Christmas Day feasting can leave you feeling tired, bloated and heavy, but it is possible to enjoy festive fare without the food hangover. Try these simple tweaks from our dietitians.
For many of us, Christmas feasting turns into uncomfortable bloating and fatigue. Some experts estimate that average calorie intakes on December 25 spike from 1,500 to 2,200 calories to a whopping 3,000 to 6,000 calories (that far exceeds the body’s energy needs). Unsurprisingly, it’s reported that the average Australian gains an estimated 0.8 to 1.5kg during the festive season. However, a festive food or weight blowout is not inevitable. Try these dietitian-approved holiday tips.
- Set the agenda. It sounds counterintuitive to eat before the Christmas feast. After all, isn’t it wise to save your calories for the buffet? But how you start your Christmas day diet may determine your intake for the entire day. If you skip breakfast and arrive at lunch starving, you’re less likely to serve moderate portions and more likely to choose high-energy options (when we’re hungry, it’s difficult to exercise considered judgment). Starvation, or even a short-term caloric deficit, can promote overeating and even bingeing. On Christmas morning, try a light breakfast comprising protein and low-GI carbohydrates (think Greek yoghurt and berries).
- Start and stop. It’s easy to make six trips to the trestle, reloading your plate each time. Before you know it, you’ve got ‘food amnesia’ and have forgotten quite how much you’ve eaten. Treat Christmas like a regular day and fill your plate with the same amount you ordinarily would for a main meal. Try to sit down and eat it mindfully rather than walking around. Once you’re finished, stop. Sure, it IS a special occasion and you may wish to have dessert such as a piece of pudding or a mince pie. Again, make it a moderate portion and then rest until the next main meal time. To prohibit mindless grazing, consider encouraging others to move away from the food area and engage in other activities such as present opening, backyard cricket or festive games.
- Strategise. Portions and proportions are important to ensure that you feel and stay full. Protein and fibre help to turn off appetite switches. Aim for a mix of lean protein (if it’s turkey or chicken, avoid the skin), wholegrain (not white) carbs and salad or veggies. If you feel like loading your plate, add more of the leafy stuff (also known as ‘crowding’, as you’re crowding out high-fat, high-kilojoule items). This will make you feel like you’re feasting and the chewing will help you to feel full, but you won’t feel ‘stuffed’ or bloated. Sipping water between mouthfuls is another helpful tactic.
- Skip the skin. Christmas favourites can be surprisingly healthy and great sources of satiating protein. The trap is often in the skin, which can add significant saturated fat (think chicken skin and pork crackling). Aim for lean, inside slices of turkey or pork or choose seafood such as fish, prawns or smoked salmon, which has the bonus of being rich in Omega-3s.
- Stick with it. It may be tempting to balance out an indulgent Christmas day with a knee-jerk ‘diet’ or ‘detox’, especially if the scales show an extra kg or two. However, before you panic, bear in mind that a single day of caloric excess is unlikely to increase body mass. More likely, any weight gain is likely to be temporary water weight caused by greater-than-usual intakes of carbohydrates and sodium. Moreover, restricting your intake is likely to result in an erratic pattern of under- and over-eating (false economy). Instead, focus on continuing to eat regular, balanced meals, prioritising fresh foods. Make a point of staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding or minimising caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
If you’re looking to follow up Christmas with a healthy eating overhaul, consider a new year consultation with an accredited practising dietitian (APD), who can provide personalised advice to suit your lifestyle and set you up for optimal health.