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How to have a healthier Christmas

December 21st 2015 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru, Amelia Freer

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Nutritional Therapist Amelia Freer shares her top tips for banishing the Christmas bloat with Ayesha Muttucumaru

The same thing happens every year. We gorge ourselves on Christmas pudding, can’t move for a week, cry when we can’t do up our jeans and then vow to hit the gym like a maniac in January. But what if there was a way to enjoy your food this Christmas without the post-Roses box guilt? We asked Nutritional Therapist Amelia Freer for her top tips for not overindulging this Christmas.

1. Make time for a good breakfast and never skip meals

"Always start your day with a good quality protein breakfast which will set you up for the rest of the day. Look to include foods such as eggs, salmon or chicken. It’ll regulate your appetite and prevent energy dips too. The worst thing you can do is to just have a coffee on an empty stomach – you’ll almost certainly crave something naughty later on.

"Avoid skipping meals too. At this time of year, many people think that if they starve during the day then they can go crazy when they go out that evening. This means that blood sugar levels drop too low and you won’t be able to control your cravings later on. Look to include good fats in your meals too such as coconut oils, avocados, smoked salmon, mackerel, seeds, nuts and nut spreads (such as almond, hazelnut and tahini) which will make you feel fuller for longer and stop blood sugar levels dropping too low. Always make time to have three good quality meals a day, no matter how busy you are."

2. Enjoy your Christmas dinner - just exercise portion-control

"A traditional Christmas roast is actually quite healthy, it’s just the add-ons that need to be more carefully monitored. Roast turkey is a great example of a lean healthy protein which is rich in selenium and helps in the production of serotonin. Brussel sprouts are pretty much a super food in my opinion - they’re full of nutrients and recent studies have shown that they can reduce the risk of cancer too.

"Try to avoid rich, creamy sauces and sugary ones like cranberry sauce as well. Instead of dessert, maybe opt for a couple of glasses of wine instead during the meal. Ultimately though, your Christmas lunch should be enjoyed, so don’t be too hard on yourself! Look to control portion sizes instead. As a rough rule of thumb, look to divide your plate as follows: 25% for potatoes and starchy foods (the ‘naughty’ section of your plate!), 50% for vegetables,
25% for protein."

3. Experiment with desserts

"If the lure of dessert is too much, try making a few substitutions if you can. Instead of brandy butter, other great alternative creamy sauces could be nut cream, vanilla almond cream or COYO coconut yoghurt. Other suggestions could be a chia seed and orange pudding (which is similar to rice pudding) or an almond and orange cake instead."

4. Pre-empt the post-Christmas bloat

"Start taking a good quality digestive enzyme now to give your digestion a helping hand during the festive period. Take a good quality probiotic as well, which will give your immune system a boost. Try to look for ones that cost more than a tenner and avoid ones that are on special offer in supermarkets. It’s best to get them from a nutritional therapist or from a good specialist health shop." Shabir Daya, Pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health recommends taking Mega Probiotic ND, £18.50, (www.victoriahealth.com) to help maintain optimum health.

5. Be in control of your snacks

"Ensure that you have all of your health foods available to you at home or in the office so that you don't fall prey to going out hungry, or getting home and picking on junk because you’re hungry or have drunk too much. This is where the good fats like avocados, mackerel, salmon and nut spreads come in handy.

"If you’re hosting a party, try serving roasted vegetables instead of crisps and maybe something a little different like spicy roasted chickpeas or smoked mackerel pate, which is full of good fats and will keep you fuller for longer. Serve with celery and carrot sticks for the finishing touch.

"If you’re the guest, eat before you go and line your stomach with protein, so it makes it easier to say no when tempted!"

6. Steer clear of mixers

"Pure vodka is actually the least calorific spirit, but once mixers are used, this goes out the window as they contain so much sugar! For this reason, cocktails are the most fattening. My recommendations would be prosecco and sparkling wine as they don’t introduce such high levels of sugar into the blood. Make sure you have a glass of water in between drinks. This will keep you hydrated so that you feel better the next day."

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7. Buddy up and write down your health goals

"If you have a few friends or colleagues who wish to stay on track over the season, then buddy up and keep a food diary and share it with each other.

"For some extra motivation, write a list of your health goals and actually visualise how you want to act and be during the festive season and load up the feeling of how it will make you feel. It's powerful to get in touch with the feelings of being graceful and disciplined around food. Look at it every day to remind yourself of these goals and you’ll be less inclined to sabotage them."

8. Take responsibility for your food choices and eat consciously

"It helps to understand how food affects the brain’s chemistry. When we eat certain foods, in particular fats and carbohydrates, dopamine’s released. Just to be accurate - dopamine is a very necessary neurotransmitter. But elevated levels can lead to cells becoming less responsive to it which means that more stimuli i.e. food is needed to get the same effect.

"Dopamine is known as the pleasure neurotransmitter and can be activated by thoughts, smells, feelings and actions (like sex) as well as through food. But people consuming excess carbs and fats can get into the addictive dopamine cycle. We therefore need to be conscious, and make conscious food choices. Just because it’s Christmas, doesn't mean that our body will respond to food differently."

9. Put yourself first and don’t use food as a way of dealing with other issues

"Many people can often feel particularly lonely at this time of year and it’s important to remember to not anaesthetise with food. If you’re using food as a way to address specific issues, it’s best to see a qualified professional in order to address them properly.

"Often, people will go to a dinner and overeat as a result of not wanting to be rude. But will the host really care if you don’t finish everything on your plate or refuse a second serving? We put politeness and making other people happy ahead of our own personal health goals. This time of year’s about being with family and friends and enjoying each other’s company. Try not to use food in an unhealthy way by using gatherings as an excuse to gorge rather than an opportunity to spend time with others."

10. Be realistic in your goals

"It’s unrealistic to abstain from all things at Christmas. Instead, choose one night to be a treat night or a specific evening or event, so you know that you can enjoy the festive period without restricting yourself too much. That way, there’s an element of control involved. Save the abstinence for January!"

To book in for an appointment with Amelia, visit www.freernutrition.com for more information and follow Amelia on Twitter @FreerNutrition

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