Healthy Eating Over Christmas

Published: 04 Dec 2015

Healthy Eating Over Christmas

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la la la, tis the season to be ….. worried. Say whaaaat?

In my years as a Dietitian I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people express some level of distress about Christmas, food and their weight.

Above all else I find this so, so sad. Christmas is ideally a time for fun, family and celebrating; that it is tinged with worry for many people is a shame.

In my opinion this is a reflection of our society’s current crazy obsession with weight as the one and only measure of health and dare I say it worthiness.

Now I could write forever on why weight is not a good measure of health, but suffice to say it is primarily our health behaviours (eating, sleeping, moving, relaxing etc) and genetics that determine our health. It is all but impossible to determine a person’s ideal weight, BMI was never meant to be an individual measure so using it as anything other than a very rough guideline may be problematic.

Now what has this got to do with Christmas? Well if Christmas causes you to worry about eating healthy then you might be in for a treat!

Lets think about the food that we feast on at Christmas. Ham, turkey, roast pork, mangoes, pavlova, cherries, fruitcake, salads, mince pies, shortbread, these are staples in my house. Apart from the treat foods most of the foods are fresh and seasonal basic foods.

There is room in a healthy diet for treat foods, not every food you eat needs to be nutritious. A healthy balanced attitude towards eating is associated with greater variety of foods eaten, stable weight and better health. Eating some foods just because they are so delicious is healthy too. So maybe our problems don’t lie with the foods themselves, perhaps it’s more in the way we eat them.

Something I recommend to all my clients, all year round is attentive eating. That is paying attention to your appetite, hunger and fullness and using all of our senses when we eat increases our enjoyment of the food we are eating.

  • Take time to really look at what you are eating, the colour, shape, shine – is it glossy or dull? Look at the shadows and variation of colour.
  • Smell your food, it increases the flow of saliva and allows for better digestion. Does the food have a dominant smell; are there more subtle aromas that you can detect?
  • Taste, we all think we do this but do we really? After looking at and smelling your food, take a tiny bite and allow your mouth to experience the texture of the food, rough, smooth, hard, soft, slippery, squashy, melty feel the food change in your mouth. What is the first taste you experience? Does the taste change as you chew the food? Once it’s well chewed, swallow the food, wait till the taste leaves your mouth before you take your next bite.
  • Check in with your body. How does the food feel in your body?   How did it taste? What taste did it leave behind? Was it as enjoyable as you expected? How are you feeling in terms of hunger and fullness? Do you need to eat more to feel satisfied physically?
  • Repeat this process as often as you practically can. It’s important to remind yourself that you can trust your body, and that you have unconditional permission to eat what you want, when you want, in an amount that is satisfying to you.   This is easier said than done and takes practice.
  • Paying attention to how your body experiences hunger is important too. Learning the signs of approaching hunger and approaching satisfaction allows you to predominantly start eating before you are ravenous and stop eating before you are stuffed full. Neither of these states feels particularly good.

You’ll find countless articles on how to control your eating over Christmas and avoid Christmas weight gain. However I find these often increase the worry people feel about food and eating approaching Christmas. Choosing fruit over cake for dessert, choosing the green salads over the creamy pasta salad or potato bake, eating a little before you attend a party to ensure you don’t eat too much at the party are all fine things to do. However if making those choices doesn’t honour your body or leaves you feeling deprived then you’re likely doing more harm than good.   Feeling stressed and anxious about eating a mince pie is far more likely to do harm to your body, not to mention your psyche than mindfully savouring the delicious mince pie.

A strategy I do like is considering that there is only finite space in your stomach and the food available to you is competing for space. Not all the foods available to you are equal in their desirability and everyone’s preferences are going to be different. Having the goal of “feeling better after eating, rather than feeling full” is something my clients have embraced as positive and non-restrictive. So the strategy would be to survey all the food available and choose the food you’ll enjoy the most. Eat those foods mindfully and with full attention.

After all Christmas does come but once a year. Enjoy.