Getting in a horrendous “festive” season mess is not compulsory or inevitable – it’s entirely up to you. The traditional temptations will be as strong as ever this year, but the following tips will help you outclass the chaos, should you want to. Good luck!
1. Pace, Don’t Race
“The bar is not going to run out – don’t drink like it is,” says personal trainer James Crossley, aka Hunter off Gladiators. “A pint of beer has 200 calories, a mojito has 240, a vodka/gin and tonic has 110 calories, so be aware of what you’re putting away. The morning after, take an ibuprofen for a throbbing head, rehydration sachets to replace the depleted salts and minerals and eat fatty acids to break down the alcohol. I go for eggs or a fry-up in coconut oil.”
2. Beware The Buffet [I]
“Avoid anything in pastry or deep fried and be cautious with dips, which can be hugely calorific,” says dietitian Fiona Hunter. “Go for things like smoked salmon, prawns, chicken and veg crudités. On the big day, bacon-wrapped chipolatas, pre-meal nibbles, nuts and liqueurs add hundreds of extra calories. Mince pies aren’t too bad, but adding brandy butter or cream doubles calories.”
3. Switch Hands And Eat Less
“The key to avoiding mindless eating is switching from ‘autopilot’ to ‘manual’,” says Alex Hedger, clinical director and cognitive behavioural therapist at Dynamic You. “Eating with the opposite hand for an evening disrupts routine of eating and sharpens awareness.” Sneaky!
4. Don’t Dodge The Party, But Leave Early
“People notice absence, not that you didn’t stay late,” says career coach and psychologist, Jessica Chivers. “Make an effort to go to work events – even just for 30 minutes. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to organise it and it’s a thank you for your hard work. Socialise, smile and exit by saying you’ve really enjoyed it and wish them a good night – not excusing or explaining your early departure emits confidence.”
5. Don’t Give In To A “Pusher”
“When you reach your comfortable limit and a friend offers you another drink, simply say, ‘No thank you, I’ve noticed more than X drinks makes me feel Y (jittery/anxious/paranoid) the next day,’” says Chivers. “Smile and move the conversation along. Also, most people don’t question abstinence that’s related to mental health.”
6. Run This Town
“On Christmas Day you’re either hungover or about to over-eat. Either way, a slow and steady 5km run is the perfect tonic,” says PT Dan Roberts. “I always run on bank holidays as there are far fewer cars and I live right next to Richmond Park, so it’s a beautiful treat for all my senses. If you want to stay inside, do some strength work, such as three sets of as many press-ups as you can – it’s a great way to perk you up.”
7. Hone In On Festive Fitness
A great way to motivate yourself to get out there and keep training is to sign up to Christmas or winter-themed events. Think Santa Run, The Reindeer 10K or Santa Dash. If you’re brave, hit one of London’s lidos on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day, too.
RECOMMENDED: Running Events
8. Lining Your Stomach Is A Thing
Scottish scientists gave people vodka and orange on three occasions. The first time they’d been fasting for six hours, the next they ate a bag of crisps before drinking and the third time they had a chicken sandwich and chips. Eating crisps didn’t make a huge difference, but after a proper meal, their blood alcohol content was only about 65 to 70% of what it was after fasting.
9. Pace Yourself With The Slowest Eater
The quicker you shovel in the grub, the less time you give your body to register fullness. It takes about 20 minutes for those messages to get through, so pace yourself in line with the slowest person there (drunk Uncle Brian, a small child). That way you won’t overtake your body’s fullness signals.
10. Set A Drinks Limit
“You know yourself best: just two drinks may be one too many, so set yourself a limit,” says Julie Blais Comeau, of etiquettejulie.com. “A free bar isn’t a green light to drink yourself to oblivion. It’s also not a good excuse to hook up with anyone; remember your boss is watching – keep it PG-rated.”
11. Beware The Buffet [II]
“Resist the temptation to start filling your plate at one end of the buffet table and work your way down to the other,” says Bond. “Instead, pause to look at all that’s on offer, decide on three things you’re going to enjoy most, then help yourself to these and only these! Then put your plate down.”
12. Avoid Social Media Faux Pas With The Two-Fridge Test
“Before you put photos or comments on Facebook or any other social media, imagine first putting it on your fridge at home and see if the pictures would be appropriate if your kids or grandparents walked by,” advises Comeau. “The second fridge is at work. If your co-workers or boss walks by, is it still okay? If you are OK with it on both fridges, go ahead and post merrily.”
Fancy a calorific beverage? Choose a tall, thin glass rather than a short, squat one. Research has shown we pour less liquid into taller glasses, and we’re likely to down it in one chug.
14. Know Your Enemies!
“You only need to take in 500 additional calories a day over two weeks to see the scales register an extra 2lb,” says dietitian Helen Bond. “This sounds a lot but it’s roughly equivalent to a handful of salted peanuts (117 kcals), a minced pie (236 kcals) and three pieces of Chocolate Orange (136 kcals).”
15. Get Social
Load up the Loose Ends app (iTunes, free) to see which of your friends are available, and make a plan to be active. Post where and when you’re around, keep it broad with “tomorrow” or “this weekend”, or be specific. The app suggests thousands of activities from a spin session to a hike, or you can make your own plan.
16. You Have Time For Tabata
“My favourite Christmas workout is Tabata training,” says Crossley. “So 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds’ rest, eight times, rest for 60 seconds, and repeat up to four times. The key is to spike your heart rate to 85-90% of your maximum. The interval sessions take 4-20 minutes – your body will be burning calories for hours.”
17. Clear Drink, Clear Head
“The darker the alcohol, the worse the hangover,” says Dr Christian Jessen. “That’s thanks to congeners, compounds that occur in alcohol as a result of the distilling and fermenting process. The more congeners, the worse you’ll feel – and the darker the drink, the more congeners. I’m not saying clear drinks won’t give you a hangover, but whiskies and dark rums will give you a worse one. It’s why mixing drinks tends to make you feel worse too, because you’re more likely to get a broader range of these congeners than if you stuck to one drink.”
18. Avoid Alcohol, Get Respect
“People seem suspicious of anyone who doesn’t like a good old drink at a party – but I’m usually honest and say that I have to train the following day and need a clear head,” says Lucy Burrows, British Triathlon coach. “It’s seen as less of an excuse and more of a real reason and people respect my choice.”
19. No One Is Immune To Hangovers
Everyone knows someone who claims to never suffer a hangover. Not true! They simply didn’t have enough alcohol in their blood. Canadian and Dutch researchers studied nearly 800 people and found that 79% of those who felt fresh the day after had an estimated blood alcohol level of less than 0.10%.
20. Get Used To Saying No
“The average weight gain over the festive season is 5lb,” says nutritionist Amanda Hamilton. “That’s not thanks to one Christmas lunch, but the 500 calories or so extra most of us consume each day in the run up. Awareness is the key; politely place your hand over your wine glass to stop it being endlessly topped up, don’t accept every passing canapé and let the chocolate box making its way round the office skip you with an easy, ‘I’ve still got one, thanks.’”
21. Drink Alcoholic Look-A-Likes
“There seems to be a stigma about not drinking – particularly over the Christmas period. Normally I just order a soda water with ice and a slice of lemon and pretend it’s a gin and tonic,” says crafty Crossley.
22. Rest Your Raging Appetite Away
“Missing out on sleep affects hunger hormones,” says Bond. “Levels of leptin, which tell the brain when you’re full, drop when overtired and ghrelin increases, telling the brain we need to eat. Don’t scrimp on sleep.”
23. Hone In On Hidden Fat
“The skin on a turkey is where most of the fat is,” says Hamilton. “Remove it and save around 40 calories per portion. Swap farmed turkey for a leaner, less fatty organic bird, and prick the skin before you cook it to allow some of the fat to drain out. Light meat has slightly fewer calories than dark, so choose breast. Switch sausage stuffing for chestnut stuffing – much lower in fat and a good source of potassium, and have Christmas pudding with Greek yoghurt rather than double cream.”
24. If You Must Do Shots, Make It Vodka
Shots aren’t the smartest idea, but if you simply can’t avoid them, vodka is so pure it contains no congeners, so make that your poison.
25. Set Yourself A Freebie Challenge
For motivation to get your PE kit on over the holiday, set yourself the challenge to try as many free classes as you can through the festive season – compete with mates for added impetus. Loads of gyms and studios offer deals and most offer a taster class for free.
26. Just Have Your Favourites
“There’s no harm in overdoing it every so often – and Christmas Day is great for this,” says Roberts. “I make choices that please my tastebuds and my body. Alcohol-wise it’s the sheer quantity of alcohol and sugar in your system that’s an issue. I only drink the drinks I love, avoid the ones early in the day which aren’t necessary, always eat before drinking, and drink water in between rounds.”
27. Certain Items Can Cause Utter Havoc
“Brandy butter packs 180-plus calories per spoonful,” says dietitian Faith Toogood. “Baileys is just alcohol, sugar and fat and you’ll be glugging 180 cal per 50ml serving. Roast potatoes are for many the best bit of the meal but are 200 calories per spud, and eggnog might be delicious but there’s 300 calories per small glass.”
28. Juice + Burger = Hangover Prevention?
“Help prevent a hangover by drinking acai or pomegranate juice before you go out,” says Jason Burke, creator of Hangover Heaven, a Las Vegas medical clinic that delivers IV treatments for hangover victims. “The antioxidants will help limit the damage. Also, eat a meal containing carbs, protein and fat, ideally red meat.”
29. Go With Grace
“Book a taxi home in advance so you leave at a time you felt was appropriate when sober, rather than being talked into doing flaming sambucas and regretting it,” says Comeau. “Smart people leave parties before they descend into chaos.”
30. Don't Panic! Your Body Can Handle A Few Days Without Exercise
“I can honestly say I don’t keep up my exercise regime over Christmas, absolutely without guilt,” confesses Dr Jessen. “Having a week off, having been consistent over the year, does no harm whatsoever. In fact it does you some good; having some proper downtime when you’re under a lot of stress helps immunity and general health. And if I’m worried about gaining weight, I just avoid mum’s bread sauce.”
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Laura Potter is an experienced writer and editor who contributed to Coach magazine in 2016. Laura specialises in health, nutrition, fitness and wellbeing, and has written for a wide range of publications including The Guardian's Saturday magazine, Women's Health UK, Men's Health UK, Stylist, Men's Fitness UK, Healthy magazine, Cosmo Body and Netdoctor.