How to have a great Christmas... and not gain any pounds

Stay healthy over the festive season

Enjoy Christmas and escape unencumbered with excess pounds and belt overhang? Staying healthy over the festive season. Impossible, surely!? Well, not necessarily...

Of course, you’ll have to be canny, which is where these healthy festive tips come in.

First of all, try to keep in mind that Christmas itself lasts only a couple of days – there’s no need to ditch your gym regime for a whole week in the lead-up (or fall-out), nor is there any law that says you have to go out partying every night of the week to prove you are having a festive time.

How about spending a night in wrapping presents, with a good movie and a glass of mulled wine? When was the last time you went carol singing? How about that for combining physical activity with a festive atmosphere!

Enjoy without going overboard

The message is, just because it’s Christmas, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge yourself on mince pies, nibbles and booze every night. In fact, the more you stick to your usual eating habits in the lead-up, the more special it will be to eat Christmassy foods on the day. Try not to snack mindlessly in the Christmas rush – make time for your meals and stay hydrated, so that you don’t mistake thirst for hunger.

As far as calorie burning is concerned, our ‘spend and save’ strategy begins a few days before Christmas, when you have the opportunity to expend more energy than usual on preparation chores like shopping, cooking and cleaning. Put as much effort as possible into these activities, such as parking the car at the far end of the car park at the superstore rather than opting for home delivery, kneading pastry by hand rather than shoving it in the blender, and polishing your own windows instead of getting the cleaner in. These strategies will help you ease into the festive weekend with a few more calories to ‘spend’ than usual.

Start as you mean to go on...

And as for the big day itself? Don’t forgo breakfast, no matter how hectic your morning is. Starting the day with a meal boosts metabolic rate by 10 per cent, and reduces the risk of you overeating later on. But skip the fry up – have something light, such as a boiled egg and a slice of wholemeal toast, or fresh fruit and yogurt.

If you’ve got time, exercising in the morning will gear up your metabolism for the rest of the day. In this scenario, intensity is more important than duration as the harder you work, the greater the ‘afterburn’ effect of continued higher calorie burning. A 20-minute brisk run or bike ride would be perfect. The frostier the better – research shows that we burn up to 12 per cent more calories working out in cold weather, as the body has to work harder to maintain its core temperature.

Time to put on your Christmas day outfit

Wear something that doesn’t have an elasticated or loose waistband; this will give you a benchmark of tightness. If it fits in the morning, you want it still to fit by the evening. It’s a harsh wake-up call when you need to undo that top button to fit in another helping of roast potatoes!

Dinner dilemmas

Choose carefully and Christmas dinner needn’t be a disaster area. For example, choosing the white turkey meat instead of the darker stuff can save you calories and fat grams. A 140g helping of white meat contains 4.1g of fat and 215 calories, while a 140g serving of darker meat contains 270 calories and 10.9 grams of fat. Remove the skin, too, or just restrict yourself to one tasty mouthful of crispy skin (well, it is Christmas, after all!).

Don’t feel obliged to eat more than you normally would

Turning down seconds doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy your meal – it’s just that you have had enough. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with politely putting your hand over your glass when it still has wine left in it, so that you can keep track of how much you’ve had.

If you get the choice, opt for filo pastry mince pies – less fattening than puff or shortcrust pastry and just as delicious. And choose custard instead of brandy butter and cream.

Time for an aperitif?

A pub-sized serving of Baileys will set you back 100 calories (and let’s face it, who pours pub-sized servings at home?). Why not go for brandy, with 65 calories and no fat per measure?

Getting back on track

Once the big meal is over, busy yourself with clearing the table, washing up or entertaining the kids. Anything active is better than parking yourself on the sofa with a box of chocolates that you really haven’t got room to eat. The same goes for Boxing Day, which otherwise has the potential to be a repeat performance of the previous day’s excesses. Avoid the Boxing Day blowout by organising to do something active with the family – such as a walk or a game of rounders in the park. You’ll enjoy your turkey sandwiches so much more!

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