The festive season is a wonderful time of year when we can, more or less guilt-free, indulge in regular bouts of cheerful revelry, rich food and late nights. Most of us acknowledge that this is an exceptional part of the year when we can forget about being good and pick up the pieces in January.
I personally love the festive season and look forward to it. Besides the opportunity to let your hair down and celebrate with friends, there’s all that lovely food we’ve been holding out for all year.
However, the good times can take a toll on your health. Late nights, rich food and alcohol create a heavy load for your body to process. Now, I am not going to be a killjoy and recommend you forgo the champagne and Christmas puds for elderflower cordial and tofu cheesecake. I think that the period of festivities, reconnecting with families and friends, and good home cooking, is a wonderful tonic after a year of hard work. It is important to have joy and fun in life. Sometimes that means giving in to foods that we know are not healthful.
It’s not great, but it happens. Because your lifestyle should never be ‘all or nothing’, I’ve listed out eight ways you can be kinder to your body during the festive season. These are small, yet practical things you can do to help your system stay strong whilst you make the most of a fabulous time of year!
1. Protect your liver. Everything you put in your body gets processed by the liver. The bigger the load, the more work, so keeping your liver in good shape during the festive season is important.
For many, the festive season is characterised by higher-than-average consumption of alcohol and rich food. The first thing you can do is take preventative measure to protect your liver. Think about taking a good milk thistle supplement. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin has been shown to protect the liver. In addition, milk thistle can also aid digestion.
2. Get your greens (and reds and yellows!). Christmas parties and festive dinners tend to focus on carbohydrates and protein. But don’t forget to ‘eat a rainbow’. You need to vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from fruit and vegetables to keep in good health.
Cruciferous vegetables are especially important help your liver detoxify during periods of indulgence. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are packed with B vitamins and a host of compounds that maximise liver function. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that help mop up free radicals – important every day, but even more so when we have more alcohol and rich food flowing through our systems.
3. Be good at breakfast. Breakfast truly does set you up for the day. During busy times, it’s also one of the meals you have the most control over.
If you know you’ll be out and about, use breakfast as an opportunity to get in the nutrients you may not get throughout the rest of the day. Make sure to include a source of protein. This will balance your blood sugar and help prevent sugar cravings during the day. A warming bowl of oatmeal will provide you with fibre and B vitamins. Top with cinnamon, fresh berries or grated apple and sprinkle with milled seeds and ground almonds for protein (what’s more Christmassy than almond, berries and cinnamon?!). Eggs are also fabulous. They contain sulphur which helps your liver do its thing. Try an omelette with two big handfuls of spinach, and sautéed tomatoes, onions and peppers.
4. Hydrate. Water is essential to most bodily functions and it is always important to keep well hydrated. Alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate your body, so if you find yourself over-indulging during the festive season, you need to be especially vigilant in topping up your water levels!
Water helps flush out toxins and aids in the secretion of digestive juices. If you’re not getting enough, you’ll feel sluggish and will battle to manage large, hearty meals. Make sure you drink at least 1.5 litres across the day (caffeinated tea and coffee don’t count!).
5. Choose organic where you can. I am a big believer in organic foods, but I am realistic that it can be pricey. If you are going to pick specific foods to buy organic, then animal products are where you should invest.
Meat, dairy and eggs carry by-products of hormones and antibiotics used in animal farming (particularly poultry and eggs). As these items make up the bulk of most festive menus, try and buy organic if you are cooking animal products over the season – the taste and quality will be better and again, you’ll be doing your poor old liver a favour.
6. Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating is not cheating! Drinking on an empty stomach is a fool’s game – it takes you over the limit quicker, makes you feel worse off the next day and causes you to made bad food choices.
Alcohol often results in a rapid increase in blood glucose levels followed by a drop. When your blood sugar levels drop, you start craving food – particularly sugary, carby foods (think late night chips and kebabs). Making sure you eat before or during drinking will help avoid the blood-sugar rollercoaster, and, hopefully leave you feeling a little more in control at the end of the night.
7. Sleep. Don’t underestimate the effect a string of late nights can have on your health. Impaired sleep or sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your physical and mental well-being.
To avoid waking up in January like a zombie, make time in your busy festive calendar to get good amounts of restorative sleep.
8. Have fun! Laughter and enjoyment are essential to good physical and emotional health. If you’re going to be partaking in the full festive experience, make sure that you’re getting all the upsides – laughter enhances the immune system and helps the body release mood-elevating endorphins.
Even better, pass the joy on. If you know of anyone feeling low over the festive season, even a small gesture can improve their well-being and it doesn’t cost much.
Season’s greetings to you all!
Need a kick-start into the new year? My FreshStart 28-day programme will be launching in January. If you want to clear out those cobwebs and start 2016 in a good place (nutritionally), this step-by-step programme will set you up! Get in touch if you would like more information.