together those are things that don't always add up to nourishing choices! Luckily a few weeks ago I was at yoga class and Tiffany popped by with pots and pots of salad from HiLo. It was pretty tasty stuff - layers and layers of veggies, some meat but not too much and allllll of the flavour. It felt like my body had been hit by a grenade of goodness and I knew it was food like this that my body needs for me to perform at my best. You can only imagine how excited I was when Tiffany turned up at my office a few days later with a bag full of nourishing lunches to keep me going (much to the enormous envy of my colleagues) and it was beyond a treat to have a stack of delicious, quick pots to grab every day.

Look at those hearty layers of green! The Sassy Satay Chicken on the left is my absolute favourite! There's something about the peanut sauce with the rice with the chicken, with the beans, and possibly the fact I ate it after a freezing evening of training, but this is the ONE. Luckily I don't have to choose one, because The HULK (that's the bad boy on the right) is also pretty amazing! You know how sometimes when you microwave pasta it goes a bit 'claggy'? Well that doesn't happen. It stays just the right density, and is covered in delicious, flavourful pesto that maybe makes me want to lick the bowl (really not the way to impress your colleagues...luckily I hid in the corner while I did it). Oh oh and then there's the Jerk Chicken!! Show me someone who does love the flavour of jerk chicken combined with fresh veggies and I show you a lier. It's something else! Now I'm hungry again. Just as well I've got a BEET IT salad pot in the fridge really. 

HiLo pots are £5 and stay fresh for 3-4 days, which means you can keep a stash in your office fridge (obviously with a post-it note declaring you've licked them) ready to grab when you get peckish. I think this is the trick to healthy eating, having stuff ready to go when you need it, and even though the pots are more expensive than left overs, if you find yourself nipping to Pret on the regular you'll probably spend the same and probably do a bit of impulse eating too (I see you coconut bars). 

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There's so much more I could say about HiLo - how fresh the ingredients are, that the pots have up to your 5 a day in a single portion, that they're made in London using British produce, that they're sustainable as well as delicious - but maybe you should check them out for yourself?

What do you eat when you feel like you need to nourish your body?

**Big love to the team at HiLo for feeding me, of course all opinions are my own!