It’s the most wonderful time of the year…..and yet, many of us can find this time of year overwhelming and exhausting. The lack of routine, the late nights, the food and drink, alongside the added pressure of wanting everything to be ‘perfect’, can mean many of our usual good habits fall by the wayside, which in turn has a negative impact on our health and wellbeing. This post is the first of two, which will cover 7 diet and lifestyle tips for Christmas.
Undoubtedly, we all need to kick back and relax every now and again. This year more than ever we all need some fun and festivity in our lives.
The question is how to do this whilst minimising the impact on our health? It doesn’t have to be boom or bust, I believe there is a middle way. A way to enjoy a fabulous festive period without paying for it later.
By putting in place the simple strategies outlined below, I believe you can still have a wonderful Christmas (with a little indulgence 😉 ) whilst minimising the negative impact on your health and wellbeing.
Eat for Blood Sugar Balance
Controlling blood sugar levels is not only important for avoiding chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, it is fundamental to maintaining good levels of energy and stabilising mood.
When we eat sugary foods, or foods high in simple carbohydrates, we can end up on a blood sugar rollercoaster as our body battles to keep the glucose in our blood within a healthy range. Poor blood sugar management can lead to energy slumps (typically mid afternoon), mood swings and poor sleep.
One of the simplest ways to manage your blood sugar levels effectively is to include lean protein, healthy fats and carbohydrate with every meal. Choose complex carbohydrates found in foods such as vegetables and whole grains, rather than the more processed simple carbohydrates found in cakes and biscuits, white bread, pasta and rice.
Let’s face it, we’re all likely to be eating more sweet treats than we normally would at this time of year, but you can limit the impact on your blood sugar by enjoying them after meals (also better for your teeth!).
What about snacking?
When snacking on carbohydrate rich foods, include a source of protein too.
Nuts are a great option, as well as being a seasonal tradition at this time of year, they are a great source of healthy fats and protein.
The hormone melatonin, produced during hours of darkness, is key to setting our circadian rhythm and helps us fall asleep at night. The nocturnal production of melatonin occurs sooner in people who are exposed to bright light the morning, enabling them to fall asleep more easily at night
Serotonin (a mood boosting hormone) is a precursor to melatonin and is supported by exposure to sunlight. Sunlight typically delivers 50,000 – 100,000 lux (the unit light is measured in) versus an average light bulb at just 250-500 lux.
Exposure to bright morning light has been shown to help with insomnia, premenstrual syndrome and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Just 15 minutes outside in a morning (without sunglasses) can make a difference to health.
Don’t forget the Veg!
You may well be indulging in more treats than usual at this time of year, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about eating the good stuff too. In the UK the average adult eats just 18g fibre a day versus the recommended 30g.
Vegetables are a great source of fibre, including prebiotic fibre that feeds the friendly microbes that live in your large intestine. They also provide a range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, that support everything from gut health the energy production.
Eat the Rainbow!
Aim for 7 a day! Five portions of vegetables, plus two fruits.
Include a variety of different colours and types of vegetables. The more diverse the better!
Be sure to include some leafy green vegetables every day
Do you actively choose when and what you eat, or do you have a tendency to snack mindlessly and distract yourself with screens whilst eating your meals?
The first phase of digestion is known as the ‘cephalic’ stage, it’s all about preparing the body for food and stimulating the production of saliva digestive enzymes. Eating mindfully will support this stage and digestion as a whole, giving your body the best chance of absorbing and using the nutrients in your food.
How to eat more Mindfully
- Make the time to sit down and enjoy your meals, rather than eating stood up or on the go. Savour the sight and smell of the food.
- Avoid distractions such as your phone/ ipad.
- Chew properly! Depending on the type of food this usually means between 20 and 30 times per mouthful.
- Take your time, put your knife and fork down in between mouthfuls.
It can help with snacking too…
Another benefit of adopting a mindful approach to eating (and drinking!) is that it can help prevent over-indulging. By being more aware of when and what you are choosing to eat, you’re less likely to find yourself sat on the sofa hoovering up crisps or popcorn.
To encourage mindful snacking, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I really hungry or is it something else?
- Loneliness or discomfort?
- Am I thirsty?
- Have a glass of waters, wait 5-10min
- Are you still hungry? If so, go ahead and enjoy your snack!
To be continued….Look out for the next installment of 7 diet and lifestyle tips for Christmas, covering sleep, movement and making time for yourself.